Cover image for Work from the inside out : seven steps to loving what you do
Work from the inside out : seven steps to loving what you do
O'Hara, Nancy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Three Rivers Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 251 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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HF5549.5.J63 O39 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Everyone hopes for a rewarding and fulfilling career, but the day-to-day reality can be just the opposite. The routine of our jobs, office politics, and problematic projects can often be the cause of frustration, worry, and disappointment. The quest to find personal satisfaction, much less pride in our work, can be daunting. It doesn't have to be that way. According to Nancy O'Hara, we can find meaning in our jobs--but the first thing we have to do is look within ourselves. Grounded in principles of Zen Buddhism and full of real-life stories, Work from the Inside Out presents a simple plan to reclaim your job and your life--and ultimately find the ability to truly love what you do.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The seven steps eluded to in the title are understanding and acceptance, seeing clearly and letting go, realizing this is it, balance, disciplined attention, seeing things as they are, and you're already there (meaning that while your work is never done, in any given moment it is complete and perfect just as it is). O'Hara, the author of Find a Quiet Corner (1995) and Just Listen (1997), is a student of Zen Buddhism who conducts corporate seminars on mindfulness at work. She promises readers that by following her advice they can discover a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment on the job that will penetrate all other areas of their lives. Her words are worth paying attention to. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Work from the Inside Out: 7 Steps to Loving What You Do, by Nancy O'Hara (Find a Quiet Corner), a former publishing executive and a practicing Buddhist who now conducts corporate seminars and retreats on mindfulness, applies the Zen precept of doing things for their own sake, as opposed to for an end, to our work lives. Her seven broad steps include "Understanding and Acceptance" and "Disciplined Attention." She suggests specifics such as asking ourselves at the end of each day if we blamed someone else for something we didn't accomplish, or making a list of the aspects of our work situations we don't like and then assessing if it's within our power to change each one. ) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Discovery What do most of us long for? A happy, healthy life? Certainly. And if you feel that you're not yet living that, then it must follow that you are unhappy in some way. Once you acknowledge this, you usually make the connection that liberation from your suffering will bring the desired contentment, and so you long for that. It can become a vicious cycle: dissatisfaction Æ desire Æ happiness Æ longing Æ dissatisfaction. But liberation is possible, and here in the first three steps of this process you will learn about your cycle of frustration and what has prevented you from living happily, especially with the work you do. Although it may be hard to look at the how and why, you cannot extract yourself from the pervasive dissatisfaction of your life until you do. Here in "Discovery" you will come to understand how you have been looking all your life for something that doesn't exist. What you thought was solid is constantly changing and moving--you along with it. But rather than being frightening, this truth can be reassuring. As you continue to make your way through these first three steps, as you confront the truth, you will slowly (or in some instances very quickly) realize that this truth will set you free. You are not a clichÃ(c), but sometimes your life is. This is neither bad nor good--it simply is. Approach the work suggested here as you would a job that you love to do. Put everything you have into this work. Practice and see it as an opportunity to express your beliefs, your ideals, your inner truth. And then take this same approach to your life's work. What you learn here can be immediately transferred to your everyday work life. This is a practical, usable process, not a theoretical one. Some of what you uncover may be difficult for your ego to accept. Do not judge or criticize what you discover. Instead, use it for your own benefit. Don't let it rule you. Know that you are in charge here and that it is for you (and not your ego) that you do this work. By the time you get to "The Path" you will have a clearer picture of who you are, where you've come from and where you want to go. You will be ready to accept the challenges of this process, and your day-to-day work experience will begin to improve. You will spend more time in the events of the day rather than in yesterday or tomorrow. This alone, in a very concrete, experiential way, will usher in a new sense of peace and contentment. In "Discovery" you will learn how to be in harmony with the changing circumstances of your life and be comfortable with nothing permanent to hold on to. Your spirit will then be able to soar, and your work life will mirror this newfound strength and happiness. But don't take my word for it. Discover this for yourself. Do these first three steps with thoroughness and see for yourself. What can be better than that? The First Step Understanding and Acceptance Have you ever noticed how people (perhaps even you) seem to hate change and yet always wish for it? This mood of dissatisfaction expresses itself in our lives and most especially in our work. How many people do you know who are satisfied with their work? How many people do you know who like what they do but hate their boss? Or vice versa? How about those who complain no matter what they're doing? We seem to always want things to change, yet when they do we don't handle it very well. Perhaps we direct our dissatisfaction toward our work because for us work doesn't have a human face; it is impersonal. There is no one person responsible. There is no one person capable of making the changes we want. There is no one person who can assure us that nothing will ever change. Perhaps we complain about our work because others do or because we always have or because it's safer to attack work than it is to look at the issues that really upset us. And why do company mergers create such tremendous anxiety among all levels of employees? Because such an event is a loud, roaring signal that things are about to change. It brings us face-to-face with the fundamental reality that was simply dwelling beneath the surface prior to the announced merger: change happens. And when we dwell in the unknown--what will happen to us? will we lose our job? will our benefits be reduced? will we be asked to move?--we let our fears take control. We indulge our runaway anxiety. After all, we are merely pawns in the company's hands. But what we don't realize is that nothing has really changed except our awareness. Even prior to the merger announcement our work situation was precarious--there were no guarantees, no stability, no security in any position. Whatever the situation, we need to find stability within ourselves and go there each time the fear of losing something we have, or not getting something we want, arises. We must find our inner strength and know that whatever happens, we will remain intact--able to support our families and ourselves. The whims of our bosses, the fluctuations in the economy and the shifts in the demand for the product or service we offer are all out of our control. So we must firmly plant ourselves in the soil of spiritual groundedness and sway gently with the changing winds of time, knowing that none is strong enough to uproot us. We will survive, we will prosper, we will be happy so long as our roots are firmly imbedded in the solid rock of acceptance and understanding. On a hot day many people walk around complaining about the heat, miserable and cranky because the weather doesn't suit them. These same people also complain when it's rainy and cold or simply not a picture-perfect day. What these people lack is an acceptance of what is and an understanding that they are not in control. There's an old Zen saying that you might want to write on a piece of paper and tack up over your desk or work station, or carry around with you, to remind you that you are not in charge: When it's cold, shiver. When it's hot, sweat. And not only are you not in charge of the weather, but you are also not in charge of company policy or how it gets executed or who your coworkers are. (Even if you are the boss who sets the company policy, you cannot control every little aspect of a dynamic organization.) So . . . When it's cold, shiver. When it's hot, sweat. Each time you look at it, and each time you hear yourself complaining about the weather or your job or your boss, let this saying remind you that the only way the weather, or anything else, will change is if you move to a different climate or when time takes its course. But before you make any drastic changes, consider that staying put and sweating or shivering might be the best answer. Moving away will not guarantee that the new situation will be more to your liking. Let this saying also remind you that while you may not be in charge of the weather, you are in charge of your reaction to it. And this is where you must look to understand why you are dissatisfied and what you can do about it. You must look to yourself. You must first pay closer attention to the actual circumstances and come to an understanding of how and why things are the way they are. And sometimes you must learn to accept what is, without expecting any deeper understanding. This may sound obvious and simplistic, but the truth of your life may surprise you once you take a closer look. So as you begin to look at yourself and your work life, keep in mind the following questions: Is your work nature different and separate from your nature outside work? Is your job, your work, the cause of your dissatisfaction, or does the source lie elsewhere? Write for a few minutes addressing these two questions. Then sit for a few minutes and reflect on what you've discovered about yourself. Perhaps nothing new will reveal itself yet. This is okay. Or perhaps these two simple questions will stimulate more confusion than you're ready to handle right now. This is okay too. Just breathe, relax and know that there is no right response. You are not expected to be anyplace but exactly where you are right now, in this moment. If you're confused, be confused. After you've taken a few minutes to contemplate them, put these two questions aside and move on. Come back to them from time to time and pay attention to the shifts that take place as you learn more about yourself and your approach to work. Know that what you touch on now is the merest beginning. And keep in mind that more will be revealed as you move along in this process of discovery, toward a clearer understanding and acceptance of who you are and what work means in your life. The highest form of goodness is like water. Because it benefits all things without competing and has no trouble abiding in places that none would care to be, it comes close to the Way. In dwelling, what matters is keeping close to the ground. In thinking, what matters is simplicity. In dealing with others, what matters is benevolence. In speaking, what matters is sincerity. In business, what matters is efficiency. In activity, what matters is timeliness. When you are true to yourself and don't compare or compete, you will live with honor. tao te ching (#8) Things Change Few of us deny that natural events in life--birth, death, illness and aging--cause us pain, grief and sorrow. We accept that these occurrences are natural, yet each time we encounter one we allow ourselves to suffer and rail against the injustice, the unfairness of the world. Time and time again we are confronted with our lack of control and the inevitability of change. When the winds of change subside, when things return to normal, we breathe a little easier and fool ourselves into thinking that this normal state is fixed, rigid and unchanging and that the catastrophic events are abnormal and infrequent. We hold on that much tighter to what we think of as our predictable everyday life, believing that our suffering is over for the time being, at least until the next catastrophe hits. The very first thing we must do to find happiness (and isn't that what we all want?) in our work life or in any other area of our life is to come to terms not only with the fact that things change but with the fact that these changes--even the seemingly minor ones--cause us to be dissatisfied with ourselves, with our lives and with those around us. Here's an example of how it happens. We arrive at work one morning expecting to be met with our usual tasks, with the usual faces. Our boss greets us first thing and informs us that for the next three weeks everyone in the department will be working together in teams on a special project. This will mean working overtime and on weekends. We are teamed up with the one person in the department that we don't get along with. Rather than greeting this news with excitement (it's a challenging opportunity to use our skills, which could lead to recognition and promotion), we mope and complain. Our weekend plans are destroyed. We become angry and sullen both at work and at home. We make the next three weeks miserable for ourselves and everyone around us. We see no joy anywhere. We are all looking for certainty. And when we construct in our minds a vision of how things should be, of how they should play out, of the perfect scenario, we can't help but be disappointed, since the reality is always different. But we can help ourselves and lessen our disappointment by refraining from the mind constructs that will only lead us down the road to pain. Here are some truths to consider: Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent. Intellectually we can all grasp these truths. We need only take a quick review of our lives, or for that matter the past week or day, to prove them. So if our mind agrees with these truths, and if we agree that it is our mind that regularly tries to convince us that they're not true, where does that leave us? Logically this conclusion would lead us to look elsewhere. We must go to our spiritual self to fully grasp, understand and live with the truth that impermanence is the way of life and acceptance of that truth the only key that will release us from our suffering and dissatisfaction. So where is our spirit located? Is it in our heart? Is it in our gut? Does it have a specific locale within our body? For the time being let's not worry about where our spiritual center is; let's just simply decide that it's not in our brain. Let's also agree that while our spiritual center is not in our mind, we might at some point need to engage our mind, once we begin to activate our spirit, to fully understand what is going on. But for now our practice will be pulling away from our mind's activity and breathing our way toward our spirit. Concentrate on the following exercise each time you feel your mind struggling for an answer: Breathe deeply. Concentrate only on your deep breath. Draw your breath as deeply into your tummy as possible. Imagine your center of gravity just below your belly button. Concentrate all of your energy there so that the activity of your mind falls away and you are centered in the middle of your body rather than in your head. Breathe, breathe and breathe some more. Breathe until your thoughts have quieted down. Breathe until your anxiety has abated. If you take the time to do this every day, you will soon know without a doubt where your spiritual center is. Your breath will guide you. Trust it. Don't listen to the chatter in your brain; it is only chatter. Listen to what your breath wants to say. You will know it when you hear it. Understanding will be yours in time. 1.Write down everything that you are presently dissatisfied with in your work life, and write about how your work (and your dissatisfaction with it) spills over into the rest of your life to cause yet more dissatisfaction. Some areas to think about: Your boss Your coworkers The office environment Your compensation package Your commute Your hours The work itself Excerpted from Work from the Inside Out: Seven Steps to Loving What You Do by Nancy O'Hara All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.