The Heart & Soul of Work: Where Brené Brown and Flexibility Intersect

Where Work and Passion Intersect

I’ve spent the past month immersing myself in all things Brené. This spring, I relayed five  business lessons I learned from her book Rising Strong, which were only a few morsels from all the delicious guidance she has to offer. Throughout August, I have rekindled the Brené flame by  listening (repeatedly) to her interview on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcast and reading her other two works, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. Last week’s post featured my dear friend Halie’s advice on how she manages her flexible work schedule while minding her values, much of which stems from Brené’s research. This week, I’m using  that same research from all three sources to corroborate my stance on  flexibility  and to persuade you that fighting for a flexible work arrangement could very well be the remedy  to your work-life woes.

“Unused creativity is not benign; it gets metastasized. It has to be cultivated.”

Brené’s powerful metaphor paints a vivid picture of unused creativity behaving like a cancer within our bodies. Creativity gone wasted, she says, spreads and transforms into all the negative emotions we so desperately try to avoid: grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, and shame. Instead of letting the antagonism consume us, we need to live wholeheartedly and cultivate the creativity we naturally possess. For some of you, your creative self might come alive through practicing a form of art, music, culinary activity, or other “non-work” expression. Others of you might find no pleasure in the traditional creative pursuits and are at an even greater risk of letting your innate creativity metastasize. Whether you deem yourself the former or the latter, consider the option of expending creative energy through your work. How so? By creating (designing, composing, engineering, cooking up–whichever term fits you) a flexible career for yourself! Tap into your inner creative self, stretch your mind beyond the borders of your job’s defined “skill set,” and brainstorm ways to maximize your professional performance and integrate work and life ideally. Maybe, it’s finally time to step away from your day job and fully commit to that “back-burner” business. Perhaps, you love your work but are ready for a schedule that allows you to designate when and where you “clock in.”  Not quite sure exactly how to craft such flexibility? Stay tuned for the release of my e-guide, “Reimagining Office Hours: Breaking free from the 9-5,” which reveals an inside look into how to translate traditional working hours into a flexible schedule and tips for doing it successfully. Your business and creative selves alike will find their niches.

“You gotta do something you love.”

Closely tied to being creative is the necessity of exercising passion. Brené’s research revealed that people who are able to achieve wholehearted living find meaning in what they produce. In other words, our “work”–whether for a job or for play–must be rooted in purpose. Are your productions meaningful to you? There are two camps of employed people: those whose jobs are defined first and foremost as doing something they love, and those whose jobs are primarily a means of income. If you belong in the first group, congratulations! Feel free to stop reading this section, since your career meets the purpose quota. If you identify with the “work for the paycheck” crowd, then you owe it to yourself to locate an avenue toward meaning. Ask yourself, “Can I uncover passion within the work I already do?” Take steps to reinvent your current profession, such as – yep, you guessed it – switching to a flexible schedule. When your work and life each is afforded the time it deserves, you might find the job that just used to “pay the bills” transitioning into a meaningful career, something that you love to do. If, for whatever reason, you cannot leave or hit the refresh button on  your day job, seek purpose elsewhere. Put your creative nature to work outside of office hours and produce to your heart’s content. Whether through your professional or personal life, be sure to employ your most profound passions.

“We try to dress-rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”

One of the human emotions Brené has most thoroughly researched is vulnerability. With such a negative connotation, vulnerability is typically viewed as weakness and taught to be countered at all costs. Brené strongly contradicts this reputation and vehemently argues for the embrace of vulnerability. “When we lose our tolerance to be vulnerable,” she asserts, “joy becomes foreboding.” Instead of allowing ourselves to enjoy happy moments, we automatically armor ourselves to face the worst case scenario, assuming that doing so will prevent us from slipping into vulnerability should the worst actually arrive. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené describes her own experience with this struggle: “It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen.” We have fooled ourselves into believing that we can eradicate feeling vulnerable by preparing for hardship, when, in reality, that attempt proves impossible and, furthermore, dissolves joy before it even materializes. Brené urges us to break the trend by practicing gratitude in joyful occasions instead of focusing on the potential to lose that joy. Her lesson is especially applicable to our work situations. If you have fought to earn yourself a flexible work schedule that is finally working for you, resist falling into the dangerous trap of worrying whether the arrangement will last. You will never be able to avoid the inevitable pain if you do lose it, and you will miss out on the full satisfaction and success you could have experienced while in it. Instead, be grateful. Cherish the present, invest your all into each day, and joy will flow both into and out of your work.     

“Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyper aware of lack.”

In today’s excessively-connected and material-driven American society, it is all too easy to become narrow-minded, attuned only to what we’re lacking in comparison to others and how to bridge the gap. As Brené precisely states, “We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.” Even beyond tangible goods and services, we feel inadequate next to those around us, constantly fearing that we’re not good enough, safe enough, certain enough–essentially, that we’re not enough.  It is within these instances of self-doubt that vulnerability emerges. Rather than exploiting this vulnerable state to seek help and find solutions, though, we crumble. According to Brené, “the number one casualty of a scarcity culture is vulnerability; we shut down because we don’t want people to know we don’t have it all together.” Sound familiar? Each of us knows the “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra all too well, unfortunately. The truth is, “faking it” is neither a healthy nor a sustainable approach to any facet of your life and likely won’t lead to “making it.” If your current work situation is plagued by “not enough,” leverage your vulnerability and pursue the missing pieces. Be honest with yourself and your manager in order to develop an arrangement (a flexible one, perhaps?) that fulfills your needs and validates your work. It will take time and tireless effort to progress toward your ideal setup. No matter how rocky the road is, however, believe that you don’t have to be put together always, to have everything figured out all the time. Give in to vulnerability and let it fuel a genuine search for guidance and support from others. Above all, give thanks for whatever job you do have and revel in the joy that is presently within your reach.

The gist:

These four gems are simply a foretaste of the feast that is the life-changing work of the extraordinary Brené Brown. For the unabridged experience, I encourage you to listen to her fascinating interviews with Oprah on the Super Soul Conversations podcast and dive into The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. Brené’s research exposes the deep-seated, universal truths that catalyze our emotions and actions. Her findings align beautifully with the mission of Office Hours–we must nurture all parts of ourselves and live wholeheartedly. Promote the harmonious cooperation of your personal and professional selves by taking charge of your career and orchestrating the flexible work arrangement you crave. Regardless of the route to flexibility you choose, always yield to vulnerability, foster your creative side, harness passion, seek joy, and be grateful.   

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