As an Executive Search Consultant I'm constantly talking with people about their careers. The funny thing is that most people don't think about it that much. Certainly not as much as I thought they would considering the amount of time and effort they are putting into it. Studies show that most people spend more time at work than they do with their family. For such a huge investment of their time it's still quite rare for me to talk with a candidate who's extensively mapped out the career path they seek, or even a candidate who has put a lot of effort into understanding what makes them happy at work.
However, I can undeniably say that the candidates who are the greatest pleasure to work with are those who've taken the time to know themselves well. And more often than not those who have tend to get a great deal of satisfaction from what they do, not just their title, remuneration or the quality of company they work for. One of the best books I've read on the concept of getting satisfaction from the work you do is "Finding Flow". The concept involves searching for those moments when you feel most productive, when you are really into your work and trying to create them more regularly.
I'm currently reading another book, "Zen at Work" by Les Kaye. Kaye is interviewed online here where he gives a peek into his experience of studying Zen and why it helped him in the workplace (Kaye worked for IBM in Silicon Valley). Although he goes to great pains to say it didn't necessarily help his career, it's interesting that he obviously believes that in can be very beneficial for anyone to consider work as a spiritual practice:
Through continued Zen meditation practice, one comes to recognize that work is a spiritual activity, not just a way to earn a living. As this recognition subtly grows and takes shape, the individual very naturally approaches work with a more giving, selfless attitude. Work becomes less stressful, more joyful and creative, more collaborative as the individual becomes more reflective and less reactive in responding to work situations.
I'm most interested in whether Kaye's ideas on work being a spiritual activity can help people find more enjoyment at work. Not necessarily for any type of spiritual benefit, but mostly in the search for happiness. As Kaye says in the interview, the world of work has become more and more difficult. There are more things trying to take our time than ever before and less security as well. So if work is such a huge part of life, it would seem to be excruciatingly painful for that time to be without joy. Yet it's my experience that this is certainly the case for many people.
What's the next step? I'm just not sure, I think that the concept is wonderful, but is difficult to grasp and just the idea of "spiritual" is likely to turn a lot of people off immediately. However, I truly believe that if you are going to find happiness in your career, or even just in your everyday work then considering a search for deeper meaning than just pay and benefits could be the answer. Although it mightn't necessarily be Zen or "Flow", I do believe the search would be beneficial. And if you've found another way, then feel free to share in the comments.