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“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn

Why is it I wonder that little children always seem to loudly ask the most difficult and penetrating questions in a crowded place like a packed bus where, embarrassingly, everyone is suddenly alert and waiting to see how you’ll answer? I too would like to ask you what I hope is a penetrating question, not because I want to embarrass you but in the hope it will open up a dialogue with yourself. And you don’t have to answer until you’re safely under your duvet tonight!

Why do you work?

You might think that’s a stupid question. It’s obvious isn’t it? We work to make money, to pay for the things we and our family need and want. Besides, there is the prestige to be had from a good salary, a boost to our self-esteem. But there are other reasons and they have a lot to do with meaning and purpose in work, our meaning and our purpose.

Because why else would we work? Unless there was absolutely no alternative, why would we accept that our life is to be spent being worked until we’re tired out and ready for daytime television, carpet slippers and bedtime cocoa? If we choose, there can be so much more than that. Work, in the form of a job — a role — in a well-run organisation, can become a vehicle for discovering and growing who we are.

At work we can express our creativity, let our imagination join forces with our enthusiasm, experience the thrall of innovation, of working with others in a glorious expression of shared purpose. Work can be exciting! Through that can come deep fulfilment and insight, freeing us from work as drudgery, from the exhaustion that comes from pointless, purposeless endeavour, from being a cog in someone else’s machine. Work can be a classroom, the place we learn about ourselves and others, likes, dislikes, preoccupations and social propensities.

If we let it, work can hone our skills at inter-relating, our abilities to get on with others, and our respect for those with different world views.

Because at work, we can experience community and all its riches, the shared purpose and shared success. Now that many of us are more nomadic, now that we can easily become isolated, opportunities to forge meaningful relationships can diminish and our work colleagues can therefore take on a greater role in our life.

And as we journey through our lives, we can gain status, recognition and reputation; we can mark out our place in this hugely complex, wonderful, terrifying and rewarding place we’ve arrived at. With status comes the opportunity to exercise supportive authority, to learn the polarities of power, creative and destructive, and how to be truly powerful through clarity and humility, leading quietly from behind with our ego tucked away in a back pocket.

The greatest gift that work brings is the opportunity to seek our true purpose while we’re here.

And, having found it, the greatest challenge is not to hide from it. It is all too easy to hold back, to not take risks, to miss the many opportunities that can present themselves by being too timid, by not recognizing how truly awesome we are, if we allow ourselves to be. Quoting Marianne Williamson, Nelson Mandela said:

“It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

When someone asks me what I do, it can take a little time to explain a portfolio career and its many aspects, so usually these days I say: “I don’t work, I be.” And actually, that is true.

Most of my work is fun, challenging yes, hard yes, exciting definitely, fulfilling absolutely. Because although I work, I’m in the very privileged position of not having a job, in the traditional 9 to 5 sense. I’m at liberty to choose my work and to utilize it to support me on the fascinating journey of discovering my life’s meaning and purpose. I may never fully find it, but I’m really enjoying the travelling, the not necessarily arriving.

As entrepreneurs, those who step outside the battered remnants of some of those once-so-reassuring employment boxes, we can get so much more out of our work than financial reward, although that is rather nice too.

If we are open to it, always on the lookout for purpose and meaning, I believe we will find it. It may take some looking but if we’re curious, we’ll find something that resonates, something to build on. An added bonus of course is that by freeing ourselves from the rather limiting imperative of simply making money, we can make space in our awareness, our world-view, for different ways of doing business. We can even use the word “Love” in the same sentence as “Business”.

We can allow in compassion and responsibility to our business endeavours, acknowledging that — like that Amazonian butterfly flapping its wings in Chaos Theory — everything we do can have consequences far beyond our awareness or control. It is in our gift to decide if we wish, to use work — our work — as a vehicle for good, as a way to reduce the exploitation of planet and people and to increase the distribution of the enormous riches we have already and can still create.

In this we will be joining a growing body of people using their creativity to heal the astonishingly thin, incredibly vulnerable biosphere that is our sole source of life, people working with meaning and purpose. In the noble, Arthurian tradition, work can be our life’s quest. So rather than being embarrassed by those innocent questions, we should really listen to them and start asking them ourselves, as we journey on.

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