Bringing My Full Self to Life@Work

Joanna Seltzer
Dec 4, 2017 · 4 min read

For those who may not know me, my background can be summarized as either the epitome of “wayfinding,” or just a really long run-on sentence:

I am a dancer who studied liberal arts and worked on an organic farm, became a nurse specializing in kidney transplant coordination, pursued a graduate degree in nursing informatics, became a mother of two, and is pursuing a yoga nurse certification, and teaching a design thinking course to graduate nurses at NYU.

Fitting my professional and personal interests into a single box has been a challenge for the better part of a decade. When I became aware of Live Grey (formerly Live in the Grey) a few years ago, the mission to connect the spaces between work and life resonated with me as an intriguing new direction. It ignited another part of my brain. I saw how a shift in perspective reveals possibilities, instead of accepting everything as it seems.

Finding Fulfillment Through Purpose

Last week, after spending a few hours coordinating childcare and asking my Brooklyn friends to let me stay on their couches, I was able to commit to volunteering at Live Grey’s Life@Work culture conference. The two-day event was a mirage of movement, connections, intentions, rituals, and powerful new concepts about the possibilities that arise when humanity is supported at work.

My takeaway from the event was immediate and potent: I saw what is possible when I bring my full self to fulfill a mission-driven intention. Collectively, the tasks I performed—from checking coats and bags to folding chairs and rolling carpets—felt so much more significant than the acts themselves. By checking people’s belongings, I was inviting participants to settle into the space and with fewer distractions. By folding chairs and rolling carpets, we could transition the space to initiate deeper connections among the speakers and participants. If lunch was being served and some participants were deeply engrossed in conversation, I could prepare a plate to keep them nourished during the long day. If garbage bins were filling up, we spread the word among the volunteers to help empty them before lunch ended. These small gestures, simply anticipating needs and working in harmony with Live Grey staff and volunteers, did not feel tedious or undervalued. They felt integral to the conference design and intentions.

Bringing My Whole Self

The days were a blur of constant motion and information, but felt freeing. By night I arrived on friends’ couches tired, but gratified. On reflection, I felt that I could stretch myself and be so many parts of me:

  • The dancer—moving as part of spontaneous and collaborative choreography, climbing like a spider over leaning towers of folded chairs to find needed items in the back a U-Haul.
  • The kidney transplant nurse coordinator—working with intention and focus despite being pulled in disparate directions, and calmly navigating unexpected logistics.
  • The mother—anticipating needs, listening, and witnessing the flow and pyscho-emotional-physical arc that the staff and participants experienced during and after the conference.
  • The farmer—physically laboring over small tasks to cultivate connections for harvesting later.
  • The yogi—staying present, centered, and showing gratitude.
  • The design thinker—staying curious, synthesizing the flow of information and ideas, leveraging resources (namely, a vehicle and the internet) to find the nearest food pantry when the need arose to handle unexpected amounts of leftover food.

Building Connection Through Collaboration

After a decade in healthcare, what was the most stunning component of the conference was the cohesion of the Live Grey team and volunteers, all of whom had just met for the first time. There were no attitudes, no gossiping, no eye rolls, and no sarcasm. Voices were not raised and politics were not played. Input by a volunteer to make a process more efficient was welcomed instead of judged. If time ran over, everyone adapted to new directives without grumbling or moans. In the healthcare field, by contrast, I have worked for years in teams that continuously struggle to adapt coherently, shift to changing needs, or include the contributions of all team members. Many times, the team seems to exist for mere political ritual, rather than to deliver meaningful care to patients.

Bringing “Grey” Into My Own Life

Life@Work proved to me, wholeheartedly, that the concepts, articles, and website are not just the byproduct of a compelling agency — they reflect the actual humanity that each team member contributes to Live Grey’s ethos. When I stopped by their east coast office a few days later, the staff I had met at the conference were genuine friends with each other, sharing warm smiles and hugs in large supply. If living grey can feel so connected, colorful, productive, and tangible, I had to ask myself: is the idea that better workplaces are some utopia for “other” people really serving me? I see now that settling for work where I cannot utilize all that I have to offer actually means diminishing my own potential. My experience helped me realize that I no longer want to settle for working in spaces where asking for small doses of humanity feels like swimming upstream, or where I need to “turn off” 70% of what I can actually bring to the table. Seeing the Live Grey team in action outside of the conference made me feel even more ready and committed to finding — or creating — a holistically human-centered team with which to do my own best work.