Work as a Way of Being

by Rachel Vilsack

Most of us define ourselves by what we do for a living. The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says that that the way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self and promote compassion for others. This concept is called right livelihood. The search for meaningful work is important; how do we find a vocation that reflects our personal values, beliefs, and vision for how we see ourselves and others in this world?


Our ability to understand – and achieve – the path of right livelihood comes from our own experiences and by working with others who are also seeking their career or life path. Claude Whitmyer, a career guide and business advisor, identified some characteristics of people seeking right livelihood. Whether you are a job seeker in search of new opportunities or someone genuinely committed to your profession, consider how these characteristics display themselves in your life:


1. Persistence. Not every job we have will reflect our deepest values, but we can begin down the path of encouraging it. And even when we find our path – the perfect job or the best company – it may still require care and attention.


2. Face the facts. This is a tough lesson, but sometimes you just know that something isn’t going to work out the way you want. It could be a job offer you were expecting to receive or a project at work that fails to meet your expectations, for example. Know when it’s time to move on, and let it go.


3. Minimizing risk. It’s all about creating a plan of action. The best investors and business people minimize risk by being prepared. Don’t move passively from job to job. Research the market, target prospective employers, and know your skills. When you see an opportunity, you’ll be ready.


4. Hands-on learning. Get involved and learn what it takes to do the work you want, or continue to learn while you work. But don’t forget the everyday. Cultivate the ordinary tasks of your job, and see how it all works together. They don’t call it life-long learning for nothing.


5. Self-starting energy. This really comes from a desire to live life to its fullest. Be fully present in your work and the complications that are an inevitable part of any job.  Self-starting energy is accumulated when you can deal with difficulties in an effective way.


6. Community of support. Surround yourself with like-minded friends, family, and neighbors who engage and nurture your path. This is your network. It doesn’t just go one way; you will nurture them, too. And this energy will extend outward to the world.


7. Emotional stability. Our emotions change from moment to moment. But to fulfill our personal path we must have stability, so that we can act in a way that is consistent with our values.


8. Mindfulness. All of these qualities are tied together with mindfulness. It’s what keeps our goals and personal purposes right in front of us, so we can be aware of what is true and happening in this moment.


I wish you well on your path!


This article is based on ideas from the book Mindfulness and Meaningful Work (Parallax Press, 1994) edited by Claude Whitmyer.


2 thoughts on “Work as a Way of Being

  1. Rachel Vilsack January 8, 2013 / 1:14 pm

    I agree that self-care is very important, too. Thanks for the comment!


  2. Phill January 7, 2013 / 3:13 pm

    In regards to #1, it is important to also note consistency.  The quote “Persist without exception” by Andy Andrews comes to mind.  Being persistent is great, but if you lack enthusiasm over time, your true characteristics will show.
    As a Mental Health Professional, one of the most important things that is missing from this list (in my opinion) is ‘self-care’.  A therapist (or any professional for that matter) cannot be truly able to serve their client unless they are able to serve one self’s holistic health. 


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