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Career advice from the Dalai Lama

All of us at some time will have received career advice, some good, some downright crazy. My school career counsellor suggested I should be a vet. Me, who couldn’t even cut up a worm in biology and goes wobbly at the sight of blood. From memory I smiled politely, exited out, and didn’t follow a shred of their advice. Hence I’m doing what I do now (and love it!).

I came across this ‘career advice’ from the Dalai Lama. It resonated with my own beliefs and values. I thought you might like it.

When asked the question “What do you do for a living?” the Dalai Lama answered, “Nothing, I do nothing!”. Not your typical career coach. His book, The Art of Happiness at Work talks about his philosophy about work. Co written with Howard Cutler, a psychiatrist, the Dalai Lama’s advice on happiness at work centers around improving your attitude as much, if not more, than your circumstances. Amongst the various topics he talks about there are three core lessons.

Be a Good Co-worker

Regardless of your job—whether you are teaching children, managing a large company or tediously nailing parts on an assembly line—the Dalai Lama points out that we are all interconnected. Our actions impact the people around us, especially our coworkers, customers and clients. Making the most of this connection by treasuring the relationships we have, assuming coworkers’ best intentions, and taking joy from them, is central to work happiness.

“I think if we make a special effort to cultivate good relationships with people at work, get to know the other people, and bring our basic good human qualities to the workplace, that we can make a tremendous difference,” he writes. “Then, whatever kind of work we do, it can be a source of satisfaction.”

Seek Balance

Much of the Dalai Lama’s advice comes down to finding a balance—balance between work and the rest of your life, between taking care of ourselves versus others, and, importantly, between being happy with what you have and trying to improve it.

The Dalai Lama puts it well: “You shouldn’t confuse contentment with complacency. You shouldn’t mistake being content with one’s job with just sort of not caring, not wanting to grow, not wanting to learn, just staying where one is even if one’s situation is bad and not even making the effort to advance and to learn and to achieve something better.” In this case, he recommends trying to find better work. If that fails, then to try to be content with what you have. If you shift your attitude to being grateful for what you do have, rather than upset about what is lacking, it can save you from anger, resentment and frustration.

The Dalai Lama also discusses a balance between challenging ourselves and boredom. A manageable amount of challenges can keep us engaged at work, but we also need to balance complex work with simple tasks.

Ultimately, the Dalai Lama points out that we challenges aren’t an absolute requirement or satisfaction, and also pokes fun at the busy culture of work. “Personally, I think no challenge is better because without challenge you can just lie down and rest,” he writes. “Take a little nap.” Learning to balance work and other parts of life, and to sit still, allows us to be happy doing less.

Expand Your Identity

Often, our unhappiness at work stems from our ego and identity: We don’t feel respected, we think we deserve more, we are upset over a rejection, or are worried about being perceived in a certain negative way. As Cutler points out, “If we choose an external marker as the measure of our inner worth, whether it is the amount of money we make, or other’s opinion of us, or the success of some project we’re involved in, sooner or later we’re bound to be battered by life’s inevitable changes. After all, money comes and goes, and thus is an unstable source of self-esteem, an unreliable foundation upon which to build our identity.”

The article suggests that you can expand your identity internally as well as externally. This can be relationships, hobbies, athletic endeavors, volunteer work, anything that gives your life meaning.

For the Dalai Lama, something deeper is at work; it involves “‘inward expansion’—going to the core, moving to a deeper level by discovering the essence of the particular role or activity…and binding one’s identity to this essence.” For the Dalai Lama, it is his spiritual practice as a monk; for others it can be treasured relationships, it could be growing and learning new skills, or creating beauty. Anything that gives you internal satisfaction that transcends the material.

Dalai Lama’s career advice comes from a deeper place, one that is not solely concerned with material possessions or even meaningful work. Rather, it comes from a generous and holistic view of life and the world. He understands that job satisfaction is only one piece of life satisfaction. Accept that your job won’t be perfect, but your life can still be full.

I’ve never met the Dalai Lama; a friend has and was wowed by the experience. He seems a nice and personable man. He’d definitely be on my ‘dinner party’ list.

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