Socrates was right: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” But for 21st century Americans, self-examination is unnatural. Some people, especially men, act as if personal reflection is only for wimps. We find it easy to criticize others, from the boss to co-workers to the “system,” but many of us are reluctant to shine a critical light on ourselves. Take five minutes to consider your deepest satisfactions and your deepest fears and insecurities. Did you start to fidget before the five minutes were up? Did your mind wander? Did you try to think about easier subjects? The answers to those questions should tell you if you’re ready for self-examination and reflection, what I call the search for ME.”
I obviously think such self-exploration is essential if we want to find the spiritual in our work. Before we can be comfortable in our relationships with fellow employees, bosses, subordinates and customers, we have to know and like our selves. Yet so many of us are reluctant to give real attention to who we really are and what we want our life to be. Former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel said, “The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life but that it bothers him less and less.”
Contemplatives of all faiths tell us we need to find our own core. They call it our center. The great fourth-century theologian Augustine taught us the importance of self-analysis and self-criticism. There are scores of ways to think about how to do that. Here are a few.
I have talked before about the importance of analyzing our own stories to figure out who we are and how we became who we are. You can also write down all your good qualities and your bad qualities and think deeply about how they are manifesting themselves in your life. If you’re honest, you’ll get to some things that really matter.
In a similar vein, write down all the traits you find admirable in other people, such as courage, assertiveness, wisdom, etc. Think about where you stand in relation to those traits and characteristics and figure out how you can improve yourself.
Meditation helps many people focus their thoughts for self-reflection. Meditation and contemplation are great ways to pray and also excellent ways to discover oneself. Try modifying the centering prayer concept. That practice would have you relax and focus on a holy word, like “grace” or “resurrection.” You can use the same practice, but use words that will lead to reflection about who you are and how you behave. For example, use words such as “temper,” “concern,” “pressure” or even “success” or “failure.” Then follow your stream of consciousness to where your thoughts take you. Whenever you feel you are moving off-point, simply repeat your centering word and repeat it until your mind is again following that word.
Another decent way to get to your center is to reflect on the things people are saying about you in evaluations, in gentle jokes and behind your back. Rather than rejecting the criticism, seriously explore it. Why are people saying those things? Don’t immediately get defensive. Entertain the truth of what people are saying.
Another helpful exercise is to write down all the behaviors and characteristics in others that bug you. Your list may include things such as angry drivers, people who don’t care about their work, sloppy people and on and on.
Now do two things. First, examine the list and try to understand why you dislike those things. What’s inside you that doesn’t allow you to forgive or change? Second, examine the list to find behaviors that actually describe you. We often have contempt for people and behaviors that remind us of ourselves.
We cannot begin the quest for spirituality, ethics and values in our work if we do not have a firm understanding of who we are and what we want to become.
TIP FOR YOUR SEARCH: Start simply; set aside 15 minutes a day to reflect on yourself and on how you have interacted with family and work associates. Then think forward about how you want to interact with those people.
RESOURCE FOR YOUR SEARCH: Awareness, by Anthony De Mello, (Doubleday, 1990).
Tim McGuire of Scottsdale is a past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Contact him at morethanwork@ unitedmedia.com and visit his Web site at www.timjmcguire.com.[Original article no longer available]