Spiritual principles for approaching one’s career choices

In the course of a professional career, one faces many choices.  The question is how to make good professional choices in a spiritual way.  In many parts of the world, especially old Asia, spiritual life and professional life are conceived of as mutually exclusive.  Part of bringing the ancient wisdom of Kadampa Buddhism into the modern world is overcoming this false duality.  Every professional situation is different, but certain principles can help guide us in making spiritually and professionally good choices.

  1. Our main focus should be skill-building.  Every job we do provides an opportunity to develop within ourselves further skills.  Heruka, the principal deity of Keajra, is the Spiritual Father of all beings, a Chakravatin (Universal) King and the principal deity of the body mandala (essentially the supreme spiritual doctor for all beings).  Therefore, to become a good principal deity you need to cultivate within yourself all of the skills of being an enlightened father, leader and doctor.  So in our work, our main focus should be on cultivating these skills within ourselves.  The substantive knowledge we acquire is transient and generally is only useful in our present job, but the skills we build within ourselves we take with ourselves from job to job (or assignment to assignment).  The more skills we acquire in our present job the more successful we will be in all of our future jobs and the more we build up to being a good principal deity of our future pure land.
  2. Do not just report, be an agent of change.  Many many jobs have a reporting dimension where we are to report to our supervisors what is going on so that they can make informed and intelligent decisions about what to do.  This is a very important function, and one we should strive to do diligently, thoroughly and objectively.  We should provide for our supervisors the quality of information we would want if we were the ones having to make the decisions.  Providing reporting is good, but providing quality analysis is better.  We are hired to not just report what is going on, but we need to also provide the analytical insights which help the person understand the dynamics at play in the situation.  Analysis is good, practical recommendations are better.  We should never just come to our supervisors with a problem, we need to come to them with a solution to that problem.  We were hired to lighten the work load of our supervisors, not add to it.  Coming to them with just problems adds to their work load and runs counter to their purpose in hiring us.  Coming with the solution lightens their load.  But a bodhisattva goes beyond all of that.  The distinguishng characteristic of a bodhisattva is superior intention, or the assumption of personal responsibility for the solution to the problems you have identified and analyzed.  You should ask only from your boss permission to implement yourself the solution you have identified to the problems you have analyzed from having objectively investigated the situation you are to report on.  Your work has certain policy priorities, your job is to actualize those priorities.  Reporting is good, analyzing is better, recommending adds value, solving problems yourself is fulfilling.  Do not just be a reporting officer, be an action officer.  Do not just be an action officer, be an activist.  Do not just call on others to change things, become an agent of change yourself.
  3. First do exceedingly well whatever you have been assigned, then go beyond that.  Some people don’t like the work they have been assigned, so they do everything they can to avoid it.  But you have been hired to do that task, so if you avoid it you are not doing your job and will certainly never succeed in a professional context.  One of the commitments of training the mind is to not pass your burden onto others.  You need to assume first and foremost responsibility for what you have been assigned.  As my Grandma says, ‘a job worth doing is a job worth doing well.’  So you need to do what you have been assigned, and you need to do it well.  Other people do their jobs but are unwilling to go beyond their job descriptions with the ever so useful retort “not my job.”  This is a laziness and professionally self-defeating.  As bodhisattvas, our goal is to become the solution to all of the problems of all living beings for all of their lives.  So we should constantly seek to expand the envelope of the problems we seek to solve.  We should work outwards in concentric circles, first solve the problems for which we have been hired, then solve the situations which create the problems for which we have been hired, and so forth working outwards.  This will both be seen as us doing our job and going beyond our job.  It is the willingness and ability to do the extra that will enable us to progress professionally as well as personally as we assume more and more responsibility.
  4. Head straight for the biggest problems your work has to face, both in the short-term and more importantlyin  the long-term.  Often we want to avoid the biggest problems because we are either lazy or we lack confidence in our ability to tackle such problems.  But we will never build our pure land if we indulge ourselves in our laziness and we will never grow in capacity if we do not force ourselves to rise to the occasion.  A bodhisattva plunges straight into the biggest problems because that is where he or she can add the most value.  Again, it is an issue of assuming personal responsibility for the biggest problems in our world.  Being a first responder to crises is very noble and valuable, working to avert long-run problems is more subtle and often goes unrecognized (noone ever sees or appreciates the solution to problems which never materialized) but it is a higher purpose.  If you think long-term about things you will gain the skills now to be able to effectively respond to the problems of tomorrow when they come.  Then, even if the problem is not averted (best outcome) you are best prepared to rise to the challenge when the problem does manifest in the future.
  5. Seek  to do the work that looks most interesting to you, not what you think you need to do to get ahead.  If you find it interesting, you will enjoy it.  If you enjoy it, you will do it well.  If you do it well, you will succeed.  In this way, you will both enjoy your professional life and succeed at it.  Doing what you think you need to do to get ahead is a deceptive strategy.  First, you are likely to not enjoy the job itself (and so you will do a bad job and impress nobody, so you will likely not get the career boost you are hoping for).  Second, even if you do a good job, the career boost you were hoping for might not come at which point you will be disappointed.  Third, even if the career boost comes, it will boost you further in a direction of doing something you don’t want to do because you now possess greater skills and experiences in a field or domain you do not like.
  6. Be flexible and willing to do whatever the situation requires.  Nobody likes people who are rigid as they just create more work for everyone else.  Everybody appreciates somebody who never complains and is willing to be a team player and do whatever is required.
  7. Serve others in everything that you do – always.  You should never work for your own purposes, but always be seeking to fullfill others’ (virtuous) purposes.  Everything you do, you should do for others.  We are here to serve, we should be a servant to others.  Service to others is the highest calling and the real purpose of both our professional and spiritual lives.

One thought on “Spiritual principles for approaching one’s career choices

  1. Buddha taught that it is good to become successful in our worldly life. He really wanted the lay community to know this because there is a tendency to think it’s bad if we treat our self or we shouldn’t make too much money or whatever. Since then it looks like we are all worldly and not caring, this doesn’t have to be so. Buddha gave advice on making decisions about career and so forth. Maybe Kadam Ryan can post some ideas form that book at the dinner we had 😉

    If we accumulate wealth, we have more opportunity to practice giving. If we take on more responsibility at work, we will be able to influence and make choices based upon our mind of wisdom. We can lead with virtue and show examples of someone making virtuous choices based on the needs and wishes of everyone.

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