ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Issue Highlight — A Sign Of Hope
- Peter Block addresses the importance for corporations to work in the public interest as well as the interest of shareholders, building strong communities and promoting social equity.


Online Edition - November/December 2000

 In This Issue...
Tackling Leadership
Generation X And The Baby Boomers At Work
Heeding The Call
A Sticky Situation: Creating Innovative Climates
Motivation Made Easy

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

Return to NFC Index

Heeding The Call
How Following Your Passion Can Improve Business and the Quality of Life

  How often do you sit back, relax and take a minute to evaluate your life? Sure, for the most part you're pretty happy. But do you ever think about what you would rather do or what you have always dreamed of doing?
  If so, then Gregg Levoy has some advice for you. Listen to that little voice trying to tell you what to do. Instead of just thinking about all of those things, get out there and do them! Not only will you benefit personally, but most everything surrounding you will, too.

 Have you ever had one of those days when you wanted to plaster your car's bumper with a sticker that says, "I'd rather be dancing," or "sailing" or whatever? Did you have to drag yourself to work this past Monday morning?

  Gregg Levoy says it's no coincidence that medical research has found the majority of heart attacks happen around 9:00 a.m. on Mondays, when most of us are going back to work. "Or more precisely," he has written, "going back to work we don't like, work that doesn't match our spirits, work that can literally break your heart."

 Levoy is somewhat of an expert on the pursuit of personal passions. He regularly conducts seminars about following paths to identify work and lives that match our spirits. In 1997 he published his book, "Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life."

 "What I mean when I say 'callings' is not singular," Levoy explains, "like the way people raised in a religious tradition think of a vocation to the ministry." That sense, he suggests, can be limited by the notion of having only one true calling per lifetime.

  "To me a calling is much more pluralistic," he says. "It's any message, urging, prompting or even imperative that comes from deep inside your own life. It essentially tells you what it's going to take to make your own life literally come true. It tells you what changes, passions, directions, and what course corrections you need to act on to bring a sense of alignment so that what you do matches who you are."

A Personal Journey

  Levoy's own sense of callings came from several personal experiences. His parents, he says, did not pursue the careers they truly desired. On his deathbed, Levoy's father, more or less told his son that he blew it: "Kiddo, when the brass ring comes around in life, you better grab it, cause it may not come around again."

  "I was a teenager," Levoy recalls, "and it scared the hell out of me." What's more, it prompted him to examine his own life through daily journals, a practice he's followed since the age of 17. That process helped him to gain a more profound understanding of who he was and what he needed to be doing.

  Levoy pursued a career in writing, initially as a journalist and newspaper columnist. Although successful, after eight years he felt he wasn't doing exactly what he wanted. "I'd say one of the biggest turning points for me was trading employment for self-employment, which is certainly one of life's bigger pivots. I did that in 1984 when I left The Cincinnati Enquirer and moved out to California."

  Then in 1992, Levoy, a native of New York City, felt drawn to try country life. "I'd lived within honking distance of cities my whole life," he says. His move to Taos, N.M., was another opportunity to explore central issues in his life. Again he carefully analyzed his actions.

  In the mid-90s Levoy recognized that his searching was not unique. His realization led him to write "Callings." In fact, he says, part of his own calling was to write this book. "I've written hundreds and hundreds of articles and essays, and this is the only piece where I felt more like the court stenographer than the writer. This is the only project I've ever had that I felt was coming through me rather than from me. There was a notion of some bigger voice that wanted to speak through me."

Everybody's Business

  Levoy admits he's wary about describing such feelings to people in the corporate world, "which is a shame in itself, of course," he adds. In fact, his thoughts about callings are extremely pertinent to those in businesses and organizations. He has written, "Creating passionate, productive and callings-inspired work and workplaces begins with the individual, with the corpus (body) that defines the corporation...The more passionate you are, and the more you desire to produce, the less hot, condensed, manager-breath managers will need to breathe on the back of your neck."

  Most people fear responding to their callings, Levoy believes, because such actions disrupt our personal status quo. "Most people simply tune out the callings and longings they feel," he wrote in "Callings," "rather than confront and act on them, trading authenticity for security and settling for less. At best, you end up becoming a recreational user of your passion and creativity. You lose; your company loses; the world loses."

  In his seminars Levoy shows people how to "turn the receiver on." Many aren't ready for what they discover, so he plunges them into an internal dialogue. "I'm really big on letting 'no' and 'yes' talk to one another, rather than letting them sort of retreat to their respective corners of the boxing ring. You can be informed by the two different forces."

  Levoy maintains that effective managers help others tap into their motivations and callings. "Part of the job description of people in stewardship and leadership positions is understanding and activating those deep motivations in people, those callings. What the callings work is all about is looking at your own deepest motivations to the degree that your job description is about modeling integrity, knowing who you are, knowing what you're here to do, what you stand for and what you won't stand for."

  Having a workforce attuned to its callings reduces the managerial burden. "When people are operating from these deeper motivations, they don't need a whole lot of managing. They are so self-motivated, because they are aligned with their own sense of purpose and mission and passion. People like that work with huge enthusiasm."

A Calling a Day...

  Levoy is also convinced that people who follow their callings are healthier. "In every workshop that I do, I ask, 'How many of you have a sneaking suspicion that some recurring symptoms you're having may be related to your refusal of calling?' Even in a group of cynical CEOs, one-third to one-half of these people will raise their hands."
Digging as deeply as possible to identify who we are and what we truly care about is an absolute necessity, Levoy says. Ira Progoff, whose techniques of personal journaling shaped Levoy's thinking, once likened our lives to a well. The point, he suggested, is to descend deeply enough in your own well that you eventually hit the stream that's the source of all the wells.

  "I love that," Levoy says. "That's what callings are about. Callings point us down the well. My own passions and my own deepest motivations somehow touch what the world is hungry for. Great things can take place when my own passions and motivations match up with what is needed, what is called for from the world."

  That interconnectedness is part of another lesson Levoy teaches, using the example of several fairy tales. "When the king sleeps, everybody around him sleeps, and the kingdom goes to sleep" he says, citing Sleeping Beauty and the Grail King. "But when they awaken, everybody around them awakens and the kingdom flowers."

  The business world is no different, he maintains. "To the degree that people in the company are asleep to themselves, it has an effect on the community they are in. It doesn't matter whether that community is a family or a team or a corporate industry. The community pays a price for people's passivity and detachment. They reap benefits of people's aliveness and passion.

  "That's one of the facts that I've tried to bring to the working world." And that's a call worth heeding.

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