Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Work and your Life Force

There are many benefits of working in a place like the AIDS Foundation of Chicago that can't be quantified in dollars and cents. Take, for instance, our President Mark Ishaug's invitation to staff to participate in a three-hour Qigong session during work hours (gasp). I thought my takeaway from this experience would be related to ancient eastern metaphysics, but it wasn't at all.

Not that the session wasn't great, because it was. 
In its simplest form, the Chinese character for qi, in qigong, can mean air, breath, or "life force." Gong means work, so qigong is therefore the practice of "working" with one's "life force." The internal Chinese practice that often uses slow graceful movements, massage, stretches and controlled breathing techniques to promote the circulation of qi within the human body, and enhance a practitioner's overall health. The tradition has been passed down through lineages as an oral tradition since the 9th century. If it's that old, then something has to be working.

But while I enjoyed the qigong experience, I took away something much larger than that. When I look back on the experience, I realized I was sitting in a room with 30 co-workers, all of whom I like personally, doing self-improvement exercises at the behest of my boss - now where the hell else does that happen?

As I've gotten older, I've come to realize how important it is not only to love what you do, but where you do it and who you do it with. I, like most others, have had the unfortunate experience of working in an environment that focuses on dollars, productivity and winning, all at the expense of the individual. Employees are be treated like the dispensable minions that they are, no matter how high on the totem pole they sit. Working for a company that does not personally care for the mental and emotional health of its employees can be a toxic environment, pushing individuals to the max while they reap few rewards. It all makes perfect sense: if you're going to be spending eight-plus hours a day in an office, you better like it.

When I was still coming into my own I took a job in public relations, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to make my mark in the world. The next several months of my life were the lowest of my professional life, worse than killing roaches for a slumlord, cleaning up vomit in a gay club, or mindless robotic relay at a call center, all of which I had experienced in my youth. After countless pejorative remarks that drained me of all confidence in and commitment to my work (and a half-hearted death threat from my spawn-of-the-Devil, Cruella DeVille-esque boss), I quit and started re-prioritizing what I looked for in a job.
Admittedly, all my evidence is empirical, but I think it's common sense that no one wants to work for a company that takes and never gives. Employees do more work- better work - when they like what they are doing, and who they are doing it for. As for me, I also have more drive, confidence and satisfaction in my personal and professional life more than I ever have before. AFC is onto something - the question is, when will the rest of the professional world pick up on it?

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