Dialogue with Denise Bissonnette on Wholehearted Engagement
This is a dialogue with Denise Bissonnette and David Zinger as they talk about Denise’s views on wholehearted engagement. You can watch the entire recording or scan the time stamped transcript to go to a section that interest you. Here are a few tidbits from Denise during the conversation:
“Pursue a path, however narrow or crooked, that you can walk with love and with reverence.”
perhaps the antidote to burnout is not rest; perhaps the antidote to burnout is wholeheartedness
I think what revives our spirits is pouring it into something meaningful – to engaging with people, with our work, with our world, with our purposes, and our gifts, and through that we get the kind of energy that we want, and you know as fundamental as this is, that wholeheartedness can’t be forced or coerced, it can’t be mandated
how would our work be enlivened with the new narrative, and what would have to change in order to change your story if in fact your story is not working for you
You know, David, we like to use the word teacher for things we like to learn. We don’t like to use the word teacher for things that are not so fun to learn, but if you think about it we learn tolerance sometimes from bigots, racists, and chauvinists; they show us exactly how we do not want to be. We certainly learn humility from our children.
[00:04] David Zinger: Hello, my name is David Zinger and I really want to welcome you to Employee Engagement & Wholehearted Engagement. This is a conversation that I’m going to be holding with Denise Bissonnette over the next 45 minutes to an hour. I want to welcome you all who joined in on the webinar and look forward to things unfolding. The webinar is brought to you in conjunction with the Employee Engagement Network, and I’m so pleased so many of you who joined the webinar who really know Denise from other areas and that’s what attracted you to the webinar that you’ve also joined the network; it’s my intention that that would be a great place for all of us to look at work, and engagement in work, and people who are engaged in looking for work. And without any further ado, I want to welcome someone I much admire, someone who is also a friend, Denise Bissonnette, welcome to the webinar.
[00:55] Denise Bissonnette: Thank you, David. I’m so excited to be here.
[00:59] David: So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, and then what engages you most in your work, Denise?
[01:06] Denise: Well, David, I promise to get to your question, but if you don’t mind I’d like to begin with an acknowledgement. A piece of advice that I received from a wonderful mentor many years ago, and this is advice that I have passed on to many since, is to associate with people who grow you, and I just want to thank you for being one of those people who through our friendship and our professional affiliation has continued to grow me whether I like it or not. You know, I’ve been pretty reticent about this whole webinar idea until I attended a few of yours through the Employee Engagement Network, and I just really loved your style, and the tone that you set, and I thought man I want to get on that train. So, I just want to say how happy I am to be doing this with you, and while this isn’t the first time and it’s probably not the last, thank you, David, for coaxing me out of my comfort zone.
[02:09] David: Oh, Denise, this will never be your last time; the response of people to listen to you and the people who really learn so much from you is this is a platform they’ll probably be asking for.
[02:23] Denise: Well, on that note I also really want to welcome our listeners, and I understand they’re joining us not only from all over the US and Canada, but from other parts of the world, so thank you for being here and lending an ear.
So, David I’ll go to your question; what engages me in my work? I’d like to share a favorite quote from Thoreau who said: “Pursue a path, however narrow or crooked, that you can walk with love and with reverence.” And like I know life is full of paths, but I think few of them hold as much potential for our growth or possibility for our self-expression as the path of work, and I have been deeply absorbed as a writer, and a trainer, and a curriculum developer in things relating to that pursuit. You know, how do we travel the every day path of work however narrow, or crooked, convoluted, complex, with love and reverence, or to use my favorite term – with wholeheartedness. So, I’ve been on a mission really through my writing and my teaching to inform, and inspire, and hopefully nourish people in that pursuit of bringing their whole heart to their everyday journey. So, you know, that’s my short answer, but really the message I’m here to convey to this webinar is the longer answer to that question.
[03:57] David: And the longer answer is some questions we can really begin to ask ourselves, and you’ve formed the webinar around seven essential questions; there’s kind of five what’s, and a who, and a where. Why questions, Denise?
[04:16] Denise: Well, David, I want to talk about questions, but I’d like to talk first about why questions with regard to wholeheartedness, because I have chosen that term very purposely. David Whyte, one of my favorite writers, once suggested that perhaps the antidote to burnout is not rest; perhaps the antidote to burnout is wholeheartedness, you know, bringing your whole heart, again, to the work that we’re doing, and you know, I hold as kind of a constant reminder the fact that we’re really here for such a brief time on earth, you know, none of us know how much time we have, and that makes every moment rather precious, and given the status as mere visitors in the world, you know, temporary guests, I’m wondering who care to be involved in anything that they wouldn’t want to give their whole hearts to?
[05:15] David: OK.
[05:16] Denise: We know… We know what it looks like for people who kind of live for Friday night and dread Monday morning, but just because we witness it from other people doesn’t give us an excuse to accept that kind of dead end existence for ourselves. I don’t think we want to live it Lois Lane, I think we want to live full tilt. I love this little saying I read on a magnet on my friend’s refrigerator the other day: “Live to the point of tears”, and I think from wholeheartedness I think it’s the seed bed for everything else we would want to cultivate at work: enthusiasm, passion, creativity, purpose, you know, those qualities that turn ordinary work into extraordinary work.
[06:05] David: And so I’m not going to try and force you to speak for David Whyte, he speaks quite eloquently for himself, but you’re kind of suggesting that the antidote to burnout may be putting our whole heart into it? It seems counter intuitive to most people.
[06:21] Denise: Right, because we think that to rest will revive our spirits, but I think what revives our spirits is pouring it into something meaningful – to engaging with people, with our work, with our world, with our purposes, and our gifts, and through that we get the kind of energy that we want, and you know as fundamental as this is, that wholeheartedness can’t be forced or coerced, it can’t be mandated, you know, we can’t manipulate people into bringing their whole heart; I think it’s kind of a gate within each of us that only opens from the inside, like there’s no outside latch.
[07:04] David: OK, maybe there’s a connection here when we’re looking at wholeheartedness, and Martin Luther King certainly lived his life with a very wholehearted passion for what he was trying to achieve, and you’ve woven that together with questions.
[07:20] Denise: Well, I begin many of my workshops with this quote from Martin Luther King, who suggested that our questions are everything, so “The questions we ask on a daily basis will shape our destiny as clearly as the skeleton shapes your body.” Our questions are everything; they will shape our livelihoods, our relationships, and our very realities, and if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; there’s so much to see and experience in the world, and perceive in the world, that the questions we ask serve like the lens of the camera of the mind telling us what to shoot for and what to focus on, and I think we’re all natural questioners, but rarely do we have the presence of mind to really consider the questions that are animating our journey.
I like the idea that at the heart of the word question is the word quest. So, if you don’t like where your question is leading you, you change the question. I mean and listen to the difference between man what’s wrong in this place, to what’s passable in this situation, what needs changing, where do I start? And so you see in front of you the quote “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” I think a good question is like the turn of a kaleidoscope; when we pay attention differently, we see things differently, our perspectives change, and then our perceptions. So, with one turn of the kaleidoscope we’re looking at fear, with a slight turn, hope, with one turn scarcity, with another its abundance, and that therein lies the poetic power of a new question, and that’s what I want to present in this webinar – seven questions that will serve as ships in our perspective with regard to our wholeheartedness.
[09:16] David: So, Neil Postman, a critic of education back in the 70s and 80s, once stated that children enter school as question marks and leave as periods, and it sounds to me one of your quests around work is to reinstall questions for people?
[09:33] Denise: Yes, and to not treat the world as if it’s already finished, I mean that’s one of the things that education does I think is it makes us think more in terms of facts rather than curiosity, and I think keeping questions alive is our mission if we are willing to accept it; to keep questions alive that get us out of our normal way of seeing things. You know, when we pay attention differently it’s like we’re in a different country, we come alive differently in our world, we see different things, and I would hope that that’s what education would most want to inspire in us, but I think Neil Postman is absolutely right on; we’d rather settle for answers. And you know, on that note, David, I want to suggest to our listeners that as we pose these questions that we not approach them as if we have the answers, but to approach them, you know, with kind of an openness and a vulnerability so we’re not always stepping in tomorrow with yesterday’s answers.
[10:41] David: So, Denise, everybody loves a good story, but it’s another matter to look at your own story. So, your first question is what’s your story? What do you mean?
[10:55] Denise: Well, I think we’re all storytellers; we’re always weaving and reweaving tales that help us kind of make sense of our experience. So, there’s the reality of the situation we’re in, and then there’s what we’re telling ourselves about it. So, we look out in the world and then applying our opinions, values, needs, you know, add in a few expectations, you know, we have our homespun version of what’s going on. So, I know you know this, David, as a consultant you go into any workplace and throw the question so what’s it like working here? And we’re bound to hear everything from hey this is the bomb, you know…?
[11:34] David: Yeah.
[11:34] Denise: Or I’m pretty much a cog in the wheel just hanging in until retirement, or you know I finally hit the big leagues, I’m in my A game, or hey this is a dead end job, and you know, so at the same workplace all working in similar circumstances, the stories that people have going on about their experience are going to include everything from a mystery, a dark comedy, a Greek tragedy, you know, an inspirational hallmark special, and so going back to the question for our listeners, the question is what is the story you have going on with regard to your career, your workplace, your position, and the point of course is to recognize that it’s just that; it’s a story, and to own your own spin. You know, is your story nourishing you or is it depleting your energy? Is it dulling your senses or is it like really awakening your imagination? Is it making you act out of compliance or commitment, cynicism or optimism? I guess to borrow Dr. Phil’s question, you know, how is the story working for you, and…
[12:48] David: I’ve been thinking… Sorry to interrupt you, you really captured me with story, and do you think people have a signature story, Denise?
[12:58] Denise: You know what, I think we have lots and lots of stories going on throughout our lives, and you know maybe once we’ve been in a story long enough it becomes our signature story, but and I’m not really talking about people’s life story here, David, I’m really talking about what the spin we’re putting on the experience that we’re having, because I think our experience of work has a lot to do with the expectation that we bring to it every day. You know, it can be a tool that refines us, or this very small box, a tight frame that defines us – depending on our spin where it can feel like a burden or a blessing. So, like my question is how would our work be enlivened with the new narrative, and what would have to change in order to change your story if in fact your story’s not working for you? You get where I’m going?
[13:53] David: So, in some way you talk about the spin and the story, and it’s like in some ways if we have an effective story it stops the world from spinning, because that’s not a good experience at work sometimes when it’s spinning.
[14:08] Denise: You know that’s a really nice way to put it, like how do you have a spin that provides a little solid ground?
[14:17] David: So, the sub-question here is are you the puppet or the puppeteer?
[14:25] Denise: Yeah, you know I think that sometimes we can feel like a puppet in the workplace, but the truth is we’re all puppeteers by the mere fact of our existence we’re part of the great drama; none of us are witnesses, we’re all participants, you know, whether you’re getting in the game or you’re sitting in the stands, we’re the only ones holding our own strengths, and you know some people find this fact frightening, some find it freeing, but we have to accept that the most influential factor in the situation we’re experiencing is us. David, what I’m saying is that to a very great degree we need to be responsible for our own level of engagement, and I think we need to get real about work, like I love when people go oh I’m out of my dream job… My favorite response is dream job is appropriately named; it’s in your dreams. There’s just like real work, and at every real job there’s stuff we like, and there’s stuff we don’t, and hey our job is to just deal, to get on with it. As my colleague Richard Pimentel used to say, hey work is tough; that’s why they have to pay us to do it.
[15:37] David: Yeah.
[15:38] Denise: You know, Buckminster Fuller said we have a right hand, and we have a left hand; we don’t have a right hand and a wrong hand. People are always asking am I in the right job, I think this is the wrong job… I don’t think there’s a right job or a wrong job; there’s just the job we’re in and what we’re bringing to it.
[15:55] David: You know I think people struggle, many people struggle for authenticity in the workplace, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if like Pinocchio, our nose would grow as we started to lose our authenticity so that we could see how far it’s getting away from us?
[16:11] Denise: Yes, and you know we are going to be talking about authenticity; it’s part of the very next question. It’s a crucial matter, but there’s one thing I want to say before we leave this first question and go into the second one, and that’s for people to consider what is it I most want out of my work day; what do I want out of my career, what am I expecting from my work life, and then to change the question and ask whether it’s creativity, purpose, a sense of identity or pride… What if that’s not something you get from work, what if that’s something that you bring to work? The truth is I think that our dreams are waiting for us to come true to them.
[16:59] David: Yeah, so we need to head out to there, and that kind of leads us I think in a great way to your second question. What are your truest colors?
[17:11] Denise: Well, I became very enamored with the term true livelihood several years ago, and it’s the word I use as an alternative to career, employment, a job, because what I love about it is the idea of being true to who you are, what you love, what you care about, but as Marion Woodman says: “Don’t worry about being true to yourself until you know what voice you’re being true to.” Meaning, you know, wholehearted engagement requires that somebody’s home and that we know who that somebody is, and I think we’ve all experienced how we come to define ourselves with labels, you know, I’m a tourist, I’m an E and a P, he’s a type-A personality, a leader, she’s management, he’s frontline, he’s union, she’s temp… Like how do we free other people and ourselves from these very small kinds of identities?
You know, I could tell you I’m a white, middle age, woman, American, French heritage, living in Canada. Does this really describe me? Well, not really; it gives me a sense of location in the world, but these kinds of descriptions aren’t big enough to carry who we are, and David would you agree that in the workplace we kind of settle for identities that are bound by very limiting categories, and in the end I think they stifle our uniqueness, and it’s what we claim to value is everybody’s different, you know, there’s no two people alike. Don’t you think work gives us a really awesome opportunity in fact to learn who we are, to discover ourselves in relationship to other people, and when we create space for our real self-expression, we invite everyone else’s, and to me this is the heart of diversity; it’s diversity is really about inclusion, and inclusion isn’t about noticing what’s different about each other, but noticing what’s unique, you know, what are each of our truest colors?
[19:22] David: Yeah, and I think, you know, what was happening with the industrial age and modernization is we tried to cookie cut our work and make it all just fit into a certain structure, and now with knowledge work, and almost all of us are knowledge workers, it does provide that opportunity to bring more uniqueness and more of who we are to what we do.
[19:48] Denise: Which brings us to what you referenced earlier, that whole authenticity factor. I think people know what we’re talking about when we use the term, that feeling of being comfortable in your own skin, feeling like you can express your views without having to water them down, or dummy them up, or hide them, and I mean truly is there anything more exhausting than walking around trying to be someone you’re not? But in the same way you mentioned that education has turned us from question marks into periods, I believe that the culture has taught us to value conformity over authenticity. You know, rather than being taught to be true to ourselves, we’re told don’t rock the boat, play your cards close to the vest, don’t wear your hearts on your sleeve. Like where I went to school we were taught it was more important to be accepted and acceptable to everyone around us than to be accepted and acceptable to ourselves, and you know, gee, surrendering a little authenticity seemed like a small price to pay for the larger reward of just belonging, but I think the rub is that this really isn’t a win for anybody. Gandhi says if you don’t live to tell your true story, you have betrayed it. None of us want to be frauds, and I think the price we pay when we stay in a role or a situation where we’re not really bringing our true self is paid not just by us but by everyone around us.
[21:29] David: Yeah, so it’s not… You’re not just talking about the verbal story; you’re really in essence talking about the live story and the story that’s lived through work.
[21:40] Denise: Yes, I am, and you know I think when we live behind a mask or with armor to try to fit in that it affects not only our own sense of livelihood and wholeheartedness, but it also does damage to the people we’re trying to help. So, you know, the counselor who has lost her vision is going to fail to inspire people about their futures, like I think we really need to own our authenticity, and part of that is to own our personal culture. You put a slide up and I’ve included here some of those parts of our personal culture that it would behoove us to be aware of, like you know we love taking a look at our talents, our passions, our communication style, but I also believe that we all bring our own set of blind spots, and biases, and beliefs, and I think that if we had a greater sense of what those are and how we came to hold these beliefs, we would be more responsive to people who have a culture different than our own. I think we all bring a unique way of viewing and celebrating life, our own personal culture, but we’re also working within a larger culture of the organization. So, some sub-questions here are, you know, what am I bringing to the table that’s unique, what do I have to give up or change for the sake of the larger whole, what are the values or patterns that I have to acquire to assimilate to the culture? Because, like David would you agree that in large part we’re paid not only to wear our own face, but the face of the company? So, if I have like a great interaction with Judy from United Airlines, or a terrible interaction with Judy from United Airlines, when I leave I don’t leave with a lasting impression of Judy; it’s a lasting impression of United Airlines. So, I think we have to have real integrity. Is there a natural blending of our personal culture with that larger culture whose face we also have to wear?
[23:56] David: Yeah, and that’s a struggle sometimes to make sure the two faces fit together without losing our face.
[24:04] Denise: Right, and you know for people who are looking for work and like making the difficult choice of where they’ll work, that’s always a question that I would raise; like do you feel a natural belonging, do you feel at home in that world, that larger world of the workplace?
[24:25] David: Well, we’ve kind of looked at two questions. We’re on our way to our third question, and already I think I could use a liquid Advil or whatever, because it’s asking a lot, but I don’t think that’s what you mean by what’s your medicine.
[24:39] Denise: David, you know what I mean. I believe what Native Americans believe; that everyone born to the earth is born with a gift, there’s no exceptions, that no ones birth was a mistake, and that it is in the expression and the giving of these gifts that they become medicine for the tribe, the family, the community, the workplace. They would also say that the health and the vitality of any community requires 100% participation of every member’s gift; that’s their medicine. Now, I want you to notice the difference between the questions what’s your medicine, from are you fulfilling the functions as written in your job description? I mean it’s not that doing the job you are hired to do, producing the results, that’s important, don’t get me wrong. What I’m saying though is that if in the process of doing that work we’re not bringing what feels like our truest gifts, our medicine; even if we’re pleasing the boss we are not inspiring ourselves. I believe that all of us have talents that will eventually surface as a need, not just as a hobby or a passion, but with a necessity like eating, drinking, breathing, and a really important question is what are we here to give? I love this shift in consciousness when we make the shift from what am I here to get to what am I here to give? It’s that shift from reaping to sewing, and my favorite question… Go ahead, David.
[26:23] David: And so it really comes back to putting your heart into your work and being very hearty with your work then, that the giving versus the getting.
[26:33] Denise: Absolutely, and when you’re giving of your natural gifts it’s not work, you know, it feels like play. One of my favorite questions to help people discover their medicine is to just ask them what do you love? I love when people go how do you unlock the key to motivation, and it’s oh, just ask them what they love, hello. You know, because what we love is what we’re here to give. In my workshops I ask people to write a quick list of 10 things they love, and I would encourage our listeners to do this at some point, and once they’ve written what they love, you know, whether it’s gardening, fishing, cooking, writing, reading, you know, speaking, I have them look at that and know that those are your gifts from the world and those are meant to be your gifts right back to the world. It’s what we’re disciplined in, which shares the same root word as disciple; it’s what we’re disciples of, and I think when we bring more what we love to our work everyday in and outside of the workplace, everyone benefits from it, because it kind of brings a natural wholeheartedness.
[27:45] David: I so much appreciate you saying that. You know Erich Fromm once wrote a book called The Art of Love, and he said that the art of love consists of discipline, concentration, and patience, and I think so often when we hear the word love banding around work it leads people to believe it’s some sort of mushy expedition and it’s just if my heart infuses with love everything will be wonderful, and yet there’s the discipline, there’s the concentration, there’s the patience in there.
[28:14] Denise: Oh my gosh, absolutely, and you know I would say that for all the pragmatists listening who think that this whole idea of love or wholeheartedness is like some philosophical or fanciful notion. The truth is it has huge implications for our everyday practical concerns. It’s that je ne sais quoi, really good customer service, or of a brilliant lecture, or… It’s what we expect of leaders. I mean who wants to follow a leader who’s not willing to follow his or her own heart?
[28:52] David: Yeah, and you know it’s interesting you read many of the generals in military, and that’s not a profession that you equate a lot with love. What the effective generals will talk about is how much they love the people that they work with.
[29:08] Denise: Nice.
[29:08] David: And yet there are people, who can go into terrible and awful situations and have to make decisions that affect people’s lives or whatever, and yet they talk about their leadership based on love, and I don’t think they’re being mushy.
[29:26] Denise: No. Well, I mean I think we’re here to give ourselves away, and to actually connect with the world, and to respond to the world with what really calls to us, bringing us to the question you put on the screen: what’s your why? I think what we do in life really matters very little, but why we do it is everything. I love the story of the priest who meets a soldier on the road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier walks up, aims his gun at the priest and says who are you, where do you go, why do you go there, and the priest smiles and he says son, put your gun down, tell me how much do they pay you to meet people on the road and ask those three questions? He says 50 kopecks a month. The priest says son, I will gladly triple your income if you promise to meet me on the road every day for the rest of my life and pose those three questions: who are you, where do you go, why do you go there? And I think our listeners relate, you know, knowing that our time is precious, we don’t want to just spend it; we want to invest it, you know, whether in our profession, or a cause, you know, something that touches us deeply.
[30:51] David: So, your questions are much less about interrogation and much more about invitation?
[30:58] Denise: Oh man, well you’ve got that right. We’re not asking here for the, you know, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You know, what we’re asking for is for people to kind of ponder, to like take the questions and, well I like the metaphor like let it be like a lantern illuminating darkened corners, or like a teabag that has to steep for a while. You know, what’s your why? It’s a rather large question. Actually, if you would put on the next slide… People say you know Denise, you know, what’s my why, what’s my purpose, and so many people are walking around not knowing what their purpose is, and I just want to share that having grown up Catholic there’s this really strong leaning on the idea of calling of vocation, and I’ll tell you what I really would of appreciated burning bush, or you know, angels speaking from the heavens. But my ace in the hole was if I don’t get the call any other way, I’m just going to be a nun, and David I wanted to be a nun from when I was like six until I was 16. I even had my name picked out, you ready? Sister Mary Katherine. OK, what I wish someone had said to that six year old, eight year old, 10 year old, 16 year old, you know Denise, maybe life isn’t about getting the big call, but you will be called every day if you know how to listen. You will be called in every part of your life to do, or be, or become something which you weren’t the day before. So, you know I would put that out to our listeners to think about how are you being called in the work you’re in, what small sense of purpose or big sense of purpose can you bring to the daily work, even the mundane work?
[32:52] David: So, you could have been a nun dressed in pink, because you would have been Sister Mary K. Sorry, that’s just one of my guesses, because I think the world would have been a little differently, and I know Rob would have been a little disappointed, Sister Mary Katherine, had you taken that route.
[33:09] Denise: Yeah, I had an aunt who I love very much who was in the convent when she was young, and when I was about 16 she came and visited, she goes honey I know you’ve been telling us since you were a little girl you wanted to be a nun, I just have one larger question for you: why? And you know, it really took me back, but I said, you know, I want to teach, and my vision of teaching was that you would wear a little funny hat and a black habit, you know, and she’s like no, no, no, you know, you can teach and live in a regular house, and wear regular clothes, and get married, and have babies. Anyway, as you can imagine, David, I’m very happy we had this conversation.
[33:49] David: Yeah, one of my aunts was a Mother Superior and back in the 50s and 60s they always wore habits, and she stayed with us one time and frightened me when all of the sudden I saw her pass from one room to the other and realized that she had hair, and sometimes its hard at that spiritual realm to recognize the humanness embedded in it.
[34:10] Denise: Yes.
[34:11] David: So, she became a little bit of a teacher there, which comes to the fifth question: who are your teachers?
[34:18] Denise: This is one of my very favorite questions. I’d like everyone listening to think about someone who is absolutely driving them crazy. By the way, if they’re in the room with you, don’t look at them. Think of someone who is like a thorn in your side in or outside of work. Some of you have a whole cast of characters. So, my question to you is this: how could that person possibly have that much of your attention without something really important to teach you? You know, David, we like to use the word teacher for things we like to learn. We don’t like to use the word teacher for things that are not so fun to learn, but if you think about it we learn tolerance sometimes from bigots, racists, and chauvinists; they show us exactly how we do not want to be. We certainly learn humility from our children. So, I think we just need to be more comfortable with our problems, our challenges, knowing that they’re kind of a sign that there’s still life in us, we’re not dead yet, there’s still something to learn, but as the next slide shows, it’s kind of important to get the lesson. You know, have you ever met the person who’s gone from job to job, workplace to workplace, miserable in every one, and you kind of want to say, you know, there’s a common denominator there, you know?
[35:48] David: Yeah.
[35:49] Denise: The problem in the workplace, are you bringing it with you? And I would love to just give an example of my own, I don’t know, stubbornness, blindness to the lesson was really, really early in my career, and I worked for a two person consulting firm who were required to hire me in order to get this contract from the Office of Refugee Services in California. It was a contract to train job developers, and they were told they had to hire me, and they didn’t like that, and they didn’t like me, and they had no problem letting me know on a daily basis they were not glad I was there.
So, for like six months I’m in this incredibly hostile work environment and I kept thinking oh, this is to teach me patience, resilience, you know, to hold my own, you know, against all this disdain. Well, about six months into it, it occurs to me huh, what if I’m supposed to be learning how to speak up for myself? What if this is like a hardcore curriculum in assertiveness? So, anyway I’m happy to tell you that I quit and oh my God I had such a great time doing it, and my point is if we’re going to fall let’s fall forward, you know? I moved from there to developing, you know, a great partnership with two colleagues, I think wrote some of my best work, became a national trainer, you know, to this day I would bow to those nasty colleagues. The thing is I think we put on the face of everything around us that which affirms who we already are, you know, can we be more teachable?
Rilkie phrases a great question; he says: “Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated decisively by constantly greater things.” I think the challenge is to look at what we consider to be a problem and ask yourself am I totally overqualified for this problem or does this really qualify as a constantly greater thing? I had a participant after a training say Denise, can I just have a few minutes to talk about a challenge? David, you’re a trainer, you know at the end of a training day we’re just like exhausted, right, totally wasted, and I’m thinking, you know, come on Denise, you can give her a few minutes. So, she’s like 10 minutes into how she’s challenged with this boss who makes them sit in a two hour meeting every Friday, and it’s boring, and he has a corny sense of humor, and it’s a waste of time. So, I don’t know if it was my pure exhaustion or what, but I’m like OK, let me get this picture here; you’re in a county with some of the highest unemployment rate, you know, in the country, you’re in a job that you say you’ve been trained for that you love, doing what you love, and you’re fretting because of the two hour meeting every Friday for a guy who tells bad jokes? Like if this really is your big challenge, you ought to kneel and kiss the ground. You know, do you get my point here? It’s I think we really need to look at what we are calling our problems and our challenges and like step up, you know, and say I’m going to give my attention to that which really is deserving of my energies.
[39:16] David: Yeah, and you know there’s been estimates of how much people complain in the workplace, and some estimates are over half the workplace complains on average 10 hours a month, and they’re either complaining or they’re listening to someone else complain, and 30% of those people are 20 hours a month, and you’re just fertilizing and feeding the very things that you’re complaining about, and not… And I think what you’d say is you may have legitimate complains and beefs, but are you going to do something about that, are you going to take some action with that?
[39:50] Denise: Right, and again…
[39:51] David: So, this brings us to question six on where do you lead?
[39:57] Denise: Well, you know I think one of the things that’s been communicated through the first five questions is that really our lives are our ultimate creations, you know, we have the privilege of choosing who we’re going to be, what kind of life we’re going to lead, what gifts, values, purposes we bring, but like all privileges, I think this comes with a really great responsibility, because in the same way that we’re all influenced and we decide who, when, what we’re going to follow, the truth is we influence other people. I think we become ad hoc leaders and we never really know who’s watching, who is following us, or who for better or worse is following our example. So, I chose this slide because I think that no one escapes leaving a trail; our footprints are traced wherever we’ve been, and our actions and our inactions are felt in more ways than we can possibly imagine.
[41:00] David: Yeah, so we…
[41:01] Denise: I think it’s interesting that… Yeah, go ahead.
[41:03] David: So, we leave our mark and that washes away, but it’s always had an impact.
[41:09] Denise: Absolutely. I think it’s interesting that we’ve come to understand that the fluttering of a very butterfly’s wing can affect climate changes on the other side of the planet, and yet we fail to really comprehend the influence of our own actions, and I think our participation is never inconsequential, and in particular I think every day we are announcing to the world who we are, and what we care about, and what we value by the choices we make; like our values are like fingerprints that we leave over everything we do, and you know, people don’t know us by our intentions, they know us by our actions.
If you wouldn’t mind going to the next slide. We all know this beautiful phrase “My life is my message.” I came upon that years ago while reading the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, and I remember thinking oh my God, that is so incredibly cool. You know, he’s saying that he wants to live his life as a testament to the message he’s here to share with the world. But what occurred to me recently, and I wrote one of my newsletters about it, is the notion that maybe this just wasn’t a declaration of Gandhi’s intention, but what if he was speaking a truth that we all share as human beings; that how we live our lives is the fundamental medium for expressing our truth for everyone whether we like it or not? So, by default or by design our lives are our message, and this is as true for us as it is for Gandhi, and I think most of us would rather do that by design rather than by default, and it begs two questions – are you sending a message of credibility? You know, people wonder are they buying into my vision, they need to be asking are they buying into me, you know, are you leading by example? Is the way you’re living a message of integrity, which really means that there’s a congruence between who we are and what we do.
You’ve got the little inukshuk up there. You know, I use this image because I just believe these little rock figures show us a way in being in the world, like what if we didn’t base our identity in things like job title, marital status, our financial profile, but what if we based our sense of belonging to something we can really stand on that doesn’t shift; like our values, our principles, our convictions? You know, among other things we would have a difference sense of security because we would not be blown away by a layoff, a divorce, a bankruptcy, you know, I’m not saying that these aren’t terrible experiences, but the truth is if we could stand on things like our convictions and our principles, they only get stronger in turmoil, you know, not weaker. So, this is all part of that self-responsibility, right, like how can I… Knowing I can’t always control the outer world, how do I cultivate a stronger sense of self internally? What are the convictions that I can stand on, that I can show through my life, through the message that is my life?
[44:32] David: So, for many of us values, principles, convictions, and beliefs seem almost ephemeral or conceptual, but you’re really seeing them kind of as the bedrock of a wholehearted approach to work?
[44:48] Denise: Of course, because for example, if you decided I am going to base my life on a sense of fairness, it totally changes then the arguments or your experience of discrimination and how you’re going to respond to it. If you have a commitment to your joy, and your happiness, even in stranger, dire situations in the workplace you’re going to respond differently, so I don’t think it’s ephemeral at all. I think it really colors all of our reactions and our choices in the world.
[45:25] David: OK. I want to just pause for a second here. We’re going to the seventh question; where’s your yes? When we scheduled this webinar it was advertised as 45 minutes, this is the seventh question. So, if you do need to go now if you’re one of the listeners, we respect that, but we also don’t want you to feel that you’re missing something, so this webinar is recorded and will be up at the Employee Engagement Network and in the newsletters we’ll let people know how to get access to it. It probably will be on even later today with that, but there was such a response to Denise’s webinar that kind of between us in conversation we decided that we would maybe take an extra 10 minutes. So, please consider the next 10 minutes as bonus time, and we’d love you to stay, but if you do need to go, don’t feel that you’re going to be missing something because we will have that available to you. So, question seven is where is your yes?
[46:22] Denise: Well, this question was inspired by something that Joseph Campbell said: “The only question life asks is this: can you give your journey a wholehearted yes?” I think that yes is the vocabulary of the heart. We’re always saying yes whether it’s to our boredom or our curiosity, whether it’s to our resistance to change or our impatience with the status quo. I love that Mother Theresa’s advice, she once said that she would not probably show up for a revolution against war, but she would gladly attend a rally for peace. In other words, I think we need to be in the world with what we’re for, what we’re here to promote, what we affirm, rather than what we resist, and you know, applying it to the workplace its brave and a radical act to kind of sit back and really ask ourselves where are we putting our yes, and an equally important question is what does that mean about where we’re putting the implicit no? I once read those who cannot say no are not capable of a wholehearted yes. That aunt that I was talking about earlier who used to be a nun, my aunt Anna, she’s a real mover and a shaker, man, she’s an amazing woman, like she has made amazing strides in providing shelter for Boston’s elderly homeless. But she’s also a workaholic, and she once complained to me that her problem is that she can’t say no to anyone, and I tenderly suggested to her, Anna, you say no all the time. Every time you say yes to being on another committee, to volunteering for another fundraiser, you’re saying no to your spouse, you’re saying no to time for yourself, or for writing your memoir. So, I think where we’re putting our yes it’s a question that can help eliminate not only what we’re affirming, but what we’re avoiding.
[48:31] David: So, there’s that old statement if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything, so that but it’s a focus on affirmation rather than negation?
[48:41] Denise: That’s it, that’s it.
[48:44] David: So, the sub-question there…
[48:45] Denise: Yeah, yeah, and how can I not on a webinar on wholeheartedness not pose the question does the path have heart? Many of you are familiar with this passage, but for those of you who are not, I’d like to read it. It’s from Carlos Castaneda who writes: “All paths are the same; they lead nowhere. There are paths going through the bush or into the bush. In my own life I could have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactors question has meaning now; does this path have heart? If it does, the… If it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere, but one has heart and the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey as long as you follow it you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. Choose always the path of heart.” Some of you may be wondering why is he saying, you know, they all lead nowhere? Well, as I’ve recently heard someone say, no path goes all the way. You know, the question is does your path have heart? I saw a greeting card the other day that goes you know you’re on the right road when you’re happy even when you’re lost. There’s a nice card right?
[50:08] David: And it’s a path, not a highway, most of it you’re looking at, and it’s interesting that the path to me seems so much more infused with our humanness, and who we are, and that we’re not quite sure; it’s not like 1,000 signs on a path all telling you next exit in two miles or whatever, and all guiding you. You have to take a lot of initiative when you’re on a path.
[50:30] Denise: Yeah, and we only make the road by walking it. You know they say if you see your career path perfectly laid out in front of you, you can know it’s probably not yours. So, and I think you’re right, I think, you know, we’ve all taken so many paths we could call ourselves pathological, but that is what part of the vocational journey is; it’s getting lost, picking yourself up, brushing yourself off, and moving on.
[50:56] David: Wow, I’ve never heard that little cute phrase pathological. That gives new meaning to path; I’ll have to mull that over, but…
[51:03] Denise: You know you are, but…
[51:06] David: I’m pathological, I know that for sure.
[51:08] Denise: But only in totally delightful ways, David. So, you know what’s on the screen now is just kind of a summary of the questions, and to me by exploring these it presents like sort of a recipe, not like the recipe, but a recipe of how we can bring more heart to our work, you know, what’s your story, what’s your spin, is it giving you power or taking it, are you the puppet or the puppeteer, you know, what are your truest colors? Are you behind the mask, do you know who you are, do you have self-awareness, are you willing to come out from behind the mask, what’s your medicine, what are your true gifts, what do you love, what is it that you’re here to give, what can you not give without doing terrible damage to your own humanity, what’s your why, you know, how are you being called, what are your little purposes, not just your big ones, but how can you pour meaning into the chalice of everyday work, who are your teachers, you know, what are your challenges, what course, what curriculum are you in, and can you show up and get the lesson, where do you lead, people are following you, they’re watching, what is the message you are sending by how you’re living your life, and finally where are you putting your yes, does your path have heart? So, I’ve loved sharing these with you and I encourage people to share them with their colleagues and coworkers in wanting to invite more wholeheartedness in the people around them, you know, to really just pose the questions and take time to listen to the answers.
[52:53] David: So, Sister Mary K, if I could be so bold as to call you that, you talked…
[52:58] Denise: Oh my God, I am never going to live this down.
[53:00] David: I know, I know, but it’s a term of affection. We talked before we started this that you like to finish off with masquerade, and I wonder if you’d like to do that and then I’ll just make a couple of closing comments.
[53:14] Denise: Great, thank you, David. So, before I do that, I just want to thank you, David, for this opportunity, and more importantly the amazing gift you’ve given our field through the Employment Engagement Network. Talk about a generous labor of love, and I’m telling you that network is a goldmine of information, and articles, and blogs, and e-Books, and webinars, and I bow to you, my friend, and to all of you listening, my parting gift to you is this poem called The Masquerade, which I wrote in the book The Wholehearted Journey, and it goes like this:
If only we could meet in the early hours when the lines around our eyes cut a deep horizon, before we paint the rosy face, before when we could meet in the insecure hours before we dawned the coat of confidence we like to wear out in the world. If only we could meet in our sorrow, and our sadness, as well as our celebration, we would not longer have use of the words rival, competitor, enemy, that we would find thousands of new variations on the words brother, comrade, friend. If only we could see each other as we see ourselves caught in the cross light between utter despair and true innocence. If only we thought this lovable and our tiredness as we do our joy, we would find hundreds of ways to use our hands in shaping the beauty of the world, because we would no longer need them for holding up the masks. If only we could release the armor that lay so heavy upon our hearts, we could for the first time know what it is to love and work in true community. Fear led us in to this masquerade, may faith in ourselves and each other lead us out.
[55:18] David: Thank you so much, Denise. I appreciate your comments about the Employee Engagement Network, and maybe it’s partly your influence, but I know recently in talking to people about that, I have tried to explain it because I’ve sunk many hours in, that it’s been a labor of love so that hopefully others labor with love.
[55:37] Denise: Nice.
[55:38] David: And if people want to reach you after, www.DiversityWorld.com. You have one of the most enriching monthly newsletters of anyone I know, full of content that you’re just giving away to people, and I really encourage people to signup for Denise’s newsletter. She has the book The Wholehearted Journey and there are other resources with that. So, it’s just been a real pleasure to have an hour to be able to have a conversation about the wholehearted journey towards work. As I said, this has been in conjunction with the Employee Engagement Network, and my intention will be that as long as everything works fine technically, probably by the end of today a recording of this webinar will be up usually on the homepage and then on the video page, and people are very much welcome to come and view it, you can take the code and embed it so that others can view it, and pass it on, and have everyone get the maximum from this. So, Denise, thank you very much for spending time with us today.
[56:44] Denise: Thank you so much, David.
[56:46] David: And thanks to everyone who took time out of their day to spend time with us. This has been David Zinger and this is on the Employee Engagement Network, thank you very much.