“How to Thrive at Work without Selling Your Soul”

You want all your work and financial dealings to be done with integrity.  You want to thrive at work, not just stagger through stressful days, then limp home to the TV or other drug of choice.  You want all the ways you earn, spend, or invest money to be purposeful –engaging your talents and serving others.  You want a world where others get a fair shake, and their concerns also matter.

So how do you do this in a world where fraud, waste or abuse seem to be the norm?  Where it seems that, in order to earn your paycheck or have a thriving business, you’ve got to give up your need for a life, your values, your sense of purpose or your integrity.

What You Compromise is a Key to Soulful Work that Helps Your Thrive

Compromise is a fact of life, writes Elizabeth Doty in her new book, The Compromise Trap: how to thrive at work without selling your soul. When compromise is healthy, we give up something lesser for something of higher value.  We cooperate to share resources and meet goals that matter.  Examples of healthy compromises:  sharing costs, adapting to others’ personalities, or giving up old ways to learn new ones.

When compromise is unhealthy, we give up our principles. Some examples of what we give up, according to Elizabeth, are our honesty, adherence to laws or regulations, professional standards, promises or commitments, a desire to do good work, our values, our objectivity, our character, purpose or mission.

A common pattern goes something like this:  without thinking about whether we really want it, we sacrifice time with self and family for more time at work in order to impress others into promoting us into positions we don’t really want in order to buy more stuff.

With Unhealthy Compromise, We are Out of Alignment with Ourselves and Others

Every time I speak at workplaces about spirituality and work, I’m horrified by stories such as the nurse who says the only time she has to herself is in the bathroom.

Obviously, the nurse cares about her children and her work. But when she sacrifices her own objectivity, health and perhaps other things, how can she be in alignment with her true self?  Being out of true with herself, how can she be aligned with the true needs of others, including her family and all who are impacted by her work?

It takes courage to take time for self, just as it takes courage to stand up to a workplace bully or the kind or insanity that has driven the economy into a mess these past few years.  As Elizabeth so eloquently puts it, there are healthy pressures, such as a cultural norm that enforces accountability or a company directive to build business with integrity and by creating more customer trust.

With Courage and Creativity, We Don’t have to Be Caught in the Compromise Trap

Unhealthy pressures reward lower values while penalizing higher ones.  Examples from Elizabeth’s book:  “expectations that salespeople will lie to customers, a directive to cut costs for appearance’s sake, or a cultural norm that enforces posturing.”

Faced with such reward of lower values, many people at work fall into what Elizabeth calls the “Compromise Trap,” which slowly erodes one’s principles.  Using my favorite definition of integrity in all its meanings, that means that we can compromise away our ability to be honest, true to self, whole, authentic, or ethical.  Without personal integrity, we can’t be on the level with others.  There’s no resonance between our inner values and outer actions. After a while, we can’t even see our own principles, but we may feel some gnawing manifestation from that part of us that knows we’re off base.

Elizabeth notes that too many people focus on a narrow view of self-protection and just play along with the game as they see it.  In the long run, this means others, who may be less principled, define our options and terms of engagement.

A better choice is to choose a higher level of engagement, oriented around a bigger win for more people.  “Generally, trying to act as a positive force to help the right thing happen, for oneself and others.”

How Can You Redefine Your Work and Money Game So It Better Meets Your Vision and Values?

Elizabeth, a brilliant storyteller and expert in organizational learning, offers over 50 stories of corporate compromise versus corporate courage.  She also lays out numerous exercises that are valuable to any individual (even those like me who are corporate-avoiders) who wants to clarify and live by their values.

This book is going up on my list of top books for spirituality and work, conscious capitalism, or whatever name you use for work that’s more meaningful, purposeful and satisfying.

Full disclosure: I have known Elizabeth for close to ten years, and have grown to respect her highly as a colleague.  Though I consider her a cherished friend even when our lives are too busy to hang out much together, I gain nothing from recommending this book other than helping you discover it … and hopefully helping to create a more ethical, thriving economy that serves all of us better.

As always, many blessings,

Pat McHenry Sullivan