The way we go about our work, the way we manage others, the way we lead and the way we follow can so easily be an attempt to get seen in a particular light.
We often can’t tell how hard we’re trying to have it be this way – how our late nights are an effort to be seen as diligent, how our saying ‘yes’ to everything is a project to be seen as caring, how our perfectionism is an attempt to be seen as perfect, how our desperation for promotion is an attempt to be seen as valuable. And we rarely see how our moods and bodies are part of our efforting – the crashing disappointment when someone dislikes the presentation we’ve slaved over for a week, the deflation when another person doesn’t give us just the right kind of praise (just the right length, just the right temperature), the momentary flash of delight at a bonus.
When we work from this grabbing, needy place – and in particular when we lead or manage others from here – we’re not responding to the world so much as trying to fill a hole in ourselves that we don’t know how to fill. And there are many problems with this. It’s an endless project, doomed to remain unfinished, and to draw from us ever more energy and attention. No amount of praise of the right kind will do it, and no amount of being seen as being perfect will resolve the feeling that something is missing – because there is always the next moment, and the next, and the next when it can all fall apart. And it turns us away from others and from what’s called for as it calls us towards our own neediness.
The route through is not to find a way to fill the emptiness or to give up our longing for love or perfection, but to learn that the hole never really needed filling – to open our hand and find it already full. It is truly a lifetime’s work to discover that everything we need is right here – that we are already perfect, and already love, simply by being alive. And the discovery that nothing needs to be done, paradoxically, frees us up to stop grasping and instead do exactly what is most called for.