Centre for Spirituality at Work
Spring 2006
From Career Planning and Adult Development Journal

Dick Cappon and Sherry Connolly

Today, it's the optics of our work lives that seem to be what counts. You know, how our career looks and what can be seen in a glance. Don't pause. Don't explore or dig too deep because you might distort the look, the optics. We sure don't want to create any discomfort, and above all not feel or look out of control! At times, we can feel like our life and career are a movie, one that just keeps rolling along. Yet we are aware of an underlying yearning for a sense of meaning and purpose, of a deep desire to make a difference and leave a legacy. And we wonder if this is just too trite for words! But we have ideas and we try different things, attempting to make an impact. We become frustrated because we don't feel in control, and we get very anxious because our optics aren't as good as we'd like. We may lack our accustomed and expected energy and focus in the whole area of our work. We question if we're nuts, as may others around us.

If there is any validity to this picture, what does it say about that uncomfortable word, spirituality? And how might - or might not -- spirituality impact our world of work, and especially our career path? Curiously, we have a greater comfort level when spirituality is spoken of in relation to our health, our family and even our communities. But spirituality and work? We shift uncomfortably in our desk chairs.

What is spirituality? For many, it is the essence of being human. It is a loving, personal relationship with the Divine (however one imagines and experiences that to be) that gives people the potential to live authentically and with integrity, based in faith, hope, compassion and wisdom. Spirituality brings the possibility to have a sense of purpose, of meaning, and of the transcendent in daily life. It is the spark, the Spirit in faith journeys. It is a lived experience, the sustaining force that supports the often hard work of acting according to what we believe. It is practical, about what one does and doesn't say, what one does and doesn't do. It cannot be equated with organized religion because spirituality transcends faith communities and traditions while also being inherent in them. Spirituality can be sustained by and integrated with such things as our spiritual practices (e.g. personal meditation and prayer, participating in communal worship, being in touch with nature, journaling, creating art), our ethical choices, our beliefs, our connection with religious traditions and communities, our reading and our conversations. Spirituality-at-work includes many different aspects of work such as vocational discernment, work-related relationships, creation of a healthy work environment, community-building, decision making that accommodates social and environmental justice issues, self-care to prevent burnout, the challenge of ethical dilemmas, and the search for meaning and purpose in one's work.

In his groundbreaking book The Reinvention of Work (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994, p.1), Matthew Fox writes: Good living and good working go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, which is Spirit, for both life and livelihood are about Spirit. Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contributing to the greater community. A spirituality of work is about bringing life and livelihood back together again. And Spirit with them.

Fox claims that work accomplishes what it signifies when a person works at the deep heart level, integrating the often perceived divisions between life and livelihood, personal and work values, and human work with the work of the universe. He suggests that society needs to reinvent the dualistic vision of human work that is the dying paradigm of the industrial age, the secularization of work based on industrialization, urbanization, technology, capitalism, etc. Fox proposes a new spirituality of work, with human work serving as "part of the ongoing work of the universe and all the species in it", workers making "a commitment to the inner work that we need so desperately", and an exploration happening of how this inner work can feed the outer work (Reinvention, pp. 297, 298).

If we slow down the movie and focus on clearing some of the blur that obscures the connection between our inner and our outer selves, we may uncover our calling. This is not a new concept -- in spiritual traditions throughout the ages, people experience themselves as "called." Responding to some interior urging and vision, people have been inspired to follow new paths or adopt new modalities within already more permanent or chosen paths. They persevere on the path through many barriers and potholes. They are said to have a sense of mission or call. All of us are called, in different ways and at different times. As human beings, simply because we are human, we are called: · Into existence and to be part of the human family; · To cooperate with each other in respecting the gifts of creation; · To be part of a certain time in history, of a certain gender, of a certain family along with all the implied limitations; · To be true to ourselves while, at the same time, loyal to the ambiguous traditions of life and development of human knowledge; · To accept as limited and tentative what others have passed on as truth; · To encourage each other respectfully and to help liberate each other to express one's better self and to fulfill one's own personal call; · To serve the human family in ways unique to one's own gifts, talents and circumstances. It's the calling that is the essence of work, career, job. The calling anchors our work life. It validates career direction and provides the clarity and confidence that a chosen career path is right for me because it is expressing my best self and is fulfilling my personal call. Sometimes our calling is connected with a major change, sometimes with a simple shift in perspective brought about by a new insight. Are you selling houses, or are you helping people find homes?

In today's fast-forward environment we may miss the call because we do not pause to listen. Even voice mail doesn't always capture the call and we spend an inordinate and mis-directed amount of time waiting for the call. The call is inside each of us and may have been made many years before but our fast-forward life brings lots of static so we don't hear the message, or tragically the call gets disconnected. We pay a high price for losing ourselves in a swirl of a demanding life.

In his wonderful book entitled PEBBLES AND PEARLS, author Jon Kabat-Zinn draws on a yoga tradition, describing the world as a spinning grindstone. We are either chewed up by it, or we can position ourselves to be honed like a blade.

As each day goes by, we are very much influenced by the world around us - circumstances, people, our own self in various roles and capacities; in many ways we lead a life of other people's expectations. Over time we probably don't give sufficient thought to what that means, or what's happening to us. What we don't see are the pieces of ourselves that are buried and left behind as our strengths and talents are pushed to the back of our minds. In the extreme, we begin to morph ourselves and our identity into something we are not (one writer claims we are merely impersonating ourselves). When we lose the interior music expressing what makes us truly who we are, the disharmony manifests itself in stress, anxieties, tattered relationships and a dysfunctional life.

If you don't have a focus or a goal for your own life, you'll be living by someone else's schedule. The less we are aware of ourselves - who we are and what we need - the more predisposed we are to allowing other persons or circumstances to determine what we're all about. It's referred to as "barnacle building." Over the years, we cover ourselves with multi-layers of barnacles. As barnacles begin to cover and weigh down a ship's hull, the vessel becomes less efficient, burns more energy and has less control over its direction. What started life as a sleek, fast and exciting ship, ends up as a tried, burdened barge, limping from port to port.

We have all experienced a time or times in our career and in life when we feel a certain funk. Life overall lacks joy, fun, enthusiasm and most important, direction. We live a life of drag: we drag ourselves into work with the purpose of making enough money to pay the mortgage, get a bigger house, acquire as much financial security as possible and most importantly, build and maintain a prestigious career, which can all become a drag on the lives we are called to lead. That funk just doesn't go away and the dragging continues. What is happening? We have not connected with our deeper purpose, our "why" (calling!) for working, for career development and for job fulfillment and most important of all the failure to uncover the yearning to create our own meaning to ensure our place in the world.

Writer poet, David Whyte, in his book CROSSING THE UNKNOWN SEA. WORK AS A PILGRIMAGE OF IDENTITY, uses the metaphor of a boat on the open sea. We are the captain our life and work. When we are off-course or stuck in gloom and low spirits we must remind ourselves we are captain of the boat and take action to get back on course. Dial up the voice mail and see if there is a calling waiting!

If life feels shallow and lacking in a deeper purpose, finding the calling can point us to the person we really are. Being unsure of ourselves is mostly caused by being unsure of our values. Do I truly know what my values are? Can I cite experiences in my life where my values have played out? It is difficult to place ourselves in the right environments, or to change the environments in which we find ourselves, without a clear understanding of why we choose some conditions over others. In our breakneck world, with its growing uncertainties, staying the course means having a solid grounding in our core values.

Values are the mental standards we carry around in our heads; they assist us in making choices we believe are right for us in our everyday living. Values are guiding principles, which give meaning to our lives. They cause us to investigate why certain things and activities are important to us. To value something is to assign a worth to it. Our values generate motivation, interest, desire and attitude. Values determine the person we've become…and the person we want to be. What's my calling? Look in on and listen to the deeper message pointing out your work and life direction. The calling is grounded in the values.

Author Tom Brown Jr. noted, "People who stay on the same paths in life will eventually wear themselves into ruts…a complacency to life born of false security, comfort and monotony of that path. Soon the ruts become so deep that we can no longer see over the sides. They see neither danger nor beauty; only the path before them; nor do they abandon that path so often travelled for fear of losing their security and entering the land of the unknown." The deep, inner self is the apex of our reality. The difficulty for most people lies in setting aside the "outside" self that is culturally conditioned with belief and behaviour values acquired and imposed over the years, in order to find our inner self, free of all these restrictions.

Peter Urs Bender, in his book, GUTFEELING, noted what T.S. Eliot called "the still point of the turning world." It meant that when you are properly grounded or "centered" in yourself, you are the point around which the world turns. The real universe starts from within. Recall that author Jon Kabot-Zinn described the world as a spinning grindstone. We are either chewed by it, or we can position ourselves to be honed like a blade.

Our pre-conceived belief system can be a formidable wall we have to surmount in order for a personal initiative or change to occur. We are continually rattled by 'mental rumors' and 'conscientious objectors' that whisper, "You can't expand beyond your safe boundaries of existing knowledge and skill." Sometimes we are so addicted to the old rules and ways that they obstruct our perceptions of our potential and ability to initiate change. We are bombarded with internal and external messages that tell us we'll fail for sure, so our first reactions are usually to ignore or deny change. This replays the old fears and insecurities, causing a mental melting away of our self-confidence. The resulting mental stress makes us vulnerable. Following your calling takes courage. It puts you at risk. It's the fear of failure that makes you less than you deserve to be. Remember baseball idol Casey Stengel's offhanded remark: "You know they said it couldn't be done, but sometimes it doesn't always work out that way."

How do you know when you're hearing a genuine calling and when some kind of self-delusion is at play? I (Sherry) have been living this question personally for more than five years - transitions aren't necessarly quick in mid-life! In 1998, I chaired a grassroots Spirituality in the Workplace conference in Toronto that I had envisioned the previous year. From it, the formation of the Centre for Spirituality at Work evolved organically and a second conference was held a year after the first.

I was aware of a very powerful inner sense that I was being "called" away from my corporate management career. At the time of the first conference, my work group in the head office of Canada's largest bank was disbanded, and through a strange set of circumstances, I found myself with my office, computer, phone, paycheque, and no responsibilities of any consequence - a very risky situation for a business employee. I had been adept during my career at finding good jobs, but this time my sense was very powerful that I was not to be looking for a job. This was very scary - I was a single mother with a mortgage and two daughters to educate. My constant prayer was for clarity. Only three things were clear to me: I did not want to go back to school for any reason, I did not want to be self-employed, and I did not want to work from home. A voice in my head kept saying "keep walking". An image stayed with me of myself as a little girl, toddling with my arms upstretched and my hands held by two wise and compassionate elders, Dick Cappon and my spiritual director, Sister Mary McDevitt. The optics were getting bad and I was feeling very shaky.

The bank asked me to recommend what they should be doing about spirituality in the workplace, since there was so much media noise about me and the first conference. I brought together a group of people from different departments, and the day before we were to make our recommendations, which would include a job for me leading the initiative, a major merger the bank was planning with another bank was cancelled. While our proposal was well received, now the timing was wrong because it was clear that many jobs would disappear and therefore employee cynicism would likely greet introduction of our proposal.

A month later, I received a 90-day letter of notice and was encouraged to try to find another position within the bank. That afternoon, I unexpectedly met a former Roman Catholic priest who was an experienced career counselor - I interpreted this as a sign that God was with me, guiding me to a new place. A few days later, I unexpectedly came across my original employment offer - my termination day would be nine years to the exact day following my employment date. Nine years is an aboriginal cycle of completion. When I inquired if the choice of date was deliberate, not only was I told that it was not, there was embarrassment and the termination date was extended an extra week because choosing that date was considered bad human resources practice. I interpreted this as a sign that perhaps my time with this employer was completed.

In my morning prayer, I was reading the gospel of Luke. I read about Jesus preaching to the synagogue congregation in his home town of Nazareth, how first they listened to him but then took him to the cliff and were going to throw him off. However, he walked through the crowd and took his message to other villages. The next morning, I was about to start reading the next verses and a clear voice in my head said "Reread". This surprised me, and I reread the verses. The next morning, I was about to start reading the next verses and again a clear voice in my head said "Reread". I was very surprised, and again reread the verses. On the third day, the same routine. But this time I got it. My employer had been receptive to my spirituality at work passion and words, but then took me to the metaphorical cliff with a 90 day letter of notice. And I could choose to walk safely away and take my message to other places. This suggested to me that perhaps I not just wait out the ninety days, but should be making a concrete choice. But still I had no ideas or clarity about what to do. I only knew the three things I did not want to do.

I inquired what my package would be if I chose to leave. Thirteen months pay. During the previous year I had become intrigued by the Jesuits, knew they had a college at the University of Toronto, and I phoned and made an appointment. I still do not really understand what led me to do this. I spent an hour there, and at the end of my visit, was overcome by such an overpowering sense of Divine presence that I couldn't move or speak for several minutes. I knew in my whole being that I was to enter the masters program in ministry and spirituality, a far cry from my earlier graduate work in business! And I am Anglican, not Roman Catholic. Then my wrestling with God began. The program would cost $9000 in fees - it was bad enough to go off income for a return to school, which I'd publicly stated that I didn't want to do. It was quite another thing to pay out that much money. The next morning, I inquired if an outplacement benefit would be part of my package if I chose to leave and if so, if it could be directed to tuition. The answer was yes, and in my case, it would be $9000. I was overwhelmed.

That afternoon, I was leaving for a silent retreat weekend, immediately followed at the same Jesuit retreat house by a 5-day communal discernment program. I had booked these programs separately months earlier. I emerged from the retreat knowing that my deepest desire was to do the best I could to discern the will of God in my life and to be obedient to it. This meant that if I understood the answer to my long time prayer for clarity to be going to school, so be it. But I wasn't ready to accept that yet. I knew I would be very stressed having no monthly income for so long. One of my key leaders for the Centre for Spirituality at Work also attended the communal discernment program - he said that it was time the Centre started paying me a monthly honorarium. I still wasn't ready to give up the fight. I knew I would be very anxious about unexpected major expenses, such as the two $750 estimates I had received for a new head gasket needed for my car before I had left Toronto for the retreat centre. But the idea came to me that I should check with the Jesuits' mechanic - the estimate was $125.

I said yes to the call. My prayer for clarity was clearly answered, but only for one step - going back to school while being self-employed and working from home. I have been in school now for more than five years with two to three ahead of me as I am studying for my doctorate in applied theology at the University of Toronto. So much for the three-pronged clarity that came from self six years ago! I've had little income, but somehow I get through financially. I have changed my perspective on money from being about income tied to work to being about my family's basic needs being met while I work according to discernment of how I am called.

The call is less flashy now than I needed to get me started on this journey. I've told you about what I call my "neon signs" - now they are more subtle, but I still sense I am being guided, called, and am very intentional about listening. While my direction has remained clear, goals no longer play a part in my path. I continue to listen to wise and compassionate elders, to follow daily spiritual practices, to be strengthened by both a personal and a communal spirituality, grounded in a worshipping faith tradition and in daily experience of nature. I could die tomorrow feeling that up to today, I have lived life as best I can according to what I am here for, to my purpose in this life, responding to God's call within me and for the world.

True achievers augment and authenticate themselves by knowing and living their calling. We would all love to do what we do best and find our joy in doing it. Life is a continual process of improvement, reflection and refinement: a grindstone to either grind or hone us. It allows us to reinvent ourselves and adjust attitudes, values and beliefs we deem critical to our success. It's not what and where we are now, but who we can become in being all we can be. Triumphant moments stand out as peaks on our journey's lifeline.

Dreams come from the heart. Our spirit represents the divine energy in all of us. As we grow up, society begins to form our thoughts and push us in directions that distance us from the passion of our spirit. Triumphs of the spirit are pursed by an inner drive that moves ahead without considering the fact that we may lack the skills, talent or education to even attempt them. The expertise is found in the doing. Our skills and talents are honed in the process. Triumphs are the success of the spirit. They have great power to change belief systems and highlight the vital potential within each of us.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada, had a lifelong passion for canoeing in the wilderness. He stated in his memoirs: "I think a lot of people want to go back to basics sometimes to find their bearings. For me a good way is to get back to nature by canoe. Canoeing forces you to make a distinction between your needs and your wants. You deal with who you are and what you're doing. Then let nature fill in the void. You discover a sort of simplifying of your values, a distinction between values artificially created and those that are necessary for your spiritual and human development."

In planning what's best for you, you have to go back to basics. Make the effort to eliminate the clutter and noise from your life and get close to your thoughts and feelings about what's important to you. Inner feelings let you connect deeply with yourself. They are your drivers - if you don't feel, you don't know who or what you are.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams, in his role as Mr. Keating, a teacher at a private school, told his class of young men: They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Carpe. Hear it? Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

You only have so much time allotted to you in life. Don't waste it. Make the best of it. Carpe diem. Seize the day! Better yet, seize the calling!


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Dick Cappon draws on an extensive human resources background to manage a leading Career Transition practice. As a progressive practitioner, he understands that the success of an organization is dependent on the strength of the individuals. Dick''s philosophy in career management and business/personal coaching is based on a systematic process of customizing action plans that meet individual needs. Success is measured by setting specific goals, monitoring results and adapting strategies as required.

Dick has used this approach to deliver significant contributions in each of his roles as consultant, coach and senior Human Resources Manager, and in launching and managing two consulting practices.

Prior to his current role as founder and President of CAPPON ASSOCIATES, Dick was a partner and Senior Principal in two of Canada's major accounting and consulting practices, leading their career transition operations and serving as national Personnel Partner. As well, he has been a partner and founder of three human resource business units, and was a Vice President, Canada for Drake Beam Morin.

In addition to consulting, Dick served as the Assistant General Manager, Compensation and Human Resources Information Planning with Continental Bank of Canada (now Hong Kong Bank of Canada).

In the course of his diverse human resources career, Dick held the Chairmanship of the Coopers & Lybrand International Personnel Committee, during which time he travelled throughout Europe, Africa, South America, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Dick has a B.Sc. In Social Science and has attended numerous Management Development programs. He completed the Advanced Management Program, Beaumont School of Management, University of Denver and recently certified in Alternate Dispute Resolution, University of Windsor, Faculty of Law.

He is a devoted family man, an active squash player, a runner who has completed five marathons, and has an extensive record of community service. Dick has numerous professional affiliations, including election as President of the first Canadian Chapter of the International Association of Career Management Professionals (IACMP, now A.C.T. International), is a co-founder of a Toronto-based coaching consortium of international coaches, and is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) In the summer of 1999 at a special meeting of the IACMP Toronto-Chapter Dick was honoured by his election to the "Hall of Fame".

Dick Cappon Cappon Associates 920 Yonge St., Suite 806 Toronto, Canada, M4W 3C7 416-868-0015 CoachCappon@yahoo.com


SHERRY CONNOLLY is Founding Director of the Toronto-based Centre for Spirituality at Work. Her professional background includes positions in marketing development and general management with Royal Bank, Royal Trust, CIBC, American Express, Bell Canada, and Eaton's. She has been granted her BA (Hon., English) from the University of Western Ontario, MBA (Marketing) from the University of Toronto, Master of .Divinity from Regis College at the University of Toronto, and is now a candidate for her Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. The focus of her doctoral work in applied theology is how a downtown church can serve as a resource for the spiritual needs of people who work in the area, whether of any or no faith tradition. She was honoured with the distinguished Donald Cameron Memorial Award for her formation of the Centre for Spirituality at Work because of its impact within the wider community beyond the confines of the church, enhancing the relationship of church and wider society. Sherry is currently active in social justice work through 6 St. Joseph House, and has an extensive volunteer background. She is a former president of the MBA Women's Association.

The mission of the Centre for Spirituality at Work (www.SpiritualityAtWork.org) is to help people strengthen the connection between who they are and the work they do. Many programs and conferences are offered in Toronto and west of Toronto. The Centre has partnerships with the Continuing Education department of St. Michaels' College at the University of Toronto, with the ecumenical chaplaincy of the University of Guelph, with ACCORD (the Association of Creative Change and Organization Renewal and Development), and is a supporter of ENCOUNTER World Religions Centre.

Sherry Connolly, Founding Director Centre for Spirituality at Work Box 100, 162 Spruce St. Toronto, Canada, M5A 2J5 416-482-9175 Sherry@SpiritualityAtWork.org www.SpiritualityAtWork.org