The Inner Boss

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I have had the privilege to spend my life attending to leadings of Spirit. My young adult years were largely spent living very simply, moving from an internship to an activist position to part-time jobs in the non-profit and education sectors, which allowed me to follow my own artistic leadings while paying attention to what might be next. I had the benefit of spiritual mentors who sometimes also happened to be my bosses and jobs in which I had little supervision and much freedom to live into my leadings. My spiritual life as a Quaker and my work life were closely intertwined, and were often also intertwined with my personal life as well. I co-founded an activist and ecumenical intentional community during this period.

While I am certainly grateful for those years, they also brought me consequences and challenges. I was often tired and ill because I didn’t know how to honor my own needs and limits. Living close to the edge financially (despite my family safety net) also exhausted me. Moving from place to place, from leading to leading, denied me the possibility of developing a career. Finally, my path was fundamentally lonely.

I was on the road, touring as a folk singer/songwriter – after leaving the intentional community, after giving up my home base – when it became clear to me that the next season of my life was about to begin. My support committee (Friends and mentors from across my yearly meeting) called me home. I met with them by phone while traveling, and they helped me hear not only the voice of Spirit, but also the voices of my own heart and desire. It was then that I really began to understand the quote by Frederick Buechner, “God calls us to the place where our great gladness meets the world’s deep need.” My support committee helped me see that I was largely ignoring the voice of my great gladness. It wasn’t that the way I was living my life was wrong; but it was incomplete. The time had come for a period of integration and completion in my life.

So I choose a place to live (a place where I already had strong Quaker community), and I started a business that is fundamentally situated at the intersection of my gladness, the need in the world, and my spiritual life. My business is called “Inner Fire, Outer Light.” Also, I began dating, and I soon met the man I would marry.

Thus began my real journey as my own boss. My self-employment over the years has morphed into collaborations, into contract work for others, and even into hiring contract employees of my own. For those of us who are self-employed, the relationship we have with our inner boss can be one of the most vital relationships we have in creating a happy and thriving work life. And even if you aren’t your own boss at work, however, this inner relationship is key to a happy home and spiritual life.

For me, maintaining a practice of deep listening is key, a practice of knowing that it’s not all up to me. In meeting for worship, I let all my work and life be held and handled and informed by Spirit. And sometimes, answers to prickly challenges emerge from the silence.

I have spent the past seven years coaching other people to start and grow their own creative businesses and careers. Much of my work involves helping people develop good relationships with their own inner bosses.

Holding the vision: One of the first things I explore with a potential client is the life they seek. Whether they call it a vision, purpose, dream, or calling, each person comes to me with some core desire, which might be expressed as a specific leading, a practical need, or a generalized longing. Based on this larger vision, we work together to discern what the person might call their “mission,” and then we develop a set of programs and scope of work that they could pursue to support the mission.

Holding a vision and mission – and helping others to hold them also – are often key jobs of a boss. Another key job is to measure how well different activities align with the vision and mission; that is, measuring how well they move the overall project forward towards the vision and mission. This is often where things fall apart. A myriad of activities generally seem worthy and necessary; it’s easy to forget to check them against the vision and mission.

It often seems, in business and in life, that whatever we choose to do will always expand to fill ALL the time and space we give it. We live in a culture where it is “hip” to be busy. Looking or feeling busy, however, is not the same as living into a mission and vision; and it’s not the same as following a leading fully. This is where being a good boss to oneself comes in.

The good boss not only holds the vision and mission, not only tests activities to see if they are useful, necessary, and well-timed, but also knows their employees (or self) – knows the employees’ strengths, limitations, and where they are currently growing. Some tasks require us to stretch beyond our current limitations, and a good (inner) boss supports that growth with resources, time, and encouragement.

Some tasks are better left for someone else to do.  –  They don’t involve skills you need to develop, aren’t the best use of your time and abilities, or just aren’t priorities for the mission and vision of your project. – A good boss hires other people to do such tasks. For someone who is self-employed, such tasks might even fall outside the traditional realm of “work.” For example, a good inner boss might hire someone else to help clean the house – freeing up precious energy and time to serve one’s vision and mission, while offering work to someone else who derives joy from putting things in order and needs the income.

Some tasks are the first best use of your natural – or hard-won – skills and abilities. These are the things that only you can do, or things that you can do much more easily, naturally, and better than other people can. A good boss makes sure that these tasks are high priority for you – that you attend to these tasks first and that they make up a good part of your day, especially if they are key to the mission and vision.

A good boss also makes sure that all workers stay in top shape mentally, emotionally, and physically. They encourage vacation, support wellness, encourage constructive collaboration, and set up the workplace in a way that prevents burnout, fatigue, and resentment.

Unfortunately, although Friends strive to be compassionate towards others, they can sometimes act like scary mean bosses to themselves. When faced with a goal or deadline, Friends often fall into the old patterns of “pushing through” and “being tough” and “getting things done.” Yikes! Such negative messages of internalized oppression can function pretty unconsciously. For example, in the first years of my business, I often forced myself to keep working even though I was exhausted. Who did that serve? Not me, not the bottom line, certainly not my clients, and definitely not the mission and vision of my organization.

My inner scary boss made me do absolutely everything on my own, and she cracked the whip of shame if things weren’t done soon enough or well enough. Until I knew what to do about her, I became a recalcitrant employee – resentful, avoiding, doing the minimum. In fact, I became convinced that I wasn’t able to work full-time, because it took so much out of me. That conclusion resulted in a cascade of consequences, including living on extremely little and giving up on dreams and leadings. Even my attempts at self-care to offset my exhaustion were tainted, because I basically viewed self-care as self-indulgence – nice, if you had the time and money, but essentially selfish. All that had to change.

Over the years, by working with clients and my own two businesses, by deepening my Quaker-centered spiritual practice, and by learning from other spiritual teachers, I have developed a philosophy that I call “Starting From Enough.” It has some basic principles that guide me as a boss, as an employee, as the current clerk of my meeting, as a romantic partner, and as a human.

Starting from Enough

1) I am enough.

My worth is inherent, not based on my success, my activity, or any outer measure.

2) I do enough.

a) There is no prize for being busy. Doing more is rarely the answer.

b) I may have to change what I am doing in order to be in alignment with my vision and mission.

c) To everything there is a season. Not everything needs to happen right now.

3) I have enough.

a) I have access to the inner resources and Light to learn what is needed and to do what is required.

b) Right around me are the outer resources to help me live more deeply into my leadings, vision, and mission. All I have to do is pay attention, ask, invest (time, money, belief), and receive.

c) More is not always the answer.

This philosophy has led me to a radical shift of my calendar, my priorities, and my practices – a shift that focuses on joyful efficiency, space for creativity and play, and self-compassion and self-care, a shift that restores my energy and helps me be fully present and my best self – in my work and with the people I care about. And, through regular re-assessment and adjustment, I continue to develop and improve these practices and habits. I now also teach them to clients to help them create their own personal strategies for meaningful lives, thriving businesses, and powerful witness in the world.

Don’t get me wrong. Although “more” is sometimes called for – more income, more work, more clients, more impact on the world – the most important concern is HOW you get to “more.” Getting there with a healthy diet of self-compassion and compassion for others is key. Getting there in a way that is sustainable, in every sense of the word, is key. Learn more at: www.self-compassion.org.

For me, the launch pad for true success is summed up in the name of my business, “Inner Fire, Outer Light.” I seek to nurture inside myself a strong and sustainable inner fire, a fire that can light the world. That is what every good boss wants and supports and invests in. That is what we can become for ourselves and for those we care about.  ~~~

Patricia Morrison is currently the clerk of South Mountain Friends Meeting in Ashland, OR (NPYM). She works with artists, writers, musicians and creative professionals to help them make a living, make a life, and make a difference. To learn more about Patricia’s work, visit her website at: www.InnerFireOuterLight.com. Patricia is also a folk singer/songwriter, is helping create a farm animal sanctuary, and is co-owner of Longevity Wellness.