Develop a spiritual vocabulary for the office

Living one way at home and another at work creates a dissonance of being that makes us meaningfully dissatisfied in each world. We become internally divided and unable to bring learnings from one world into another. Because we spend at least one third of our waking hours at work, a division in character, perspective or worldview can make us feel false and confused.


Thankfully, we now live in a multicultural society where we can be ourselves at work, and not have to mask important aspects of self in order to thrive in the workplace. Unfortunately, there remains an aspect of some of our lives that still does not find a place at work, and that is our spiritual and religious selves.


Due to a long history of religious zealotry and a desire to remove church from the workplace, spirituality has not garnered the same free expression that other aspects of our lives have found. At home (and in our journals, cars, temples/mosques/churches) we define our world through spiritual terms, stemming from our faith, life experience, or personal philosophy. But when we cross the physical or digital transom into our workplace, we feel compelled check that important part of us at the door and go about our activities sanitized of that spirituality.


I would argue that making a place for the spiritual will allow greater intimacy and understanding in the workplace, allowing everyone to be themselves and bring the best parts of themselves to work. We are, after all, hired for our whole selves: a combination of our skills, background, personal qualities, and a je ne sais quoi that said “She’s the right one for us.” Concealing merely serves to further a masquerade, and that forced pretending or compartmentalizing keeps us from bringing our best selves.


So, what would make it easier to live a more open spiritual life at work? What would engender in our coworkers greater acceptance of who we are? I sincerely believe that the solution is found in crafting a working vocabulary that bridges our work environment with our spiritual thoughts. Worship has a jargon that has been held within its own buildings, reserved for churches, sermons and prayer. In the separation of church and state the line was drawn and barriers created. Today our spiritual language struggles to cross the divide.

Other world views have a vocabulary that brings their precepts into normal conversation, from economics to law, and veganism to minimalism. So, let’s attempt to construct a vocabulary for our spiritual selves, beginning with three concepts that could be brought into the workplace today.


Life is Suffering > Find it, Fix it (pain, healing)
If you, as a Buddhist and a leader in your company, view the world through the lens of dukkha, seeing suffering in the world and recognizing our role in alleviating suffering, you may find it to be a natural principal to integrate at work. Incorporating this view in your personal life may be natural, but when you look out at your colleagues, partners, vendors and customers you may observe their pain and feel powerless to live your teachings at work. The primary barrier is communication: How should you communicate this worldview to your team in a way that will be acceptable, accepted, and impactful?

Your coworkers might find “alleviating suffering” is only slightly more accessible than “dhukkha.” But they may be more open to: pain and healing. The implication is that everyone has a pain that can either be aggravated or relieved by the work we do. This spiritual maxim has both personal benefit and broad application. And our work as a company with customers or as leaders within the company can be strengthened through incorporating the faith in suffering and healing. You may also just simplify it as: Find it, fix it.


Inspired > Transcendent
In the right organization you can see genius with regularity. In the past when I have seen an all-new feature design, a breakthrough framework, or a brilliant atypical hire that causes me to step back and feel “Wow, this is inspired,” I lacked the vocabulary to observe it and call it out. I needed a word to use that conveyed the power of the outcome and the individual who found that outcome, while also pointing out that what they created is bigger than themselves. So now I say that it transcends anything I had expected, or that it is transcendent. Now, some would accurately say that this is also a spiritual word, and they would be right. But I have seen more colleagues who might ordinarily bristle when is say “that work is inspired” become accepting of “your work is transcendent.”


Inspiration > Resonance
Related to Transcendent, is finding a word that communicates the je ne sais quoi that a decision feels right to you. While we have terms like “gut feeling”, it doesn’t quite capture for me the feeling I feel when a recommendation or option placed before me simply feels like the right course of action. When I experience that, I can say to my colleague, “Wow. That really resonates with me.”

Let’s bring our whole selves to work. And to do so, please post your vocabulary words below so we can all learn.


Dave Hanley is the CEO of Tomorrow, whose forthcoming app will help anyone create a trust fund for themselves and their families.


This Spirituality and Transformative Leadership series was set up as a response to the need to bring ‘higher order’ principles into leadership today and to spark an ongoing discussion as to the role that spirituality, as distinct from religion, has in today’s world. It is a curated series that invites both Young Global Leaders and others with an interest in leadership to contribute to a discussion on the role that spirituality plays in leadership today. For more information, please see the following link for an overview of the origins of this project see here, and for a link to all the blog posts in the series please click here.

Caroline Watson

Founder of Hua Dan, a China-based social enterprise that uses the power of participation in theatre as a tool for personal and social transformation. Young Global Leader 2011 of the World Economic Forum. Writer, speaker and entrepreneur.

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