“One thing alone is certain, that man’s slavery grows and increases. Man is becoming a willing slave. He no longer needs chains. He begins to grow fond of his slavery, to be proud of it. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a man.”
― George Ivanovich Gurdjieff 1878–1947, philosopher, spiritual teacher, mystic, and composer.
Modern life is dominated by work
One of the key problems Grid™ is designed to solve is the challenge of how to get a healthy work-life balance and stop being a slave to work. Most people I spoke with when I created the Grid™ struggled with work overtaking their life, like cancer. Technological innovation, remote 48-hours global economy mixed with the pursuit of status, wealth and recognition make for a toxic cocktail. It leaves people
- working longer,
- checking e-mail or social media to satisfy a need to feel “plugged in”,
- seeking approval at any cost,
- cultivating relationships with objects more than one another,
- deprived of sleep,
- time-poor for things they really enjoy.
Modern day working leaves many smart people trapped in a vicious cycle of working ever harder to escape their unhappy condition.
A poor relationship with work makes one a slave to work
In her book Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, Madeleine Bunting shows us how the world of work and the way we participate in it makes us into modern slaves. Reading this 2005 classic may make you gasp in disbelief. It is bound to shock you and to awake you into a powerful realization. Things have not improved since then.
Bunting, a writer, former associate editor and columnist at The Guardian newspaper, exposes a horrifying reality of the modern world. Desperate to survive, we knowingly and sometimes less knowingly, collude with systems around us that turn us into slaves. The resultant dysfunction eats away at our health, sense of self-worth and a far richer conception of life beyond ‘work’. Needing and often choosing to work more, we see less of the people we love and outsource activities that embody its expressions such as presence, attention, and kind acts.
If you have ever watched the clock while reading a bed-time story to your kid or felt bad attending a family function because you needed to get more work done, you’re a slave to paid work. There is an inherent beauty and benefit to cooking a meal with the people you love instead of ordering take-out, spending time in conversation getting to know yourself and others, being idle or engaging in play. Yet more and more of us are conditioned to think we can’t afford these activities and don’t have time for them.
I was a slave to work
When I created the Grid™ I was a willing slave and self-confessed workaholic. My slavehood centred around my Ego seeking recognition, glory and approval from a scientific system that was rigged against women. One that needed an army of slaves to perpetuate itself. One of the basic mechanics of academia is a reward system in which one gains safety and protection from male patriarchy who in turn use you to stay in power.
The corporate world has a similar system in place with a key difference: a slightly larger degree of freedom from the toxic power your boss has over you. If you chose to stand up for yourself and question the status quo in science, you risk sabotaging your entire career. If you disagree with your boss in business, you will stuff suffer, may need to leave the company but you can always start over.
I used my career transition to learn how to make my way in the world with greater awareness of systems, integrity to my values, and a healthier perspective that when one feels a victim in it. This took time, a series of wrong turns and eventually an independent path. Today, I can look back at my career and recognise the bullies male and female. I can more fully appreciate how my shock and fear of them helped perpetuate their existence. I am also incredibly thankful to more healthy role models that showed me a different way to wield power and lead.
How this influenced the way I work?
I use my experience working as a change agent and advisor to leaders. I partner with individuals who, like me, recognise and value work being done on far healthier, more relational and decent terms. Many of them know and feel called to change things but such change is not always easy to implement and can benefit from external guidance.
I also help individuals trapped in toxic systems realize that self-actualization is about discovering who one really is far more than realising results. In fact, it is a prerequisite for effective leadership. Watch my invited lecture for MindsatWork, a mental health charity, where I share what I learned about workplace culture, leadership, individual and collective performance, and the importance of talent development grounded in the neurobiology of safety. If you work in an organisation where this sort of approach would be useful, please get in touch.
Are you a modern-day ‘willing slave’?
A Grid™-based life recognizes work has an important role to play in our lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet wrote
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
My personal experience of work tells me that we are motivated by doing work that adds real value. In my case, this means making a positive difference in people’s lives, helping them make sense of their circumstances and improving workplace cultures. My work improves how individuals see themselves, how they deliver results and lead others and how they construct lives that nurture everyone around them. Working helps me feel good, but while my work has a clear purpose, it is not a substitute for life outside of it.
A simple everyday distillation of this is: “I work to live, not live to work.” This is true even though I genuinely love my work and invest a great deal of time in it.
Is this true for you? Do you work to live or are you a slave to work who has mistaken work for life? Here are three questions that can help you figure this out.
- Does working leave you enough time to create, engage with and improve your life?
- Does the work you do and how you do it leave you in good form (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually)?
- Does your work and/or workplace support your growth and development or simply use you?
If not, your work needs to be re-imagined. A regular Grid™ practice will help you change this for the better without having to change your job. It will help you change your mindset and approach to work and life.
Would you still work if you didn’t have to?
I need to work to earn a living. Work is, therefore, a necessity but it is also a form of love. If tomorrow I got to collect a monthly paycheck because “family care” became paid work or I got paid for all the studying I do to improve how I work, I would still make time for seeing people and running empowerment programs.
Working on understanding individual and collective psychology, how we stay engaged in a given task, how we keep motivated and improve and how we recover our freedom is work I want to do.
This is why, when I designed the Grid™ framework, I envisaged the ‘work’ quadrant underpinning the ‘life’ quadrant. That said, much of life activity takes effort too.
To stay well in whatever we do at work and in life, there needs to be a space for recharging the doer. This is why in the Grid™ we give attention to “caring for myself” – Grid™ quadrant 2/self-care and “connecting with life’s purpose” – Grid™ quadrant 4/career. These areas and related activities matter.
If we want to free ourselves and avoid being a slave to work, we have to learn the art of balance.
How Grid™ can help with work-life balance
Here’s what one client – a professional working mum of a 2-year-old – told me after getting Grid™ coaching.
Before the Grid, I would make to-do lists but they focused on work. Even with Covid-19 and being at home, my life is mostly my work. Having to take care of our daughter means I work more. I never thought about having career goals but I can see how much they matter. Having Grid goals and the Grid structure means I now get my exercise in, make time for reading I enjoy. I am actually happier which is incredible considering I am still using a to-do list that has been cleverly re-imagined. Even when our daughter goes back to the nursery, I will stick with the Grid.
What makes Grid™ so special is its simplicity and versatility. The basic structure of the 4 quadrants means you can use the Grid to:
- set goals,
- create a Day or a longer plan,
- keep yourself healthy during a “crunch” period,
- keep track of progress,
- deepen your self-awareness,
and so much more.
Grid™ helps ensure that the things that matter to you get worked into your agenda because they do matter. In fact, often they matter as much and more than the work you get paid for.
The systems we work and live in don’t always recognise or value many worthwhile activities with payment but without them, our society disintegrates. And, we end up needing to pay for the problems this creates such as poor health, depression, addiction, isolation, workplace absence and even suicide.
Grid™ focuses on shifting anyone to transition from a powerless slave to work, to someone with true agency over their life. A person who constructs a rich life outside of paid work for greater stability and resilience.
Grid™ helps people realize their dreams, career aspirations and take responsibility for what happens in their mind and life. Grid™ becomes a process and a tool that helps one design and re-design, create and re-create, grow and improve one’s circumstances. One of my heroes, Paulo Freire author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Brazilian educator and philosopher, wrote
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Grid™ empowers people to find their freedom in practice.
Do you feel like a slave to work?
Get started on re-balancing your work and life by integrating the Grid into your day. Giving your own mental and physical wellbeing the same focus as you give your careers will help you stop being a slave to work.
Follow these simple steps to get started:
- Get on your path to explore the Grid™ with us in a step by step manner here.
- Buy the Grid Book on Audible or Paperback.
- Sign up to our online Grid training by joining our mailing list – see right-hand side panel.
- Commission an online workshop for your institution or team.
- Share our work with others who may find it useful using the social media links below.