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The pressure of the working world can feel immense—but how can I make my work meaningful, whether employed, between jobs, or unsure of what to do next?
Work gives us a title, a role, a sense of stability and a paycheck. It can easily become part of our identity, and it can be hard to separate ourselves from it. But things happen. I might be let go, my company might face unexpected trouble, or I might have to leave a position. If I cling too tightly to the material aspects of a job, or invest my entire identity in it, my sense of purpose and joy comes to depend on something uncertain.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t become invested in our work. Work can also provide an avenue to serve humankind, and I want to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities it brings. The Baha’i writings say: “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship …” – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 83.
This passage suggests that each person has great potential to be impactful and productive in any line of work, as long as he or she finds a way to infuse that work with “the spirit of service.” It implies that I can still worship through work even after retirement. Or, if a person is too young to work formally, they can contribute by working in their home or volunteering in their community. As long as someone channels a spirit of service, they have the capacity to transmute mere work into meaningful worship.
So, what does a spirit of service look like?
Use Means that Justify the Ends
How do I remain humble and grounded while focusing on reaching excellence in my work? Sometimes when a person dedicates themselves to reaching a certain goal, it can seem like any means might justify the ends. To maintain a spirit of service, I have to pay close attention to the way I go about achieving success, focusing on the means rather than the ends. Am I dishonest as I work? Is dishonesty built into the job? If it is, how can I push against it? Do I honor the value of others in my work? If my real goal is to help people, am I kind, consultative and coherent in the way I treat those along the way?
Paying attention to my methods ensures that my success uplifts others. Let’s say someone works for the postal service delivering mail. He rushes carelessly with the deliveries because he wants to increase the amount of mail he delivers in a day. But while reaching a statistical quota for success, does that mail carrier respect the people he actually serves?
We all have very different lives, but these kinds of questions can help us immensely as we endeavor to make our work more spiritually uplifting.
Choose Honorable Goals
Imbuing my work with a spirit of service requires that I frequently touch base with my ultimate goals. Do I only intend to make enough money for myself or my family? Do I focus on impressing or out-earning others? Or do I just work so that I can have fun later?
Without checking in with my goals, I’ll make little progress. So, I have to make time to reflect:
Every day, in the morning when arising you should compare today with yesterday and see in what condition you are. If you see your belief is stronger and your heart more occupied with God and your love increased and your freedom from the world greater, then thank God and ask for the increase of these qualities. You must begin to pray and repent for all that you have done which is wrong and you must implore and ask for help and assistance that you may become better than yesterday so that you may continue to make progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, p. 68.
The Baha’i writings urge each of us to orient our entire lives around serving others. Through this, we show gratitude and take care of our spiritual health at the same time: “… make ye a mighty effort, and choose for yourselves a noble goal.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 35.
Be Flexible and Responsive to Change
Even when I intend to help others, I often get in my own way. My ego creeps into my work and I get attached to things happening exactly the way I imagined they would.
But to serve other people best, the Baha'i teachings say, I have to find ways to be effective—and I can be much more effective when I am able to move with the flow of things while still holding my work to a high moral standard. To provide for others, I can let go of my personal ideas about what they need. Instead of merely trying to convince them that I’m right, I can try to participate in an equitable and genuine conversation to collectively search for the truth:
They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one's views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden. – Ibid., p. 88.