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Work as a pilgrimage of self discovery

At Valenture Institute, our first company value was:

"Your first priority is to work on yourself"

I believe very strongly in the essence of this value, and yet today I'm updating it with this manifesto to more comprehensively reflect the energy it seeks to convey.

At its essence, the value speaks to the fact that absolutely no one outside of yourself can ever take responsibility for your mental, emotional and physical state. With rare exceptions, your state is your responsibility, and therefore you need to work on it.

And yet this doesn't quite tell the whole story.

Let's say there are two people stuck in traffic, one in a red car, and the other in a blue car. Both are trying to get home to their respective families after a long day at work. Then, out of nowhere, another driver races past both of them in the yellow lane, breaking all of the rules of the road in the process. The driver of the red car starts swearing and shouting, the driver of the blue car sits in their car as calm as a hindu cow.

It's a simple example, and I use it often, because it very clearly illustrates the principle at play. As humans, we have a tendency to treat our thoughts, feelings and emotions as objectively true, and yet clearly, with an internal change in attitude or mindset, our response to the same set of external circumstances can be wildly different.

Our lives are a constant dance between the external factors which come into contact with us, and our inner state which drives our thoughts, feelings and emotions in response to these external factors.

If we were to take this example further, and imagine that every single day the same people are stuck in the same traffic, and the same inconsiderate driver keeps racing past them in the yellow line, then what? In the pursuit of fairness and reciprocity, which is deeply encoded in all of us, surely someone needs to take proactive action to ensure this behaviour doesn't perpetuate? The driver of the blue car might call the traffic cops and ask them to hang out in the yellow lane the next day, and after a stiff fine, hope that the inconsiderate driver will change their behaviour moving forward.

Clearly, it's not as simple as just managing our own internal state, regardless of the injustices happening around us. Yet at the same time, when things get more complex than the example above, and it's not objectively clear who is right and wrong, things get a lot trickier, and the dissection between external and internal becomes a lot more nuanced.

This happens constantly in the world of work, and that's why I think your experience at work is such an incredible laboratory for self discovery and growth.

A company like Valenture is nothing but a collection of humans coming together in the pursuit of realising a shared vision. As humans, every one of us has a long laundry list of insecurities, neuroses, idiosyncrasies and so on. One thing we can all count on is that the work environment will trigger these regularly. Seriously, it's going to happen all the time, regardless of which company you are at.

The more interesting question, is whether you choose to see these triggers as an invitation for growth and self discovery, or an annoying nuisance which you should avoid or suppress.

In many ways, work is like a supercharged experience of life - put a diverse group of people in a space with an evolving hierarchy, ask them to work collaboratively to solve problems and create new things under very real financial, time and quality constraints, all of which operates in a broader ecosystem that has other companies competing for your market share, in an industry that is likely reinventing itself every few years. Phhhheeewwwwwey, if that's not going to trigger you at some point, then nothing will.

To rephrase my sentence from above, your duties at your place of work will be a constant dance between the external factors which you come into contact with (colleagues timelines, customers, budgets etc) and your inner state which drives your thoughts, feelings and emotions in response to these external factors.

In a work context, clearly if your colleague is not pulling their weight, and you're stuck picking up the slack week after week, then the answer isn't simply to find an inner state of serenity and keep being taken advantage of. As in all aspects of life, whilst the only thing you can fully control is your inner state, you do have influence over your external circumstances, and that's part of the dance.

That said, generally there is more nuance in these examples, and your colleague might feel that they worked their butt off on the last project, but didn't tell you they were carrying some resentment about this, and now it's time for you to put in the extra time to balance the scale. The resolution to this example might require you to confront them for an honest conversation, but because of your past you have a deep aversion (generally subconscious) to conflict and the fear of rejection, so rather than discussing the issue with them directly, you engage in passive aggressive behaviour and office gossip to release some of the suppressed anger you have, which is actually at yourself, but that's too hard to admit so you externalise it instead. Before you know it, every conversation is layered with an agenda behind an agenda behind an agenda, and the emotional lines between you and your colleagues are so cluttered that no one can make heads or tails of how to resolve the issue.

One approach is to view these experiences at work as an annoying side gig in terms of your life's journey. You get through them as fast as possible, suppress the impact they have on you, and view your real growth as something that happens as part of your spiritual practice, or with deeply trusted friends. Perhaps you're not even interested in the whole personal growth thing, and simply view the experiences and feelings you have at work as something to get away from as fast as possible, and get to the next holiday so you can experience real freedom and enjoyment.

That's certainly one approach, but the issue is that we all spend so much time at work, and as hard as we try, it's very difficult to bring anything other than your whole self to work, and for your whole self to be impacted by work. We're not siloed beings, and any attempt to do so can only ever be achieved through suppression.

The alternative is that we choose to view work as a pilgrimage of self discovery - a constant dance between external stimulus and our internal response, all of which is an invitation for growth, transcendence and discovery. What if work became your preferred vehicle for learning and growth, and every challenge was another invitation for enquiry?

What if the objective is not to create some sort of utopia at work, where everyday things go perfectly according to plan, you work from 9am - 5pm with an hour lunch break, everyone is nice to you, and the whole experience feels fair?


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