How We Work: Book Review

In 2018, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t wax poetic about quitting your job and following your passion by way of becoming your own boss. And while entrepreneurship and being self-employed may be the end goal for some, it’s not always realistic—whether financially or logistically—for others. In fact, it may not even be desired.

For those who are following their career path towards the boardroom, there’s one manual that is a must-read: How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind by Leah Weiss, Ph.D. Weiss, who created a course on compassionate leadership at the Stanford School of Business offers a pragmatic approach to better understanding your purpose in the workplace and how to approach your work issues with compassion.  

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This book offers some of the same overarching messaging when it comes to understanding your purpose in life, in that it all comes down to mindfulness and recognizing your reactions to certain situations. What Weiss does differently and so eloquently is helping you identify where your values really lie and how to achieve mindfulness to work past the values that aren’t resonating with you. With this newly tapped information, you can make more educated choices on where to move next in your career, whether within that same environment or not.

As someone who has spent the better part of her decade going back and forth between the freelance and full-time employment life, I found this book extremely helpful as it caters the language to those who are not doing the self-employed thing, which seems to be a rare perspective and narrative that we're fed these days. I consider this a manual for anyone who feels stuck in their work environment and Weiss’ key takeaways are:

Establish your workplace values

The first call to action Weiss asks you to take is to establish your values and ideals in your workplace and career. Without identifying these, you may be falling short on what your ultimate career goals are, without even fully understanding why. For many people starting out in their careers, things like salary, health benefits, vacation time and having a flexible work environment may be at the top of the list, but as you progress and grow in your career, these often shift in unexpected ways. Weiss’ guidance pushes you to dig deeper and reflect on some of the more nuanced ideas that may be important to you, such as accountability from your colleagues and good leadership from upper management.

Her approach to workplace mindfulness helps you tackle the issues so many of us often face—particularly those who have to work closely alongside a team or under management.

Appreciate your soft skills

When crafting your resume or updating your LinkedIn profile, you’ll likely list your hard skills, whether they involve your mastery at creating a perfect Excel sheet, building an entire website or unparalleled sales experience. What we often exclude, just due to general lack of recognition for this particular skill set, are soft skills, such as practicing compassion, good communication, and critical thinking. Compassion is often dumbed down to an emotional response and is often disregarded as something that has no place in a professional setting. But what Weiss argues and asks you to consider is that its compassion that often makes workers that much more effective, whether with their colleagues or their clients.

Understand compassion vs. empathy

For those work environments that do support the soft skills Weiss outlined, they may already value empathy in the workplace. Depending on what your role entails, empathy may feel like a necessity. But what Weiss warns is that there are key differences between empathy and compassion. While empathy is being able to feel another person’s perspective, Weiss explains, “Compassion empowers us to act, to help, to solve problems rather than simply feel what another person is feeling.” She cites LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner, who further articulates that being empathetic means feeling someone else’s pain and getting bogged-down and crushed by it, while being compassionate means feeling someone else’s pain, but having the ability to problem solve to alleviate the pain. So while we all could use a bit of both in our personal and professional lives, it’s compassion that is going to make us more effective workers, taking a personal and pragmatic approach.