Armed with the fierce belief that a person’s professional and spiritual lives are not mutually exclusive, R. Paul Stevens has written a book on how to integrate the two. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace is Stevens’ latest literary production, a follow-up to 2008’s Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace.
A former pastor who works as a professor emeritus of marketplace theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Stevens (in partnership with fellow author Alvin Ung, a Malaysian investment professional) outlines a strategy for negotiating the dual demands of work life and spiritual life. He talks about it below.
Why did you write this book?
I’ve seen so many people struggling to take their souls to work. They experience a terrible mismatch between the organization’s goals and their personal aspirations. They wish they could be doing something else. They feel so busy achieving goals that seem meaningless. There’s no joy, no work-life balance.
Is there an alternative?
Absolutely. For me, I had to quit my job, leave the country, and spend nearly four years rewiring my brain by studying how great spiritual leaders have lived and worked over the past 2,000 years. And I have learned that it is possible to discover joy while working. No matter how boring or stressful the job, it is possible to experience contentment while striving for excellence. It is possible to feel profound gratitude even while tackling great challenges. And, ultimately it is possible to work with confidence, knowing that what we do has eternal value.
It’s one thing to face the external pressures of busyness and stress. But I’m painfully conscious of even greater pressures assaulting us from within—greed, anger, envy, pride and much more. These things really impede our spiritual growth in the workplace and, to turn this situation around, we need to address them.
Why’s it important for spirituality to be part of our professional lives?
Spirituality provides meaning and motivation. Without a deeper understanding of why we work, life becomes bleached of meaning. We will feel stuck working in dead-end jobs that engage only a fraction of our gifts and aspirations. “When work is soulless, life stifles and dies,” said the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus.
How has spirituality’s place in the workplace evolved over the years?
Admittedly, this is a movement that’s still in its infancy, but there are lots of businesses now that are encouraging generic spirituality—partly as a way of ramping up slagging motivation, but also as a response to the bankruptcy of pure materialism and secularism. More than that, spirituality is now being taught in business schools and conferences about it spring like flowers around the globe. With more time, I think spirituality will become increasingly acceptable, but it will be spirituality of a universalist sort, much as the traveling gurus propose: meditation, getting in touch with the divine centre of ourselves, connectedness to the entire environment, and environmental spirituality—these will be majors.