Michael Carroll has a niche around the concept of mindfulness at work. Fearless at Work: Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life’s Demands is his most recent and probably most focused writing on exactly how one achieves mindfulness in our hectic and wired offices. As a fellow enthusiast of the emotional and spiritual side of work, I found Carroll’s thinking to be sound and his techniques mostly very workable.
Carroll has a strong history as a corporate executive, so he speaks about jobs from a viewpoint that many of us share. In another’s hands, the idea of creating a meditative environment in the office might easily come off as hazy Eastern spiritualism or drug-induced and unrealistic thinking. Here, however, the author is solidly focused on how to make your work life and your business more productive and more effective. He just wants you to enjoy the ride.
Still, Carroll’s enthusiasm for and belief in the value of what he preaches is obvious on every page — and this may make some readers uncomfortable, particularly those who prefer a more technical and less spiritual approach to work effectiveness.
One main message of the book is that life happens, and the positive or negative attributes we experience come from within us, rather than being inherent in those life events and situations. This is an old but very valuable framework. The discussion of when to let the negative things happen in a process and how to handle the stress that results from doing so is especially valuable to read.
My favorite section was Part 5: “Living a Skilled Life.” Here is where Carroll digs more deeply into the realistic integration of mindfulness, meditation, and our everyday lives. We often seek integration, but the author provides us with a short list of serious techniques to actually achieve what he has touted throughout the text.
Lest you think that the combination sounds too mystical, Carroll uses the venerable and mythic concept of American baseball to teach us a holistic approach. With baseball, he writes, “America has examined its most prized values of competition, fair play, and teamwork. Here also America has had to confront its most profound shortcomings of racism, hero workshop, fraud, and sexism.” The sport and its complex history, he tells us, act as a mirror, revealing a host of issues in one fell swoop.
Throughout the book, Carroll talks about the presence of conflict in our lives. Rather than reduce the conflict, Carroll counsels us to become comfortable with conflict through depersonalization and context awareness. Even if you were to read only those sections of the book where he focuses on how to deal with conflict, you would receive more than your money’s worth in solid and useful advice.
The one thing I found slightly off-putting about Fearless at Work was the use of many Buddhist terms throughout. While the author uses them to illustrate various mental strategies and meditation techniques, as a reader, I found them somewhat distracting. That this is the most negative thing I found speaks well of the style, content, and value of the book.
One especially nice aspect is that you do not have to read the book in a linear fashion. Carroll encourages us to “randomly” select specific areas after reading the initial section. As he says, “permit your natural curiosity to engage the situation as it unfolds.”
If your “natural curiosity” has been piqued by this, I can recommend that you spend some time with this gentle author and learn about how to bring mindfulness more fully into your life. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of examining the spiritual side of your approach to work, ask yourself why, and still consider using this book to begin a journey of self-discovery. Even if it feels difficult at first, it’s a journey worth taking.
Fearless at Work: Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life’s Demands Shambhala, November, 2012
Paperback, 304 pages