With an already extensive catalogue of non-fiction books covering Steiner-Waldorf education, biodynamics and organics, holistic health, philosophy of the natural world, mind body spirit, parenting and child health, philosophy of human life and religion & spirituality, in 2013 Floris Books made the decision to expand into business and economics. Starting this April with our own book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, the following month Floris then published Hearing our Calling from our good friend Gill Coombs, who like me studied Holistic Science at Schumacher College.
Hearing our Calling is an inspirational invitation to re-evaluate what is truly important and meaningful to us in our work. Gill shows how so many of us came to occupy predictable and homogenised roles, characterised as ‘busyness’ and not authentic business. Drawing on her many years of experience as a therapeutic counsellor, she provides real-life case studies across a range of sectors to show how we too can mobilise to create workplaces in harmony with nature and which support healthy communities.
The book starts with a look back at the history of work, enabling us to better understand both the current workplace today, and the impact on both ourselves and society. Having first examined what has gone wrong in modern economies, Gill then leads us towards an examination of what it means to have a vocation in life:
Vocation is something special. It’s our primary calling, and when we’re engaged in our vocational work it’s as if we are simply a tool or a conduit for what the universe is trying to do: be it writing a book, making a chair or singing a song. We can often hear our calling when we’re very young; we experiment with it through play. But as we pass through a long and rigid education system, our primary gifts can atrophy through lack of use and encouragement.
This notion of a calling is not static but dynamic:
We all have a calling: work which draws us, emerging through our history and our context. But it isn’t a fixed, unchanging vocation which we must identify and then make our way towards, and then having found it simply do it and be complete for the rest of our lives. We’re constantly evolving along with our context, physically and psychologically changing, and changed by, all we encounter. Each time this happens we are refined. We become more complex; we deepen and we grow. And so does our work.
I enjoyed reading about the many different people Gill has helped in her career, and I am sure that there will be much recognition from many of us who may recognise certain situations we have found ourselves in when working in particularly stressful or unfulfilling roles. In this example, Gill shows how the helped a sales director discover his sense of play:
Richard used to worry that during our coaching sessions, in which we were supposed to be talking about developing his leadership skills, he would often digress into completely unconnected topics such as radio comedy shows. To begin with, we found ways of disciplining and limiting these digressions. But as I became increasingly aware of their nature, it grew clear that the digressions were trying to take our coaching work somewhere important.
Yes, Richard agreed when I put it to him: he would love to be a comedy script writer. He’d fantasised about it lots of times, and developed little skits with friends. We explored the possibility of his seeking to develop his career in this direction, and he wrote a couple of scripts, but it didn’t feel to either of us like the right route.
We began to look at other possible outlets for his comedic talents. What eventually emerged was that he passionately wanted to influence the procedure-bound culture of the organisation of which he was a director, and could see no way of doing so – until we explored introducing the notion of play… and then he began to have ideas. His vocation ‘would out’, and made its presence clearly known during our sessions.
How Richard’s calling will evolve in the future, I don’t know. Through our work together he found an expression, a response, which felt right for that time in his life. I imagine there will be more twists and turns to his story. Calling is a process, rather than a distant goal.
Hearing Our Calling is an insightful treatise guiding us towards happier, more purposeful lives filled with generosity, spontaneity, creativity, connectedness and love. Looking to the future, Gill closes with a look at both the future of education and a new conceptualisation of the workplace.
A return to the values of the community and also more mature approaches to conflict play key roles in this vision, as do of course the design of healthier environments. Gill asks to imagine a society that asks of us not “can you find a job” but “what needs can you respond to?” and it is in answering this second question that we will find meaning, health and happiness in our work.