The perfect book for a crazy year

By Morf Morford

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

If anything, 2020 is the ultimate re-set year.

Up until March of 2020, life around the world was on a steady, even relentless course. School, work, production and productivity, busy schedules – for work or play – were the rule. Until they weren’t.

Chaos emerged and then a silence fell across our factories and our freeways. Workplaces and schools, even shopping malls, shut down. COVID-19 and its impact shuttered almost the entire world.

It was as if the universe was telling us something.

That’s kind of the premise of Soulbbatical by Shelley Paxton; if we don’t learn to moderate ourselves, the natural world will do it for us.

One principle Paxton is using is the idea that the universe opens one door at a time. That might be true for individuals, but for those of us in the thick of the pandemic of 2020, it seemed that every week a new door of complication, difficulty and demands would open up all around us.

In fact for many of us, not only did doors open, but windows flew open and walls collapsed and storms and furies and forces unknown seemed to leap from every corner.

And we, especially we of the so-called industrialized economies, most of us anyway, were shuffled aside – laid-off or furloughed. Over 40 million of us. In some areas half of all workers were suddenly – and indefinitely – unemployed.

Most of us went full-bore into distractions such as streaming videos, doing puzzles and baking. Many of us tackled long-neglected projects or hobbies.

Many of us accidently found ourselves doing what Shelly Paxton recommends; reevaluating our purpose, direction and identity. Finding our souls.

This was barely possible; thanks to the busy schedule it seems like everyone had before March of 2020. After March of 2020, it became essential.

What is work, after all? Many of us who were on unemployment got a $600 a week “stimulus” check on top of our unemployment payment.

Even those occupations considered “essential” had schedules cut back. The seemingly firm symbiotic relationship between work and pay was fractured – maybe forever.

What do we do when we don’t have work or school schedules commanding (or dominating) our time? Many of us floundered – ate too much, drank too much, watched too many cringe-worthy videos. And some of us sharpened our skills, or had the time (finally) to consider what we really wanted to do with our lives.

In other words, most of us have been on an involuntary sabbatical.

I’ve always wanted to have a sabbatical, many colleges used to offer them. A professor would get a full year off (with pay) to explore, travel, do research or write and then come back refreshed and revitalized and more productive. Not many colleges do that anymore, but Shelley Paxton certainly thinks they – and every corporation should.

She tells her own story – of all-consuming work schedules, burn-out and health collapses. She was successful – but as she put it, she had the success, but not the “ful.”

Soulbbatical by Shelley Paxton cover, photo by Morf Morford

Her story is the story of all of us. We who have been furloughed or cut back have little desire to go back to what passed for normal – the 40-hour work week, the killer commutes, the 24/7 availability to our employer.

Our devices are tethers to unending work.

There was a famous Broadway musical many years ago – “Stop the world, I want to get off.”

In 2020, in many ways, the world did stop. And we don’t know yet how many “got off.” But many did, and more will. The workplace – and schedule -of the 2020s will look very different from the 20-teens.

It will look much like Shelley Paxton’s vision – not the gig economy necessarily, but an economy driven – and defined by what she calls “soul” the deepest, richest, yet, under most conditions, quietest aspect of our humanity.

“Success,” by whatever definition, may be at hand, but Shelley asks, at what cost?

Friendships, physical and mental health and family are all too often sacrificed on the altar of professional success.

Shelly does not prescribe “dropping out” – at least not for long. She also doesn’t suggest going back, but instead does the (much) harder work of defining (and refining) what our deepest, strongest and bravest selves are calling us to.

She suggests (among other things) that we put all of life’s choices into three categories; “Hell yes,”, “Hell no” and “No for now.”

Referring to Rich Litvin, there is no “Hell, maybe.”

One of her premises is that we have two business/life philosophies to choose; the first, the one most of the world advocates, and that the author chose (at least at first) – the warrior model, where business and life are a continual battle – with conquests and losses, hostile take-overs, feuds, lawsuits, endless conflicts and burn-out along with physical and mental exhaustion. And sometimes, as in mid-2020, hostility and anxiety erupting in our streets.

The other choice is the opposite; surrender to the power and forces of nature, taking notice of those deepest, unstoppable surges within each one of us, with respect and listening as the primary “tools” brought to each conversation, with serendipity and flow as the guide and strategy.

Using these simplistic sounding strategies, everyone – the environment, future generations, marketers, customers and retailers all win.

There are no victims or losers.

We are in a time, in 2020, when everyone feels victimized, threatened or attacked.

Our most toxic values have been absorbed and presented by politicians and the media.

We have all become collateral damage in our current war against everything.

Oddly enough, in almost every arena, from politics and business to everyday conversations, even the “victors” are miserable – after all, what is it that anyone has “won”?

We have politicians acting (and talking) like mob bosses as they loot our nation’s riches, putting even our national parks on the auction block.

These people know that they are hated and reviled by those who see what they are doing.

They and their families may be wealthy and powerful now, but like slaveholders, their vile behavior will haunt them for generations.

In short, they have lost their souls – traded them for power and money.

Shelley, a lapsed Catholic, reminds us that the only thing worth fighting for is the soul, and every conversation, every business deal is a step toward – or away from – a clear conscience, a good night’s sleep and an authentic soul.

The journey is the destination

Those of us living in 2020, in the often smoldering, disease-ridden, economically stricken cities and small towns, must decide which route to take. Either way, those after 2020 will look back and marvel.

Paxton’s message is very simple (but don’t confuse simple with easy) – take care of yourself, spend time with those who take care of (respect and appreciate) you and stay open to the unexpected, serendipitous opportunities life offers.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed, the struggle is never over and the learning never ends.

In 2020 we all learned this. Read this book for a (slightly) more detailed road map.

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