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Fearless At Work

Book Review of: Fearless At Work

Timeless Teachings
For Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life's Demands

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Review of Fearless At Work, by Author (Softcover, 2012)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


Pick 100 people at random, and ask them if they are happy with their jobs. Probably few are. Most feel unfulfilled and underappreciated. Ask them if office conflicts leave them drained, and most will say yes. In fact, many people feel downright powerless at work. Yet, the typical white collar worker spends 50 or more hours in this condition.

Yet some will tell you they are happy. Even if their boss is a jerk. Some will tell you those conflicts didn't drain them, but helped them to understand.

The difference isn't because one workplace is better than the other, though that is often true and often a contributing factor. The difference is in how you handle it. An example of my own personal experience follows this review.

Why do people slave away for 50, 60, or 70 hours a week? There's a great example in this book, and I like the way Michael explained it. In a word, it's fear. When you allow someone to control you by fear, you do not gain that person's respect. People who are afraid to tell the boss, "I'm not going to slave away here 12 hours a day" because they might not get the boss's approval and thus not receive a (meaningless) promotion are fooling themselves. Because the boss sees how weak you are, you don't have the boss' respect anyhow.

As Michael explains, sometimes you have to "let it break." If things are so mismanaged where you work that somehow it's on your back to carry things, your sacrifice is actually meaningless. The solution is to fix the management problem, not sacrifice your mental and physical health. But almost everyone goes the sacrifice route out of fear of something presumably worse, such as failure. As Michael points out, letting a flawed system fail isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it's exactly what needs to happen.

In this book, Michael doesn't have all the answers. But neither does he pretend to. In this book, he draws on his extensive training in Buddhism and its philosophy, showing how to apply that inner peace and strength to situations in the workplace. He has used this same approach in his years as a successful executive coach.

He uses real examples to illustrate how applying certain principles can markedly change a situation for the better. He's organized these into 38 slogans. Each slogan represents a Buddhist principle for "enlivening fearlessness on the spot in everyday life." Fear, insecurity, and need for approval are among the main drivers of unhappiness in the workplace and elsewhere. Replacing these with fearlessness helps you avoid being sucked down into a morass of negativity and destructive behaviors.

Fearlessness has many benefits. For example:

  • Rather than feel stress, you can respond to unexpected problems with a peaceful sense of confidence that you and your team will overcome whatever it is.
  • Rather than react by blaming someone else, out of fear of being blamed, your fearlessness allows you to attack the problem instead.
  • If you're defensive out of fear you'll be looked down on for a mistake, you look petty and you look guilty anyway. With fearlessness, you own up to the mistake and others are genuinely motivated to helping you.

In this time of extreme economic stress, people are understandably anxious. But being anxious and fearful in the workplace is like trying to swim with a big rock tied around your waist. Michael provides insight that can lighten your load.

This book consists of 38 chapters in 235 pages, plus it has five appendices related to specific meditation practices.


My personal experience

Many years ago, I worked for a jerk of a boss who had toxic personality problems. He was dishonest, for one thing. I'd turn in brilliant work, and he'd put his name on it (but not mine) and pass it along to his boss. He was lauded several times in the company newsletter for work he'd stolen from me. When I confronted him about this, he said that was his privilege as the boss. It wasn't just me; he often left my coworkers fuming.

Then came my first performance appraisal. After a few minutes into this farce, I stood and walked to the door. He said, "Wait, where are you going?"

I calmly told him he had no power to motivate or demotivate me, I knew I did brilliant work, his opinion didn't matter to me, and I had better things to do than sit and listen to the lies he had written. As he sat there in stunned silence, I then told him something like, "I see how my coworkers leave these abuse sessions all upset and sometimes in tears. I'm not giving you that power over me. Only I can make me upset. And that is not going to happen"

First he told me I for sure would not get a raise, and there would be disciplinary action if I didn't sign the review. Now, it's important to point out that I was as calm as if we were discussing what we'd had for lunch. I had no fear of him, and that was crucial in this situation.

My reply was, "Why don't you just write that up and send it to your boss?" As a scowl crossed his face, I said in the most sincere and pleasant tone, "No, I mean it. I have no problem with that. I would do the same thing in your place." I needed to be assertive, not rude. My lack of fear allowed me to proceed that way.

Then I walked out. For the next several days, I maintained my happy demeanor because none of this fazed me. But my boss was hugely unhappy. I'd greet him, and he'd grunt something back at me.

What he didn't know was that, a few days before my appraisal, I had put together my own appraisal with supporting documents using the same form (which I snagged from HR). I had sent that to his boss and to his boss' boss, with a note asking them to read it in case they received conflicting information. Among the supporting documents were statements of praise I had assiduously collected from customers, vendors, heads of other departments, and people outside our company but inside our industry.

I also included a list of things I liked about my boss along with some suggestions of how he could do better. Among those suggestions was to stop putting his own name on work done by subordinates and taking all the credit. I cited specific examples of work he'd stolen that way. I ended on a positive note about how I enjoyed my work and tried to let this show in the quality of what I produced.

After a few days, he sent his hysterically inaccurate, vitriolic appraisal of me up the food chain. But it was too late for him to get the first shot. His boss, and the VP his boss worked for, had already stopped by my desk to tell me what a great employee I was and to keep up the good work. My boss was completely unaware of this.

I never did sign that appraisal, but I did get a hefty raise. My boss was replaced not long after. The key for me was drawing upon that inner calm from my years of martial arts training. I was centered, with nothing to prove and no need for someone else's approval. I was fearless. I know that "fearless" works, because I've been there.


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