Does Your Professional Circle Spark Joy?

For much of the first quarter century of my life on earth I questioned my value as a person. I didn’t think that I had much to offer as a friend, partner, or professional peer. These were dark times indeed where I questioned my reason for being. In the course of that deep questioning, I found a quick fix of sorts to redirect myself in those lulls.

Does your professional circle spark joyI would reflect on my amazing set of friends. Surely, this smart, passionate, and very direct group who had chosen to take, and return, my calls wouldn’t tolerate me if I was without some merit. This clearly wasn’t the way to get past long-held self-esteem issues, but it was a quick tourniquet when the emotional worst was on the go. 

Professionally, we often take a passive stance and sit back without questioning why, when work is good. Or even why when it isn’t actively bad. I recently had a fantastic set of days that were punctuated by having a front row seat across from impressive colleagues being excellent in their work.

  • Shruti was leading a conversation with entrepreneurs about setting up better financial systems
  • Matt was consulting on building confidence in my written voice
  • Heather was advising a colleague on developing a strategy to lobby Congress
  • Lawrence was creating a space for leaders to work on their personal growth
  • Stefanie was being incisive and decisive in developing digital strategy
  • Jose was receiving so many job offers

Seeing the people I knew and respected being their best and receiving accolades for it felt like consuming successive espresso shots. It made me feel joyful in having built a life where so many people around me had the opportunity to be recognized and excel. And this made me consider how to describe what I was feeling and how to ensure more of it in my life. 

I was well acquainted with schadenfreude which hit mainstream culture because it was popularized in the musical Avenue Q and represents such a perverse human sentiment (the pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune). I know that we have all felt this before. However, why had its opposite not been embraced in the same way? 

With that in mind I offer you - Mudita. Mudita is a Sanskrit word that means joy. In particular, the sympathetic or vicarious joy, or the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being. It is a pure joy unadulterated by self-interest. It’s perhaps a sad thing, but indicative, that there’s no Western word for it. 

Why does this matter? I would contend that one of the great indicators of the health of your professional life is whether you are embedded in an institution or work independently with a set of other professionals who do work that gives you joy by association. The closer in that joy to your role the better, but ideally the many people you intersect with improve the quality of your wellbeing with their competence. This isn’t even about making your job easier. It is about seeing yourself in a peer circle that offers excellence. 

Ok, I’ll sign up for more joy. Now what? Glad you asked. 

Not too long-ago Marie Kondo was all the rage with her organizing your home principle of only keeping items that sparked joy. Now, truth be told we can’t exactly go around our offices and tell folks to leave based on how much of an anchor-like weight they are to our feeling good. However, it is helpful to recognize that in a workplace we often only have so much control over our co-workers. However, you can often make decisions about (1) who you want to work with on a project (2) consider if a different manager is an option or (3) whether this role or type of institution is a fit for you. 

Outside of that, consider how you apply Marie Kondo principles to the people in your life. I was chatting with a friend/colleague who shared an end-of-year practice where they would consider who to spend more or time less with in the year ahead. Ask yourself, who in your circle sparks joy? Who makes you dread that next conversation and their sponge like ability to take up your time and goodwill? 

I don’t want this to sound like it is an effort to ruthlessly cull the people from your life. And yet, I do want you to consider what makes your life better. Who makes your life better? Most of us have some people who have grown accustomed to not contributing to or even noticing our well-being. Shouldn’t they also seek out people who see them as additive in their lives?

I have always been a believer that the quality of the people in our lives, including our professional lives, is a big part of getting us to happier. I tend to think of happy as a carrot on an exceedingly long stick, but happier is always within reach. Start by making sure that you have the people around you who are most likely to get you there. 

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021. 

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market