June 25, 2009

"If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat also."--Jesus, from the Bible

The workplace provides endless opportunities to put yoga principles into practice. Yesterday it was asteya or honor or non-stealing, however you like to define it. One of my colleagues approached me and asked to assume part of my job assignment simply because she wants to perform that function to build her resume. It looks fun to her and she wants to be helpful. My colleague recently completed a graduate program in library science. She wants the professional growth experience for herself. I can’t blame her for that. Besides that, I really, really like her. She's the one of the gentlest souls I know.

First thoughts: Mine. I was here first--all the stuff we teach our kids when another kid tries to take their toy. Second thoughts: Fear of loss. Fear that I will become more disposable if I give up part of what I do.

After a recent round of layoffs (and the looming threat of another round later this year) her offer felt more like a threat or a theft than assistance. If I gave away part of my responsibilities, wouldn't I be a greater layoff target later this year? We had already lost a teammate earlier this month and all our teammate's tasks were in flux, waiting to be re-assigned or cancelled. Although I'm spread pretty thin, I wondered why she sought work that is already covered (theoretically)—why my work? Her offer also chipped away at the justification for the flexible work schedule my boss configured to accommodate another part-time job I have in a family-owned business where my schedule varies.

I knew that a defensive reaction might place me in the ranks of the barracudas as far as my librarian colleagues were concerned. I suspect they already view my tendency to extrapolate meaning from such things as a trait that belongs back in the business world where I once worked full-time. They swap duties and delegate work without giving a second thought to consulting their bosses or considering fundamentals like job descriptions. This practice is endemic to public libraries and librarians as part of a fluid atmosphere we strive to create for ourselves and others. It's a trait I enjoy most of the time. I paused to examine whether my colleague's offer is the right place for me to practice asteya or whether it is her chance to do so.

I scan myself to determine whether I am out of bounds on this one, readily finding four other opportunities in the past week where I practiced asteya with pleasure: two bridal shower gifts, a going away present for our laid-off colleague, and a meal for a family in need. Could it be that the opportunity I resist offers the greater potential for personal growth for me AND my younger colleague? Mentoring her and receiving some help at the same time may be the right place to be. The question is: how often are people like me struggling with these issues at work due to tight market conditions for jobs? And how can leaders coach them through it? What do you think?