by Jen DeSimone
“47 You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. 48 Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”
Excerpt From: Easwaran, Eknath. “The Bhagavad Gita.”
Last year I suffered a career crisis. I hated what I was doing, and I was frustrated by the people with whom I was working. It was so bad that my manager noticed and commented on it. When I realized how evident my unhappiness was, I knew that something had to change. I seriously contemplated whether it was time to change companies or careers even. I eventually came to the conclusion that changing jobs was actually running away from the real problem. The real problem wasn’t the job or other people. The real problem was me.
My yoga students are often surprised when I tell them that my full-time job is writing software. To them, as to many people, yoga lives in a completely separate world from technology. I too am sometimes surprised, but not for the same reasons. When I was in high school I wanted to become an academic. While I was in graduate school, however, I became disillusioned with academia. As a result, I quit school and got a programming job while I figured out what I wanted to do next. Eighteen years later, and I am still coding.
Technology is, as everyone knows, a male-dominated field in which egos abound. Last year during my career crisis, I realized that after almost two decades working in this domain, I had developed quite the ego. To be clear, when I say that I had an overdeveloped ego, I mean to say that my self-worth had become dependent on how my work was regarded. When I was praised, I felt like a rock star. When I was criticized, I felt like a fraud.
When I was trying to figure out what and how to change, I realized that my attitude to my programming was in sharp contrast with my yoga teaching. Since beginning to teach in 2012, I have always regarded my teaching as service (“seva”). The class is never about me. I observe and help my students as best I can. If a class is well received, that’s great. If someone has a critique or a suggestion, that’s great too. I always walk away from the class with a clear heart and head knowing that I did my best. This is in the spirit of karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action. This form of yoga is described in one of the great Hindu texts, The Bhagavad Gita. In it, the god Krishna teaches a reluctant warrior named Arjuna the importance of taking action, but all the while not being vested in the fruits of that action.
As a result, I realized that I needed to carry over this notion of service into my full-time job. Of course putting this into practice didn’t happen overnight, but it helped that I had been doing this in my yoga teaching for a few years. I volunteered to be in meetings more. In those meetings, I listened to my coworkers. I was also willing to toss my own assumptions out the window when they didn’t hold true. And, when things went wrong, I didn’t beat myself up. Instead, I tried to learn what we could do differently in the future and moved on.
When I decided to make these changes, it wasn’t to impress anyone or to get ahead. I simply wanted to end my own suffering. The changes, however, did not go unnoticed. People remarked on them to my manager, who later related them to me. Whenever he brings it up, I simply say, “I try my best.” And then, I silently think, “This is also yoga.”
Jen first discovered yoga in 2001 and has been practicing it ever since. Since completing her 200 hour teacher training with Laughing Lotus four years ago, Jen has been offering classes where students are met where they are. You can follow her on her Facebook page.
Josh is a teacher at Laughing Lotus whose classes emphasize a mindful approach and steadiness of breath. Beyond yoga he is a project manager, hip-hop enthusiast, and coffee connoisseur.