"Right Livelihood" is a Buddhist term that has led me to establish The Helm Group. It has stuck with me since I first heard it many years ago.
According to the Buddha, the way to peace, wisdom, and nirvana is the Noble Eightfold Path:
- Right View
- Right Intention
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
In the fundamental context, Right Livelihood is a way of making a living that does no harm to others. I've come to understand it in a richer sense, best articulated by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh:
"To practice Right Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. " ... Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living." (The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104)
"An expression of your deepest self." That's the part that really stuck.
I've been working for a living since I was 16. I left my first big corporate job at Netscape in 1999 and went to a few technology startups before consulting and doing contract work for about ten years. At Netscape, and at a prior company, General Magic, I was immersed in environments where the entire company was focused on an audacious goal of "changing the world." It's debatable whether we really were or not, but the feeling was there. I've been fortunate enough to consult to some big name companies, medium sized companies, and innovative startups. But I've not since felt anything similar to having that kind of meaning to my work. Since burning out at my most recent corporate job where I was EVP of Marketing & Sales, I have felt a strong pull — truly a tugging feeling — that I must do something meaningful with my years of marketing experience and apply it to an area where I'll make a real difference in the world.
Meanwhile I've also had two daughters, and I've both experienced and watched, as many women struggle walking the line between holding down a corporate job and trying to be the best mother they can. We feel pulled in a hundred directions and yet good at nothing. I know dozens of amazingly talented marketers that quit their corporate jobs in search of something more, seeking to apply their talents and earn an income, while not compromising their commitments to the people they love. Many of them head down the path of self-employment as a freelancer, only to get discouraged by the complexity of not just performing the craft they've already honed, but now also having to run a business — accounting, quarterly taxes, IT for their office, finding their own health benefits, and surprisingly the hardest part: marketing themselves.
The Helm Group was born at the intersection of my path to Right Livelihood and the need to support my family. Peddling my skills as a marketer solely to earn a buck has definitely not nourished my Self. But running The Helm Group enables me to earn a living consulting while also creating a structure of support for my network of amazing marketing and sales professionals. Here I'm building a real community where we can brainstorm and vent about professional and personal topics, we have an excellent bookkeeper to handle the details for all of us, we refer clients and projects to each other, we jointly promote each other, and soon we'll even have health benefits at group rates. The best part is, I get to collect a tribe of people with shared values, like integrity and ethics, and fun! — and I get to work with my friends, old and new.
Is this my Right Livelihood? It is for now. It may be a series of stepping stones on my path to something even more self expressed. My intention for The Helm Group is to progressively tune my colleagues and clients such that we all get to align our work with people we enjoy. The more of us who merge work with happiness, the better place this world will be.