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"The true use of speech is not so much to express our wants (needs) as to conceal them"—Oliver Goldsmith

Work is an area of our lives where it is very easy for inner and outer self to get out of harmony, and for striving and shoulds to prevail. The desire to secure ourselves against the future and the desire to stay afloat financially are often strong enough to cause us to ignore voices within that are pushing for change.

For me, work was the next place, after health and athletics, that I began to see Reflection more clearly, especially during my thirties as I moved from a technical career path, programming computers, to a sales career path.

As with all of life, reality and inner needs were not static during this period, but changed over the course of my sales career. Three stages might be the beginning, in which everything flowed smoothly, the middle in which my "good" luck with accounts turned to "bad" luck, and the end when I was fired.

I had been involved technically with computer software during most of my 20's. In my early 30's I started to have the desire to have my own business, rather than work for others. To do this, I needed to learn about the sales side of the business.

The opportunity to open a sales office just appeared for me. My needs were met and I flowed with it. I had not taken any steps towards a sales career, but through a series of short steps I found myself in one. It started when I was asked to assist a sales effort because of a particular area of technical knowledge I had that it turned out nobody else in the company had. Based on the success of that venture, I was offered the chance to leave the technical job behind and open a branch sales office in California.

Here then was the beginning of a cycle, that is typical of so many cycles in life. It just opened up for me. My inner need to grow beyond the technical aspects of computing was fulfilled through no conscious effort on my part. This is the wonderful, joyous side of Reflection.

Early in my sales career I got "lucky" and closed two major deals in record time. My original idea of learning sales and moving on got lost. My wife quit her high paying technical job so we could both live on all the money I was going to make. The financial pressures became higher. The goal of growth from learning the skills of salesmanship gave way to the pressure of making a lot of money and the self image of being able to sell.

After the initial successes I began to become uncomfortable in sales. I didn't seem to fit well with the other sales people. I didn't really like the career-oriented managers and vice-presidents I had to deal with in making the sales. I didn't like the pressure of having to close deals in order to pay my mortgage, but my ego and desire for money kept me fighting, striving to be successful.

This is when my "luck" went bad (and the backaches started). Accounts just didn't go my way, such as the large company with many subsidiaries that mandated that each subsidiary should buy our product. The subsidiary in my territory was the only one that couldn't afford to buy because it depended on the Mexican economy which had just collapsed.

These failures were, of course, the only way to resolve the situation. My inner needs were pulling me away. My outer wants were keeping me in. Failure, and failure "outside of my control" was the only way to meet my needs. The failures eventually led to being fired, providing me release from the sales career.

Career change

Being fired leads to insecurity, but there was really no reason to worry. I very quickly was rehired into the same company's development group as a product manager. They wanted someone who understood both the technical details of the products and the needs of prospects and customers. It paid well, was not high pressure and fitted my combination of technical and sales skills perfectly.

The footnote to this story is I was able to prove myself in sales after I was fired, thus reflecting perfectly not only my need to get out, but my need to succeed as well. Since I was rehired into the company, they let me hold on to my accounts for the remaining two weeks left in the quarter. I hustled those last two weeks and brought in 125 percent of my quota for the quarter. They let me hold on to another account I had worked on for awhile and I closed that in the next quarter for a half a million dollars putting me way above what would have been my sales quota. I was no longer in sales so it was safe to succeed at selling.

It is important to note that I certainly wouldn't have told the story like this when it was happening, and this is one of the reasons it is so hard to see Reflection at work in the painful parts of people's lives. When I was being fired I protested vigorously. I was angry at being summarily let go and further angry that my sales management could not see I was just having "bad luck." I complained to all around about the unjustness of it all, and about my desire to be a salesman. In fact everything I said pointed to a view of life that is exactly opposite of Reflection, that is, the view that people can be victims of random fickle fate.

Why did I tell the story as a victim then? Because my ego was wrapped up in my desire to be a highly paid salesman. I could not admit to myself that I really wanted to get out of sales and back to a more stable salaried position.

But the lies I told were only about the painful parts of Reflection, the failures and eventual firing. For the joyous part of the sales experience, the entry into sales and the early successes, I freely admitted being in harmony with forces of destiny. It is only when the forces were moving contrary to my wants that pain occurred and lies covering up inner needs were told.

The sales story also illustrates the perfect fine-tuning of reality with inner needs. Notice that I was not simply fired from sales, I was fired from sales and rehired into a different division so that I could hold onto some sales work. I fulfilled both the inner need to get out of sales and to prove that I could succeed in sales. If I had succeeded in sales while still in sales, my ego and wants for financial success would not have let me quit. Only the precise reality of being fired and rehired in a different capacity in the same company could meet all of my needs regarding my sales career.

They also met my financial needs, because the salary in the new position was a good one, and while not equal to that of a successful salesperson, was certainly more than I was making as an unsuccessful one. Further I got a couple of nice big commission checks on top of the full salary for closing the few deals I carried over.

As with the illnesses and injuries, the pain of being fired from sales was only painful because of my outer desires to stay in sales. Being truly honest, it was in fact much more joyous than painful to be fired, because I left the stress behind. The degree of pain in any situation is related to the degree of the disharmony between the wants and needs.

The degree of anger is also related to the same disharmony. Had I been even less in touch with my need to move on, I would have been even angrier at being fired. Had I been more in touch I might have even resigned from sales before being fired.

Mary was involved in a similar work story that also showed the perfect way reality can reflect complex, ambivalent inner needs. She had risen from the technical computing ranks into management and had always wanted the opportunity to further expand her experience to running a business. She was eventually given the opportunity in the form of the general manager job at a small software company. At first, she had made great strides in cleaning up the operation of the company, but the pressure of the job was getting to her and she developed constant headaches at work.

While able to do the work, she was not as comfortable with the full business of the company as she was with simply the technical side of creating software products. She needed to move on, but her self-image wanted her to reach these higher levels of management and her ego would not let her simply leave. Only a bizarre external reality reflected her need to get out of the general manager position, while still leaving her with full credit for having done an excellent job. The reality moved her back to the technical management end of the business she was most comfortable with.

It started when the owner of the company left his wife and had an affair. His new girlfriend started participating in running the company, although she was totally unqualified. Those close to the owner told him it was bad business to have his girlfriend messing around in the company business, and eventually he agreed to tell her she was being phased out.

A few days later the girlfriend was trying to give direction to Mary, which Mary questioned, reminding her of the owner's plans. Well, it turns out the owner hadn't told the girlfriend and the girlfriend was furious. He resolved the issue by relieving Mary from the general manager position and giving much of the responsibility to his girlfriend.

Awful, horrible, unjust, but a perfect reflection of Mary's inner needs. It all worked out for the best as she then moved to a position in which she developed software products and received royalties from them, which was really the part of the business she enjoyed. She also had the sympathy of pretty much everyone in the company who told her she was the best general manager they had had.

Here we see the acausal relationship between inner self and reality. There was nothing in Mary that caused the situation with the boss' girlfriend to unfold as it did, but yet its unfolding perfectly fit Mary's changing inner self. Her need to leave the job and her inability to let go were perfectly reflected by both the boss' commitment to Mary because of the good work she was doing and the need to remove her because of the pressure from his girlfriend.

General Managership and the boss' girlfriend

That is, the reality we experience is often complex and filled with conflicting messages. Those messages accurately reflect conflicting needs in the inner self as well. In this case Mary received two distinct messages—that she deserved the job and that she was fired. These reflected inner needs to be recognized as a good manager and to not have the responsibility of proving it any more.

As I did when fired, Mary felt relief, but she was also very angry. The anger came from the pain, and the pain came from the reality of being fired that was in conflict with the want of keeping the job but in harmony with the need to get out. In contrast, she reveled in the resulting recognition and support from her co-workers, which came from harmonious wants and needs for recognition of a job well done.

Besides major events in the work place, like getting hired or fired, the general state of work reflects inner needs. A lot of what we may perceive as dissatisfaction in a job is actually just not knowing what we really need. This was the case with my movement into an exciting (for me) new area of technology and the pain of not getting the support from my company that I believed I wanted. As always, the pain turned out to be related to out-of-harmony wants, not unmet needs, for reality met my needs exactly.

The product management position I took after sales gave me the space to explore new areas of technology that the company might pursue. I started to play around with the newly emerging computer field of artificial intelligence (AI).

The shift into artificial intelligence was one of those changes that just flowed and was an example of the difference between striving and hard work. I became the local guru of AI as the result of a lot of hard work learning and experimenting with the technology, but I never had to force myself to do the work—it fascinated me and drew me in. My inner needs and conscious wants were in harmony.

My work in AI also illustrated how events can seem to be either acts of free will or destiny, as Reflection indicates. On the one hand, it was much of my own initiative that kept me going in AI. On the other hand, various pieces of AI technology just kept opening for me as if by magic.

For example, before getting involved with AI, I was writing a computer game for my own enjoyment using conventional programming technology. Unrelated to this project, I decided for the first time to attend one lecture in a series of lectures on computer science given by a local computer club. That lecture happened to be about the AI computer language, Prolog, which was the perfect solution to the problems I was having writing my computer game.

From that meeting I wound up building my game and other AI applications and writing two books on Prolog. It was as if my destiny over those years was to become a Prolog guru. Events outside of my willful control led me in that direction, but my own initiative kept me going. So depending on my point of view, either destiny took me along a path in AI or my free will took me along a path in AI. Both are true, and when needs and wants are in harmony, then free will and destiny feel the same as we exercise our free will to pursue our destiny.

But it wasn't all roses for me with AI at my job. I still wanted money and power at work. I saw the business opportunities of AI and tried to get the company to move into AI in a big way. Instead, I was just given my own space to freely experiment, and was trotted out in front of customers to make presentations on what the company was doing in AI. The company was more interested in creating the "AI look" than actually applying the technology.

Management never gave me the full support in commitment of money and people to begin a major initiative in AI. I complained to my peers about my frustration with the company's lack of vision and support. It appeared I was the victim of narrow-sighted management.

But what was really happening? How did this acceptance of my personal efforts in AI but rejection of the larger plans for AI reflect my inner needs? The truth is I felt very insecure in my ability to pull off a major new effort. It was much easier to just say this is what we should do, have management say no, and then feel righteously indignant, than it would have been to actually make it happen. I was scared of the responsibility. So my reality reflected an inner need where I looked good, management looked bad, I got sympathy, but I didn't have to produce on a large scale.

What's more, I got what I really needed. I got to play with the technology by myself. I built small experimental systems, gave talks on Artificial Intelligence at meetings with customers, and in summary did all of the things I enjoy. I avoided tight supervision, which I hate, and I avoided the responsibility of having to build and manage a significant corporate investment. And I saved face—it wasn't my fault I wasn't building the larger group and systems we should have been building.

My reality of getting into AI (joyful) and my reality of not being given the full support to build the AI group I asked for (painful) were both perfect reflections of my inner needs. The only difference is in one case the needs were in harmony with my wants and in the other they weren't. The complex reality of partial fulfillment of my expressed AI wants was in fact a perfect match to my inner needs—not just close, but perfect.

It is important to understand the focus of this situation. It was very easy for me at the time, and very easy for anybody who knew the situation, to "blame" management for their short-sightedness. We can certainly analyze their behavior and judge it by whatever standards we want. We might conclude they were wrong, and this was certainly the way I presented the situation at the time, but it makes no difference whether they were right or wrong. The important point is their behavior met my inner needs perfectly, and by focusing within, instead of judging them, those inner needs can be better understood.

The fact that their behavior met my inner needs does not in any way change how we view their behavior. It stands on its own, but this is jumping ahead of the story.

Reflection not only works in the large scale job situations as illustrated in the previous stories, but in the small day-to-day events as well. A perfect example occurred after I had left the corporate world and Mary and I were working on our own at home.

One day, I was trying to get some work done on a project, but Mary kept interrupting me. I was angry with Mary for the constant interruptions, but I asked myself, why do I need this aggravation? The answer was simple. I really didn't like the project I was doing, but I had to get the work done. I was striving, going against the grain. The reality of Mary's interruptions, which prevented the work from being done, were a perfect reflection of my inner conflict. My anger was really at that inner conflict, which I was unwilling to admit.


Interruptions at work

Similar things happen all the time at work. When something inside is not happy with the work being done, something outside gets in the way as well. When the work is flowing from within, nothing outside gets in the way. The best way to understand is to look at the surrounding aggravations and look within for the inner turmoil they reflect. The external blocks are always reflections of internal blocks. Similarly, external smoothness of an endeavor is a reflection of internal harmony.


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Copyright ©1992 Dennis Merritt. All Rights Reserved.