What Might the Dalai Lama Have to Do with Your Professional Life? Maybe a Lot

One of the great contemporary challenges we face is finding balance in our lives. It seems that everywhere we turn we are faced with choices (or what seems like a lack of choice) around our relationships, our time, our finances, our health, our work, and many other examples. Most of us have realized that we cannot, in fact, have everything we want or have everything the way we want it. That knowledge, however, is not always reflected in our behavior! Four quotes below from the Dalai Lama might just provide a more effective way to think about the balance we’re all after.

“We need to learn to want what we have, not to have what we want.”

We often go about our lives as if having it all is, somehow, possible. When that happens, we are almost assuredly out of balance. Despite the fact that we know that dedicating all of a finite resource (time, money, energy) to one outcome means that we cannot dedicate the same amount of resource to another outcome, we often still try to do that. That irrational pursuit explains much of the financial stress, relationship stress, health stress, work stress, etc. that we often experience.

Part of achieving “balance” is simply giving up irrational pursuits—the ones we cannot achieve from the beginning no matter how hard we try. This applies to both our personal and professional lives and crosses both repeatedly. For example, we cannot choose to work until 7 pm and also choose to be at our child’s play or sporting event. We have to determine which outcome is more important—that we want or need more—and choose that outcome. Balance cannot come from always working late or always attending a child’s event. There are times when each choice makes more sense.

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.”

Another part of achieving balance is giving our minds a break from the dilemmas of the day. This is often called mindfulness, but it can come from many sources—meditation, yoga, tai chi, prayer, walks in the woods—anything that allows your mind to find a state of calmness. That is not, by the way, a state devoid of thoughts, which for almost all of us is impossible regardless.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

A third big part of balance is finding a way to connect with something that is bigger than our daily pursuits. We are all susceptible to the myopia that comes from the daily grind of our lives. However, that short sightedness pulls our focus downward and inward instead of up and out. Something as simple as looking for opportunities to be kind and compassionate mitigates the myopia and supports balance. Fortunately, those opportunities are all around us, all the time.

“As you breathe in, cherish yourself. As you breathe out cherish others.”

Finally, balance comes from finding the equilibrium between yourself and others. We cannot reach our own potential without caring about ourselves. We cannot deliver on that potential without caring about others.

The Dalai Lama’s perspective rarely finds its way into the work place, but it provides a frame of reference that is perhaps more appropriate to help us achieve balance at work and in our personal lives. One of the reasons we struggle so much with achieving balance in our work lives in particular is because we often use the wrong frame of reference and the wrong tools. It is not just about our schedules. Balance involves feeling as much as it involves thinking. It includes purpose as much as it includes productivity. And it requires that we make decisions that serve us as human beings as much or more than they serve our organizations through our labor. Although we are not socialized to think this way in the workplace, doing so will not only benefit ourselves, it ultimately benefits our organizations as well. Stressed out, burned out people, struggling to balance the demands of work, within work, and with the broader demands of life, are compromised in their ability to bring value to the organizations in which they are employed. We are more likely to find balance, if we give ourselves permission to apply the right tools to the problem.


Another favorite Dalai Lama quote is the following: “When you talk you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Come to think of it, that would help with finding balance too!

All Quotes are from the 14th Dalai Lama, Lhamo Dondrub.

2 thoughts on “What Might the Dalai Lama Have to Do with Your Professional Life? Maybe a Lot

  1. Will said, Dr. Pond.

    Maybe, the stress comes from the expectation; How much the one expects they can achieve versus what they, virtually, can achieve. It becomes even worse when the expectation is external (especially from people the one cares about their opinions). The culture where the collective opinion matters make the things more complex, somehow related to the cultural fear of failure.

    • Thanks for the comment, Zaid.

      Maybe part of achieving balance is having consonance between your expectations and reality. Of course it is fine,
      and maybe really good, to have aspirational ambitions, but that is different than having irrational goals. Whether internal or external (from someone else), we cannot fully support family relationships, for example, and also work 60 hours per week. We cannot be physically healthy if we don’t prioritize exercise. The point is that balance, by definition, requires a rational approach to what we prioritize and what we expect.

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