Where Can We Go To Belong? #WorkHuman

(This article first appeared on LeadfortheWorld.com.)

Something intriguing resurfaced when we entered the 21st Century. Fueled by social entrepreneurship, conscious business, mindfulness at work and positive psychology, we began to re-examine the tension between commerce and cause, purpose and profit, bottom line and life line, machine and man. These forces can be difficult to reconcile, but something inside us now yearns to try. And the WorkHuman conference, now in its third year, offers us a place to build those bridges.

What began as a gathering largely for Human Resources (HR) professionals, WorkHuman has since expanded to include leaders who seek values-based profit and organizations that provide inspiration and solutions to them.

Like a dazzling Moroccan mosaic, companies are realizing that employees are no longer content to be limited by one set of industry-standard best practices, or one set way of being, doing, innovating and growing. Being human is inherently, and gorgeously, messy. If we want to be more human at work, then we have to appreciate the glorious mess that breeds market-shifting ideas.

The swirl of conversations now includes cognitive computing, mindfulness and compassion, data-driven rewards and recognition, quietly powerful leadership, research on happiness and stories of originality.

It’s a heady mix. And next week’s WorkHuman 2017 promises to explore them all.

The prose of commerce, the poetry of work.

“In setting the goal of our society at the realization of human dignity, we reach for the highest of stars and seek the outer limits of human capability. In this, now as always the new world for the spirit, the labor of free men is both the reward and the way.” - John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, 1961 Labor Day speech

On the cusp of his 100th birthday, President Kennedy’s wisdom still rings true.

We can get mired in the prose of commerce - predictive models, data analytics, strategic planning, profit maximization etc. Each year, our business vocabulary becomes more nuanced, technical or abstract. Each quarter, the pressure to meet financial benchmarks in an age of disruption continues to mount.

And yet, the drumbeat for humanity at work is now unrelenting. So we must now embrace the poetry of work, to explore the more amorphous aspects of what makes us get out of bed each day - ready, willing and inspired.

As I wrote in 2015, the inaugural WorkHuman conference celebrated the poetry of work with down time to network or recharge. WorkHuman 2016 invoked poetry with its 3 tracks of impact - WorkHuman for You, for Your Company and for The World. This year, WorkHuman 2017 promises to include diverse voices and threads.

The enduring power of ideas.

“The thing about dreams is - they cost absolutely nothing, and yet they remain the world’s most powerful fuel for inspiration, achievement and change.” - Rob Lowe, keynote speech at WorkHuman 2015

If WorkHuman were Aladdin’s Lamp, then the WorkHuman team are its caretakers, refilling it each year with ideas for achievement and change. If the record-shattering number of WorkHuman 2017 speakers is any gauge, there’s tremendous fuel for attendees who show up with a wish in their heart or a fire in their soul.

As an attendee, as someone who has covered the event since its inception, and as a human sponge for knowledge, I admit to feeling some FOMO (fear of missing out) this year. The keynotes stand alone, but what about the 5 parallel conference tracks? Where to go? What to do? Who to learn from?

So I’ve looked to my experiences in 2015 and 2016. Both events were memorable. Each was a reflection of what I needed at the time. I take comfort in knowing I will ingest what I need to, when I need to, and with the people I’m meant to.

The truth that we belong.

It’s been a dizzying year in the West. Leaders take strong positions one day, then abandon them the next to stay popular or in power. It’s getting harder to know where a leader stands, and that ambivalence is manifesting in voting booths. The anger of unheard voices is undeniable, and the frustration of not being able to make an honest living is real.

Much has been noted about the divide between urban and rural populations, between the elites and those who aren’t reaping the rewards of globalization. I traverse both worlds - East and West, urban and rural, analog and digital. There are stories to tell and vital problems to solve all around, and it’s something I cover in my Lead for the World magazine.

If I could wave a magic wand and invite all the angry people to a conference for and by the elites, I would likely choose WorkHuman. In a sea of fear-based (eat or be eaten), profit-at-all-cost business conferences, I would point them to how WorkHuman seeks to build the common good, with speakers who champion our desire to be appreciated for an honest day’s work.

And as a brand-building enterprise, I’ve seen WorkHuman be both clever and compassionate, rule-breaking and relevant. This ad is a striking example:

WorkHuman has grown significantly since 2015, as have I. That year, we both took bold steps into the complex intersection between profit and peace. I’ve gone from being a passive attendee to an active advocate and mentor for peaceful leadership. I’ve now embraced my own poetry of work. It gets me out of bed each day - ready, willing and inspired.

Through their speakers and conference content, WorkHuman challenges the stereotype that elites only want to exploit and plunder. And they’re building a movement that stirs us into honoring and appreciating the work we all do.

Ultimately, this is how we begin to build thoughtful bridges between commerce and cause, purpose and profit, bottom line and life line, machine and man. The promise of the ad above is one we yearn for, but often dare not voice.

We hope to belong to something bigger than our minds can hold.

We hope to belong to the work we do.

We hope to belong to our causes, our communities and our countries.

And yes, we hope to belong to each other.

[Disclosure: Globoforce, host and sponsor of the WorkHuman conference, grants me a free pass to attend and cover the event as an influencer. Unless otherwise sourced or quoted, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own.]


I’ll be sharing highlights from each day of WorkHuman 2017 (May 30 - June 1) here on HuffPost, and longer articles about the conference in my magazine LeadfortheWorld.com. I invite you to join me on this journey as it unfolds.

Want to lend your voice to something you care about, but don’t know how best to harness that desire? Join my free 5-day writing experienceWrite with Inner Power and learn how to craft your impact and express your truth.

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