Anyone who has ever been passed over for a promotion or failed to negotiate the pay raise they thought they deserved knows what it feels like to be down in the dumps. For the long-term unemployed – about 5.3 million Americans – feelings of anxiety are even more acute.
Deepak Chopra, the physician, spiritualist and author, thinks he has some advice that can help assuage the negative feelings that come with trying to get ahead. His new book, "Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life's Greatest Challenges," posits that many of us see only crisis in failure, and not the opportunity to do better.
Most of us have only "contracted awareness," which is like being in a dark room with just a candle to illuminate what's around us. "Expanded awareness" gives us a flashlight to see the opportunities that exist within the darkness, and "pure awareness" is when the curtains are pulled back and sunlight illuminates everything.
Chopra spoke with FINS about using "divine discontent" to inspire your career, the importance of asking reflective questions, and why there are more opportunities contained within crises than we realize.
Joseph Walker: People sometimes feel they haven't achieved enough in their careers. Do you have any advice for them?
Deepak Chopra: The best advice for people is to take a little time for reflection and ask themselves deeper questions even though they seem to have no immediate answers. The questions would be: Who am I? What do I want? What's my purpose? What makes me really happy or joyful? What are my unique skills and talents and who could use them? Who are my heroes in mythology history or religion? Could they be my role models? What are the relationships I'd like to cultivate? If you ask the questions, life will lead you into the answers. But you need to live those questions.
JW: What is contracted awareness and does it impact our ability to achieve success?
DC: Contracted awareness means to live in fear or feel that you're separate from the web of relationships around you and to be caught up in anxiety. Contracted awareness influences your moods of course, you feel anxious and depressed but it also influences your perceptions. You see every situation as a crisis.
It also influences your assumptions and influences your beliefs and expectations. And your mood leads to failures. On the other hand, if you expand your awareness, all those things change: beliefs, perceptions and feelings. The things that seemed like crises become opportunities for success.
JW: Can happiness or contentment hamper one's career? After all, dissatisfaction often drives us to achieve.
DC: I use the phrase 'divine discontent.' As long as striving is without anxiety, it's great. We all want to achieve; as long as it's not driven by attachment to an outcome which affects your equanimity and your ability to achieve. If you can stay centered and strive at the same time, that's great.
JW: Do you have any advice for the long term unemployed?
DC: For people who are so inclined, and this may not apply to everyone, this is an opportunity to find out what your real purpose is and how you can express your uniqueness. I met a young woman in New York City and she'd just been laid off. She'd been working for a technology company and she was very distressed. I asked if she enjoyed her job. She said, 'no.' I said, 'What do you enjoy?' 'Being a chef,' she said. 'Why don't you start a catering company?' I said. 'With who and with what resources?' I said, 'No, you don't need resources or partners. Just promote yourself on the internet and go on LinkedIn.
A year later, she has a business, she has 20 employees and she's making a lot more money than she was in technology.
There you have an example of creativity in a moment of crisis. Every crisis is a moment of opportunity but you have to reflect on what that opportunity is.
The collective economic downfall that we're experiencing right now is purely psychological. America did not lose its ability to be creative and innovative. This is still the cradle of civilization. This where Twitter and iPhones and Google all emerged. This is where all the best scientists and researchers from around the world come to.
JW: Is there something wrong with the way we define 'success'?
DC: I'd define success as the progressive realization of worthy goals. It's the ability to have love and compassion and the ability to get in touch with your own creativity. If you define success purely in material terms, yes, it's an overrated value.
JW: How does the speed of technological change affect our chances at happiness?
DC: Actually, it's up to us. The technology by itself is neutral. Also, technology is unstoppable. Technology is the next stage of human evolution and especially the technology creating social networks and the Internet is an extension of our mind. Our mind is not confined to our brain anymore. Slowly we're going beyond ethnic, racial, religious and national boundaries and we're speaking with people all over the world.
If you're bamboozled by this technology and distracted by it, of course it's going to affect your happiness. On the other hand, if you understand the implications of it, this is the only thing that will solve our issues of racism and war and terrorism and eco-devastation.
Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com