A New Definition of Work: Intentional Work at the Ranch
Summary: In society, work is often negatively perceived as it drains people’s energy and then they need a day off to recharge and to be able to follow their interests. However, working at the ranch in the Trails to Empowerment community means following your interests and being aware of your intentions for why you are doing something. This is intentional work. It energizes people and empowers them to find fulfillment. Our community partner Lea wrote this blog story about how intentional work inspired her and what difference it makes if you are not aware of your intentions. She realized that it is her responsibility to define her interests and intentions and to take responsibility for them. But she also knows that it needs an organization, like the Trails to Empowerment community, that takes the responsibility for facilitating diverse opportunities.
When I first joined the Trails to Empowerment community, it was to do an internship in the office. So, one of the main reasons for me coming to the ranch was to gain “work” experience. And just like me others came to “work” as a guide, ranch hand, cook or to gain “work” experience in conservation. But we all had something in common, after a while we saw what everyone else was working on and that there were more opportunities for us then just doing the “work” we came for. We all wanted diversity and to take in all the opportunities to their fullest potential. However, to embrace those diverse opportunities which the ranch environment facilitates, everyone has to take one important first step: Letting go of the societal perceptions of work. But what are they?
Work is defined as an activity involving mental or physical effort done to achieve a result or a task that has to be done. In today’s society it often comes along with a negative connotation. We perceive our work as a necessary effort which drains our energy and which we have to do to afford a living. Then we need a weekend or days off to recharge our energy and to have time to do the things we are actually interested in, enjoy and give us energy.
However, “working” in the Trails to Empowerment community means to be aware of your intentions for why you want to do something and not the activity itself. Understanding the intention behind the “work” you are doing, allows you to follow your interests and find fulfillment. So, while I was “working” in the office, I wanted to experience nature-connection and find my balance by being outside. So, I would chop wood, learn how to shoe a horse, guide guests on a pack trip or hike and learn about conservation. Though the office was still my main responsibility, I was interested in learning about everything that belongs to the ranch lifestyle and got involved in all different kinds of “work”. On my days off, I would use the time to invest in myself by, for example, learning how to pack a horse, watch the chainsaw orientation and practice using it. I was “working” seven days a week, but instead of constantly “working” and draining my energy, it was the other way around. I was taking responsibility and initiative for the things that I was interested in. Investing in myself by learning and practising new skills helped me to grow and evolve. It, for example, prepared me for leading guests into the wilderness on a pack trip to see the breathtaking mountains or to take charge in the office as the office manager. Pursuing my interest and being clear about my intentions would allow me to recharge my energy and to find fulfillment in the “work” I did.
After three months, my internship ended and I went back home to Germany. I was inspired by the kind of “work” I had experienced at the ranch. But, back in Germany not everyone was able to understand the kind of “work” I had just experienced and which I was determined to keep experiencing. Too many times I heard people complaining about their work situation and how unsatisfied they are with it, without any attempt to change it. While at the ranch, I found great purpose in empowering people to align their work with their interests, so I wanted to use my skills and knowledge to continue doing that. I thought the best way to facilitate meaningful work would be in the position of a Human Resource Manager. As it so happened, one TTE community member just started his position as a Shop Manager for a multinational company. I reached out to him and he gave me the opportunity to gain experience in managing a shop of this multinational company. Though I wanted to work in the HR Management, I quickly realized it did not align with my intention for this internship. The HR Manager was occupied by complying with the administration of legal regulations, management decisions and employee complaints. There was no room for facilitating opportunities to the employees or to empower them. Instead, it was the Shop Manager and the Shop Floor Managers who were able to do this. So, this experience helped me to align my purpose even more.
About one year after starting my journey with the Trails to Empowerment community, I was starting my Masters Degree in Organizations Studies. I was determined to use my skills and knowledge to facilitate purposeful and meaningful work that fulfills the kind of “work” I experienced at the ranch. My intention perfectly aligned with the study program which would facilitate valuable knowledge and skills.
By that time, Covid-19 had already been around for about half a year. However, that didn’t bother me much. My studies were continuing and I enjoyed what I was learning. To prepare for my free time during the summer, I started applying for internships. Though it was hard to find something, I got accepted for an internship in Business Development at a scale-up. They were a small, young and energetic team. “Working” time and place were flexible and I could adjust it according to my interests. Further, they would provide all the opportunities, but expected that I take initiative and responsibility for them. An environment just like the Trails to Empowerment community, so a perfect fit I thought. So, when I started the internship, I took all the opportunities that were offered to me. I took responsibility in all departments, contributed to the development of projects, organized events, led meetings and more. I enjoyed working there and at the end of the internship, I got the feedback that they had never had an intern before that was as engaged as me and that got as much exposure to all the different aspects of the company as I did. Though I left with the best letter of reference I had ever gotten, this summer internship had drained my energy. Almost everyday I came home tired out, either taking a nap or only being able to do something relaxing. I was unhappy and trying to find out why I was feeling that way, the “work” environment at the scale-up was similar to the one at the ranch, it should have been energizing me.
I wasn’t able to find the reason for why I was tired and unhappy and as I went to continue my studies after the internship, I got more energy again and was feeling better so I let it be. I finished up my last classes and started with the proposal for my Masters thesis. Fortunately, I had some more time between the end of my last classes and the start of my Masters thesis so I decided to go back to the ranch. When I arrived, I wasn’t able to articulate why I wanted to come back. For me it was just spare time, reconnecting with nature and the people in the Trails to Empowerment community.
Now I have already been here a few weeks and reflected about the reasons for me coming back and it gave me the answer to my unhappiness during the summer. I realized I was not clear about my intentions for my summer internship. I wanted to do it to add towards my resume, it felt like something I had to do. Also, I acted out of fear. I was scared that because of the pandemic I would get stuck at home and would not be able to grow and evolve. However, it did not align with my purpose and goals of creating meaningful work, instead I got caught up in society’s negative perceptions of work myself. I did not understand my intention behind the “work” I was doing and therefore did not find fulfillment. I also became aware of the doubts about how I can empower people to find meaning in their “work” if I am not able to do so myself? So, now being in a phase where I am facing the unknown as I am about to graduate, I unconsciously followed my need to come back to the ranch.
Being at the ranch now for the second time, I was able to reflect on my experiences and it once again helped me to gain clarity on my intentions and interests. The diverse opportunities the Trails to Empowerment community facilitates allow me to take responsibility for my own interests. I am applying my newly gained knowledge and skills from my Masters program by “working” on different projects in the office, constantly improving myself. Further, I constantly learn more about the uniqueness of the Chilcotin Ark, for example, by tracking and viewing wildlife or by collecting the seeds of the endangered white bark pine to replant them, which empowers me to contribute to its conservation. Seeing my personal growth and evolvement, but also knowing that I am contributing to something bigger than myself which aligns with my values, inspires me. It gives me the energy and fulfillment I am seeking from my “work”.
So coming back to the ranch helped me to prepare myself for what is yet to come after my Masters graduation. I am now understanding more than ever how to differentiate between the “work” we comply with in society and the intentional “work” the Trails to Empowerment community facilitates. I know it is my responsibility to define my interests and intentions and to take responsibility for them. But I also know it needs an organization that takes the responsibility for facilitating the opportunities, just like the Trails to Empowerment community does. While I will find fulfillment and gain energy by embracing the opportunities which align with my interest, the organization will benefit from it by having a highly motivated employee who takes responsibility for their work. It is a win-win situation. With this newly gained awareness, I am ready to work towards my goal of empowering people, including myself, to create intentional “work” which fulfills and energizes.