When you hear the words “You reap what you sow,” it's hard not to think of the stories in the Bible and the warning that God is always watching, so you better be on your best behavior.
In Buddhism, this dynamic is known as the Law of Karma, or cause and effect. You can produce good karma or bad karma simply through your actions. The tradition also believes that you carry the karma of past lives into the present, and you may have to wager some additional good to counteract any residual wrongdoings.
The moral of this message? Don’t be a jerk! In any life! Treat people kindly, do unto others as you would have them do unto you — you know the deal.
But there is another side of reaping and sowing that's rooted in the idea that our labor is directly correlated to our reward. This requires patience, a hard virtue to come by in a society that often values instant gratification over hard work and dedication.
So how do we get to a place where reaping and sowing, with karma in mind, rules our work ethics? We'll start with my own story.
When I was young, vibrant, and optimistic about the world, I worked for a Fortune 50 company. I joined at a time when there were very few women in my field, let alone young women or women of color. Our male-dominated industry was fiercely competitive and so was our team. My colleagues had no problem throwing each other under the bus if it made them look better. This forced me to think long and hard about what I wanted to bring.
About three years into my stint, I got transferred to the West Coast and covered a seven-state territory stretching from Wyoming to Washington. I spent most of my time supporting a large sales team of reps who worked in 20 different industries. To say it was a “boys’ club” was an understatement.
I made a decision that I was going to put my chemistry background to good use and become really knowledgable about the products. I spent time on the phone with our brilliant PhDs, got additional product training in our labs, and worked with our products firsthand. I was even able to identify certain products by sight.
My ability to be of value was crucial to winning these guys over. I was put to the test one blustery morning at the office of a distributor in Seattle. I walked in and had barely introduced myself when he looked me up and down and said, “We got a problem. Let’s go. I’ll brief you on the way.” I could tell he was nervous and frustrated, probably thinking, “What the hell did this company send me?” I soon saw his point as we pulled into the loading area of a sawmill just outside of Tacoma.
Large men in coveralls moved around, loading and unloading huge logs. He stopped the car and turned to me. “Here’s the deal, they’ve been using your product for the last nine months and they got a bad batch that ruined an entire run. Your customer service rep just sent them a new barrel and it’s still not working. We’re gonna meet with the purchase manager — his name is Todd and he’s pissed.”
So I, in my Anne Klein suit and Nine West pumps, slid along the floor of the mill and up to the purchase office, a tiny booth at the top of a sketchy flight of stairs. Todd, who looked like he wanted to punch somebody in the face, rolled his eyes when he saw me coming. After he talked me through the situation, I asked him to show me the barrel — we walked down and had one of the guys on the floor pop the lid.
I took off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves: “Can somebody get me a flask so I can pull a sample?” I turned to the guy on my left and asked, “Did you roll the barrel?” “Yep.” The guy with the flask returned. “Can you get me some hot water?” I said.
Just at a glance I could tell that the product had been frozen in travel and it probably just needed to be warmed up. When the warmed product hit the line, it immediately went to work.
Todd shook my hand and everybody was all smiles. Word about this incident spread and the guys began to see me as a resource.
In this business, I learned that I had no control over people’s biases. I had to ground my expectations about how people “should” perceive me and meet them wherever they were. I had to believe that the merit of my actions would cut through all the “noise” and ultimately earn me the respect I deserved.
Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. But at the end of the day, I had to choose where I was going to place my energy. I firmly believed then, and I believe now, that you reap what you sow — here are five ways to keep that belief alive in your own work and life.
1. Get Clear About Your Motivation: Tell the truth about what motivates you. Is it contributing to others? Is it being liked? Is it learning and growing? Is it tackling some great challenge? Is it all of the above? What do you see as your role? What contribution do you hope to make? Why is that contribution important? Why are you in this job or building this business?
2. Are You Acting or Reacting? Ask yourself this question daily. There are two types of actions: Actions rooted in vision, that are inspired by what you want to achieve and contribute; and actions rooted in victimhood, inspired by wanting to retaliate for some transgression. It is important to know what’s driving the choices you make every day because they govern how you show up. The actions may look the same, but the source of those decisions can make all the difference when it comes to achieving desired outcomes.
3. Know the Bottom Line: Politics often have very little to do with the bottom line. As a matter of fact, they frequently serve to distract you from the real work at hand. Whether you have your own business or are working in someone else’s, the closer you can get to being impactful and producing the desired results, the less you may have to endure the politics and drama. Keep your focus on the priority objectives and be an advocate for clear expectations, achieving the goals, and getting the work done.
4. Honor Your Limits: Each of us has a different threshold of tolerance. Know where your boundaries are. From overworking to overpromising to over-pleasing, check in with yourself frequently to ensure that you are a good steward of your agreements, relationships, and your own self-worth. Set boundaries long before any lines are crossed, and give gentle but firm reminders wherever needed. Be vigilant about your own authenticity and about the most valuable use of your voice.
5. Show Kindness: My mother used to have a saying: “You never know who anyone is or who they will become. Treat everybody with dignity and respect.” This has been standout advice for me in every situation. We’ve all been conditioned to jockey for power along the “pecking order.” We’ve seen people treated poorly, we’ve treated people poorly, and some of us have been treated poorly. This practice is simple but not easy. People will try you and test you. You can show kindness without being a doormat. Stand firm where you need to stand firm, but always do it with respect. Karma is real.
Rha Goddess is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.