Modern Monasticism

I once heard a story about a director who approached an editor of a TV commercial and said to the animator — “Let’s F#CK with it — move everything around, screw the order, let's find something new”.

I often feel like that with work and life, that there has to be a better way than burning ourselves out at jobs we don’t love to fuel a desire for security and stuff. There has to be a better way to make loads of money, to find a drive for excellence other than fear, to push ourselves but not to push others down, to pursue perfection in rest without a need to perform.

This is not coming from a place of condescension or conceitedness; this is coming from a desperate place of hunger. I look at my own life and the way I suppress fear through distraction, striving and performance, and I crave a new and better way. But the inner idealist in me cannot tolerate an opt-out mindset; it would just seem meaningless and fatalistic. The solution brewing in the dark corners of my mind is what I have called “modern monasticism”.

My loose definition of it looks something like this: It would seem monks, like me, recognise the above -mentioned so-called-insanity in the world around us (the striving, the pain, the thoughtless pursuit of success as defined by the status quo). In response monks choose an alternative lifestyle. From the tiny bit of information that I have gleaned of their lifestyle, it is one of simplicity, discipline, contemplation and excellence. Of particular interest to me are the monks who made something commercially, created a reputation over time and thereby funded the lifestyle of their choosing. The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, for example (whose beer is voted the best in the world) has people queueing for days to get a bottle or two of the scarce resource.

That got me thinking: could a business achieve freedom through excellence? More importantly, how do you do that? What areas would the business need to focus on to create a culture of excellence without compromising on wholeness in a world of standard commercial demands? How would you create a working structure that could tolerate the counter-pull of those two opposite demands?