For Scott Shute, mindfulness is a full-time job. Literally. After six years as LinkedIn’s vice president of global customer operations, in 2018 he became head of the company’s mindfulness and compassion programs.
He leads a team that holds 40 to 60 meditation sessions a week across the globe, hosts workshops on topics such as resilience and a growth mindset, and conducts mini retreats for those who want to deepen their mindfulness practices. His goals are, in his words, to “mainstream mindfulness,” in part by making it as normal as exercising, and to “operationalize compassion,” by training employees to embed it in every decision they make for the business.
Next month, he’ll publish a book, The Full Body Yes: Change Your Work and Your World From the Inside Out, about finding happiness and authentic meaning in your work and life. “It’s meant to be a fire starter,” he says.
Shute recently discussed his book and his work at LinkedIn with Inc. Here are three takeaways for entrepreneurs and other leaders assessing their relationship to their work.
Detach your identity from the results of your company.
When you tie your identity and happiness to the results of a particular job or company, life happens “to” you, instead of “for” you. That distinction is an important one, says Shute, because it’s the difference between letting the circumstances define you and consciously choosing who you want to be.
Starting your own business can give you the illusion that you’ve chosen your own path, which in and of itself will lead to happiness. In truth, entrepreneurs are perhaps at even more risk than others of investing their whole identities into their businesses, Shute says. The stakes are undeniably high: Customers, investors, and employers start to count on you. Those voices of external validation become louder and louder. It’s all the more reason to be clear on the idea that the success or failure of the business doesn’t mean the success or failure of you as a person. What defines you instead? Doing the work to answer that question is precisely the goal.
Ditch “pothole management.”
It’s one thing to understand the value of detaching one’s happiness from business results. It’s an entirely different matter to actually do it. High-performers tend to want to measure their progress in this endeavor, and this shift requires a different set of criteria. Shute says if you truly want to keep score, compare yourself with the person you were yesterday, last year, five years ago. “Are you happier, wiser, and more loving?” The pandemic has helped clarify for many people what’s most important, especially health and connection with loved ones. The challenge, Shute says, is keeping that focus once life starts to regain normalcy and all of the schedule-filling activities return.
Often, people are too susceptible to what he calls “pothole management.” In a thousand miles of perfect highway, there may be one pothole. “Where does our attention go? The pothole,” he writes. We tend to forget that the rest of the road is perfect. Shute’s point is that while it might be crucial to address problems that arise — say, a frustrating interaction with a colleague or critical feedback on an idea — it’s all too easy to let the negativity dominate. Your defenses go up, you close down, and you’re unable to see the rest of that smooth road. You’re in that uncomfortable space of letting life happen to you.
Choose your response.
Gratitude, Shute says, offers another way to approach to life and its challenges with more openness and intention. He recalls, for instance, a bullying boss he once had. Over time, he began to respond to interactions with this boss differently, inwardly giving thanks for the moments when his boss upset him. And it changed his perspective: He was able to see uncomfortable truths about himself and areas for growth. But more importantly, the self-awareness gave him a choice for how to respond.
“Life happens. It’s up to us to decide how we’ll respond to it. Our happiness is based on that response,” he writes. “Every situation, every challenge is an opportunity to test our capability for joy, our capability to connect with something bigger.”
The fruit of this type of personal work, Shute suggests, is more compassion for yourself and those who work with you. And, eventually, more compassion in terms of how your organization operates in the world. “Compassion is a strategy for long-term success… companies who take care of all stakeholders do better,” he says.