Perhaps you’ve heard the term “inner work” a few times.
Perhaps you’ve even crafted an assumption on what it means. Or maybe not?
Maybe it still sounds like a mysterious and trendy thing that you’ve never really investigated. Maybe the term is completely new to you? Fair enough.
The term “inner work” can mean different things to different people. It’s a very esoteric topic that blends into different facets of life – self awareness, emotional intelligence, mental health, spirituality, wellbeing, etc. To that extent, I don’t believe there’s a one-size fits all definition. In fact, I’d argue that distilling it into a single definition would diminish the value of the phrase.
That said, I’ll try to give you a very simple definition as a starting point –
Inner work is the process of understanding yourself better.
That’s it. We don’t need to overcomplicate it beyond that. However, I’ll emphasize why I chose particular words in that definition:
An even simpler definition is “finding your truth.” However, that can feel too spiritual too soon, especially if you’re new to this world. So let’s focus on the process of understanding yourself better.
Let’s also explore how inner work is different than outer work before we get into the details.
Outer work is the process of working on your physical existence. This includes how you function as a human being and how you are experienced by others. For example, working on self care via sleep, exercise and nutrition. Outer work does not account for emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of life. That’s where inner work comes in.
Now I’ll aim to cover why people choose to pursue inner work (like me).
Here are a few common reasons I’ve experienced personally and from holding space for others.
The most common reason I see people pursuing inner work is to find internal peace. Most people think they’re chasing happiness in life, when in reality they’re actually chasing peace. Why? Because we’ve become a species that experiences constant stress, anxiety fear. More happiness is just a bandaid, not a cure.
On the contrary, most of us experience very little internal peace in our lives. Internal peace is the antidote to stress, anxiety and fear. It also feels different than happiness, joy or pleasure. Internal peace is far more powerful.
It typically feels like:
Internal peace is essentially a state of “being” where you want and need very little. Inner work helps us experience life and all its beauty without the desire for more.
Another common reason people pursue inner work is to find fulfillment and purpose in their work. Yep, the big boy words. This usually hits people half way through life, commonly referred to as a “mid life crisis.” And if it hasn’t, you’re probably still sleeping through life or you got lucky.
No offense if that rubbed you the wrong way. Simply put, most people are not doing work or things in their life that light them up. It takes a certain degree of awareness and humility to admit that, and then another degree of courage to do something about it. That’s my point.
Inner work allows us to find more fulfillment and purpose in our work. It supports us in becoming our greatest expression of our gifts and talents.
A 3rd common reason I see people pursuing inner work is to optimize [or fix] the challenging relationships in their life. This includes relationships with ourself, family, friends, coworkers, and other beings we experience life with.
When we find ourselves in challenging relationships it’s easy to play victim mode and blame others. It’s easy to think they need to change instead of starting with ourselves. It’s easy to dismiss our suppressed emotions, unmet needs and limiting beliefs.
All of our problems with others are actually a reflection or projection of ourselves. We’re just too caught up in our own mess to realize it. We create all kinds of stories and internal narratives to feel like we’re “right,” instead of being open to learning. We hold onto these stories and their drama until the relationships become toxic.
I believe we have the power to choose relationships and how we show up in them. Inner work can help us get clarity on exactly that. It’s a catalyst for repairing, refining and cultivating meaningful relationships in our lives.
If you’re seeking internal peace, fulfillment and purpose, or optimized relationships, inner work might be for you. If not, kudos for living a great life without doing any inner work! 🙂
Joking aside, I hope this gave you some clarity. At the end of the day, inner work is what you make it. It’s finding your truth and living your best life.
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