Right Livelihood: Shambhalians Taking Mindfulness to Work

by Andrea D’Asaro

In Buddhist terms, “right livelihood” is a traditional teaching on living a dignified life and working in an ethical way. The Shambhala path inspired one Seattle member to consider this teaching, leading to a transformation in interactions at work and a new and inspired career path.

Jill Avey is a long-time volunteer at our center, and helped to bring in a full house for the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s visit in 2016 as Marketing Director. Inspired by her meditation practice, she gave up a career with a military supplier, transitioned to footwear and finally executive coaching.

Avey first contemplated a career change in 2009 when attending a retreat at Karme Choling, the Shambhala land center in Vermont. The weekend was lead by Shambala teacher Michael Carroll and was based on his book, Fearlessness at Work. Avey was new to meditation, but the retreat affected her career path for years to come.

“It was the recession, and I was doing marketing for a military eyewear company, having just left a job at a gun company. Having come from outdoor sporting goods, it was difficult to fit in to the armed forces culture. My decision about my livelihood was limited because it was hard to get a job in Vermont, or really anywhere, at the time.”

Meditation allowed Avey to see and feel her internal conflict. “I was telling myself, ‘At least I’m helping to save soldiers’ eyes.’ But finally, I decided to get out of the military business totally.”

When Avey moved back to Seattle, her hometown, she managed 16 employees at the headquarters of a national footwear company. She began to see workers in a new way, with compassion and more thoughtfulness. When she applied this view, she found that workers reacted with loyalty and dedication. The result was improved creative problem solving as they applied themselves more fully to the job.  

“I began to consider how people were reacting to me. I wanted my staff to feel good about working for me — tomorrow and the next day — and offered a more considerate approach. My team began to care deeply about their outcomes, their morale improved, and customers were happier. In customer service, workers went from saying ’No, we can’t do that,’ to coming up with creative solutions.”

Recently Avey decided to apply her MBA in a new way, leaving corporate marketing altogether.

“After practicing with Shambhala for some time, I’ve become disenchanted with the consumer economy and no longer want to be part of selling stuff that will end up in landfills. I decided to promote people and events that create positivity in the world, like marketing the tour for Sakyong Mipham’s latest book, The Lost Art of Good Conversation.”

She also initiated Seattle Shambhala’s monthly newsletter, which is continuing under the strong editorship of Larry Steele.

Avey is now beginning an executive coaching business, using her experience as a Vice President of Marketing to help leaders move their companies forward.

“I am teaching executives to bring their humanity into business.  Meditation is all about opening to your humanity and basic goodness. As a marketing executive, if someone wasn’t doing their job, I assumed they needed more skills rather than blaming them.

It’s not easy to bring out an employee’s best and most creative thinking. Yet to differentiate and compete in today’s economy, companies need employees to apply innovation and problem-solving to their work. Unfortunately, managers are more likely to unwittingly shut people down instead of opening them up.”

Avey’s transition from marketing for the military supplier to helping people achieve their goals has taken many years. Part of her inspiration came when she heard that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche had encouraged Seattle’s Shastri Matthew Lyon to work in a traditional field as a financial advisor. This knowledge inspired her to bring the Shambhala principles to the corporate world in a quiet way, without naming them. She noticed that meetings ran differently when she was able to bring a more calm energy to the room.

At our center, Avey is now working to support the staffing of programs through training and coordinating volunteers. She offers one-on-one training for coordinators, and organizes periodic staff training covering the different roles in staffing a program, such as shrine keeping, audio, and water service.

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    One thought on “Right Livelihood: Shambhalians Taking Mindfulness to Work

    1. Hi Andrea,
      I’d love to reprint this piece in the Shambhala Times. Please let me know if this would be a concern for you!
      Many thanks,
      Carol

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