The Many Faces of Inner Work

March 4, 2024 • Article, De Pree Journal, Marketplace Leaders

The topic of ‘Inner Work’ is fascinating to me. I love thinking about inner work and hearing how people talk about it and practice it. I have been on my own long journey attending to my inner life and doing the work of transformation. It has been a joy to see the fruit of the work I commit to which invariably flows outwards and is reflected in my relationships with myself, my family, friends, and coworkers.

Inner work, however, seems to also have a somewhat nebulous component. Many people are unsure what it actually means. Some suggest inner work is mostly spiritual work while others say it’s psychological or emotional work. I tend to lean towards it being a combination of all three.

In our research we have learned that “Good leaders do their inner work—especially in seasons of difficulty.” As leaders, attending to our inner work is the critical growth work each of us needs to do to lead well. For some of us, inner work is a solo process. However, it can also be argued that doing inner work requires outside help and more of a communal approach to help us see ourselves more clearly. 

In February 2024, we conducted a simple, non-scientific survey to gather some informal data about what people think about this term ‘inner work’: how they define it, how they engage in its practice, and some of the obstacles that prevent them from doing their inner work.

Eighteen people responded to the survey and the demographic breakdown was 47% male and 53% female. Interestingly, more than half of our respondents were over the age of 60. The majority of the respondents clustered around the 60-69 age group (35%) and the 70-79 age group (24%). What was very interesting was that both the 40-49 age group and the 50-59 age group only represented 12% of the respondents respectively while the 18-29 and 30-39 age groups did not respond to the survey. I would have loved to see how the Gen Z population and younger Millennials think about inner work and how that affects the ways they lead.  

The respondents were first asked to identify what came to mind when they thought about the term ‘inner work’. The answers ranged from knowing oneself, working towards transformation, focusing on changing one’s mindset, self-reflection, deepening one’s spiritual journey, healing, examining what one is thinking and feeling, growth, and even discovering what God is doing in us and one of the participants even described it as soul, mind, and heart work.

When asked what best describes inner work, 94% of our respondents noted that self-reflection is the way they understand and define the term. Some of the other descriptions included inner healing and introspection (69% of respondents ), and 50% of respondents described it as either self-discovery or going inward.

When asked how participants engaged in the practice of inner work, they gave examples such as sitting in silence, journaling, praying and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, self-reflection, meeting with a Spiritual Director, journaling, or meeting with a therapist. However, when asked what were some of the big obstacles to doing one’s inner work, they noted that they either were too busy, they lacked discipline, they were distracted by other obligations or they were simply afraid to face themselves and God in this way. 

This struck a nerve for me. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us are afraid to ‘discover’ our truest selves. Some of us are afraid to hold the mirror up and take a closer look and fear facing the truth about who we are. Sometimes inner work is framed only as a negative exercise that is rooted in the discovery of what is wrong with us. But what if God invites us to see the truest version of ourselves positively as well? In our inner work journey, could we discover our truest longings in life? Could we admit our deepest desires that may fulfill our truest callings, or could we dream bigger and hope more profoundly? Could our inner work help us to pivot, shift, and adjust ourselves to be more aligned with who God designed us to be?

In a world where we are distracted by unending busyness, doom scrolling, social media, and navigating a delicate balance of life, family, work, relationships, and everything else, we often have little time to commit to ourselves. All of these distractions take us away from spending time with ourselves (and others) to explore who we really are, what we need to work on, and where we need to grow. I wonder if God’s invitation in this season is to draw near and hear God’s loving call to the task of attending to our inner work. It may just be the gift we need to give ourselves. 

Psalm 139:14 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. If God’s love for us is long, deep, high, and wide (Ephesians 3:18, NRSV) and there is nothing that can separate His love from us ( Romans 3:38-39, NRSV), then let’s sink deeply into that embodiment of love so that we can reflect Christ more fully in the ways we see ourselves, how we see others, and even more so how we lead.

Banner image by Justin Heap.

One thought on “The Many Faces of Inner Work

  1. Nicole says:

    Great article!

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