7 Ways to Inspire Your Professional Life Using the Principles of Kwanzaa

career Dec 25, 2021
kwanzaa candles

During the last week of the year, many people gather together with family and friends to celebrate Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration honoring African beliefs and traditions. It starts the day after Christmas (December 26th) and ends on New Year's Day.  Over the seven days, there are seven principles known as Nguzo Saba, that celebrants focus on: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Each day you greet friends and family with the Swahili phrase, "Habari Gani," meaning, "What's the news?" You then respond with one of the above principles of the day. From there, you light a candle in the kinara and then meditate on the principle of the day and look for ways to incorporate that value into your life and daily practice.

Fundamentally, Kwanzaa is about committing ourselves to the collective achievement for a better life for ourselves, our family, and our community. Since this celebration requires you to look both internally and externally, I want to share how you can apply these principles to your personal and professional career development. It's such a fantastic time to close out the year and truly prepare your heart and mind for the year to come. 

Umoja (Unity)

When it comes to having a career you love and an authentic liberated living, you must strive to attain career alignment, not balance. Your career is only one part of the greater ecosystem of your life; therefore, you must understand where and how it fits into this larger system. The question you'll need to answer is, "How can you unify who you are, your lifestyle, and the meaningful work you're meant to do in the world?" This discovery process requires you to have a vision for your life that brings together who you are, what matters most to you, and the impact you want to make.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

The second principle of Kwanzaa is about identity and self-confidence. You want to ensure that you're the author of that identity and not allow other people or things to define you. This is particularly important in the midlife pivot. It's easy over the years to lose yourself in your career identity or your identity as a mother, wife, or even child when caring for aging parents. In addition, societal and cultural identities may influence how you see yourself and what's possible for you in your life and career. Self-confidence fuels self-determination. It starts with being secure in yourself and your abilities. It's about trusting yourself and believing that you're capable of getting or achieving what you want. The second day of Kwanzaa is a great time to focus on reclaiming your identity and your voice so you can make decisions that put you in control of your life and career. 

Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility)

Collective work and responsibility is about giving back to and maintaining our communities. You can do this by reflecting on your work's impact on the greater community or by giving back through volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to serve and uplift your community, help others in need, solve collective problems, connect to your purpose, and build a better society. It's also one of the best ways to learn new skills or enhance underutilized ones and make unique and unexpected connections. Furthermore, when looking to transition or pivot into a new job or career, your volunteer work could give you the competitive advantage you need. By giving back, you'll get even more in return in the end. 

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

Ujamaa supports entrepreneurialism and creating your own economyMidlife women are becoming the new "entrepreneurial superpower," as one Forbes article proclaimed. Research shows that 50+-year-old entrepreneurs are 2x as likely to be successful as those in their 20s.  At this stage in our lives, we've honed our skills and expertise, grew our networks, developed leadership skills (whether directly in the workplace or indirectly by managing up or managing our homes), and understand how to connect and build relationships, all skills that can serve us well in growing a business. Worldwide, women are still only making 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, so it's no wonder women are quitting their jobs at higher rates than men, taking their intellectual property with them and creating their economy.

Nia (Purpose)

The fifth principle of Nia is not about finding purpose generally but finding purpose in your work. Your purpose is not your job in and of itself… it's who you are and how you get to align that with the work you decide to do in the world.  When it comes to discovering your purpose in your work or making your next career move, there are two fundamental questions you have to answer: (1) what's your reason for doing the work or why this work, and (2) what's your intention, or what impact do you want to make through your work?  As a society, we've placed more value on what you do for a living instead of who you are as a person, which has caused us to look for purpose outside of ourselves, externally instead of internally. So this is a perfect day to reflect on whether or not you're doing the meaningful work you're meant to do in the world and if not, how you can start doing that work.

Kuumba (Creativity)

The sixth day of Kwanzaa is designed to give you the space and permission to lean into your creative and innovative spirit. It invites you to break free from the status quo and think outside of the box for a change. What innovative approach can you take on rolling out a new project, or what creative ways can you lead the next strategic planning meeting? Brainstorming is the tool of creativity when done correctly. Invite other team members to brainstorm with you to bring your team together and get additional ideas. 

Imani (Faith)

The final day of Kwanzaa is about your trust and faith in yourself. Unity is the first principle because, without unity and alignment, you can't do the meaningful work you're meant to do in the world. But faith is the last principle because you won't be able to commit and sustain it without faith. It's daring to dream and believing that what's impossible for others is actually within your reach. It's trusting and believing in yourself without leaving any room for self-doubt. It's being impeccable with your word and committing to yourself and your goals no matter what. To be successful, you must manage your mind and thoughts. This isn't about positive thinking and affirmations, but truly understanding how your thoughts ultimately impact your results and reframing your definition of failure. What do you believe is possible for you? Where have you held yourself back from faulty thinking or limiting beliefs? Do you trust in your abilities to achieve whatever your want? Use the final day of Kwanzaa to reflect on these questions and determine what you need to do up-level your faith. 

And there you have it! How will you apply these principles not only in the last week of December but throughout the year?

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