10 Big Ideas from The Art of Work



“When love and skill work together expect a masterpiece.” — John Ruskin

I finished reading The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, by Jeff Goins.

It’s a book about using work as a platform for realizing your potential and making a difference in the world.

Your world.

It’s a book about finding your calling, taking on work that’s bigger than you, and mastering your craft.

The The Art of Work is about doing the work you love and living your work in a way that your work becomes your ultimate form of self-expression.

When your life is one portfolio of your interests, passions, and activities, and you treat your calling as a lifestyle, your work becomes a never-ending source of inspiration and fulfillment.

The promise is compelling and the path is slippery.  Jeff provides the rails to hold on to as you begin your journey of self-discovery, you make your ascent, and you deliver your eminent performance.

1. Your Purpose is More of a Path than a Plan

When you climb to the top of the mountain and look out, you realize that there is another mountain.  And another one after that.  You then realize that it’s not about getting to the top.  It’s about enjoying the climb.

Via The Art of Work:

“When asked how I got to this point, I struggle to give an intelligent answer. The experience of finding your calling can be both mysterious and practical. It takes effort but also seems to happen to you at times. What I’ve come to understand is that finding your purpose is more of a path than a plan: it involves twists and turns that you never expected. Ultimately these surprises lead you to your destiny. And once you arrive at what you thought was the destination, you realize it’s only another leg in the journey.”

2. Become More than a By-Stander

Great work is an immersive experience.  It’s not something you watch from the sidelines.  You need to dive in.

Via The Art of Work:

“But something must occur for this to take place. The person must enter the story, either by choice or because she’s forced into it. Belle goes to find her father. Luke leaves home with Obi-Wan. Dorothy gets swept up in a tornado. In any great narrative, there is a moment when a character must decide to become more than a bystander. It’s an important moment that always seems to happen in the mind before it unfolds in real life. This choice, though, is always preceded by something deeper, a nagging feeling that there must be more.”

3. Listen to Your Life

Life reflects back at you.   It echoes back to you what you are good at, what you are not so good at, what you are capable of, and what your life really wants to do with you.

Listen to what your life really wants to do with you and explore what you are capable of, and you just might surprise yourself.

Via The Art of Work:

“We all want to begin with ability, with what we can do. But when have you ever been a good judge of what you’re capable of? People are always doing things that amaze themselves. A calling goes beyond your abilities and calls into question your potential. And when the journey is complete, even you are surprised. Just because you can become an astronaut or a newspaper deliveryman does not mean you should. Each person is responsible to not only do what she is capable of but also what she is meant to do.
In the words of author and activist Parker Palmer, don’t just tell your life what you want to do with it; listen to what it wants to do with you.”

4. Each Wrong Choice Grows You for What’s Next

You don’t learn anything by playing it safe.  And you don’t learn what you are truly capable of by not committing.

But if you commit to a path, you learn.  You learn from the experience.  And it grows you.  It makes you stronger and more resilient.

And when you learn, you can also change your path, if that path is not for you.   This is how you get started, and this is how you start to unfold your personal journey of finding your true calling.

Via The Art of Work:

“Here’s the truth. The risk of not committing is greater than the cost of making the wrong choice. Because when you fail, you learn.
But what happens when you don’t commit, when you choose to not act? Well, nothing. When you pause without intent, when you stall due to fear, you don’t learn a thing. Each wrong choice grows your character and strengthens your resilience, readying you for what comes next. Failure is a friend dressed up like an enemy.”

5. You Must Love the Work

If your heart’s not in it, you won’t stick with it.  And sticking with it, is what it takes to do great work.

Via The Art of Work:

“I don’t know where this idea that your calling is supposed to be easy comes from. Rarely do easy and greatness go together. The art of doing hard things requires an uncommon level of dedication.
You have to love the work to be able to persevere through those difficult times, those painful moments when you would probably rather quit. How do you do that without an uncanny amount of passion? It’s not possible. You must love the work. Not until you find something you can do to the point of exhaustion, to the extent
that you almost hate it but can return to it tomorrow, have you found something worth pursuing.”

6. Turn in the Direction of Your True Calling

It’s possible that all of your days, or all of your years, or all of your moments, have prepared you, for what you need to do next.

Via The Art of Work:

“In any vocation, there comes a time when you realize the path you’re on is not taking you where you want to go. All this preparation has culminated in helping you achieve the wrong goal. At those times, you might feel stuck. What do you do then? You do what William Hung finally did. You realize it’s never too late to change and take a turn in the direction of your true calling.”

7. Your Life is One Portfolio

Your life is a great symphony with many crescendos along the way, when you look at your life as one portfolio of all your passions, talents, and activities you do.

It’s this bigger picture view where your life takes on new meaning, and, as a result, so does your work.

Via The Art of Work:

“The basic idea of a portfolio life is that instead of thinking of your work as a monolithic activity, what if you chose to see it as the complex group of interests, passions, and activities it is? And what if instead of identifying with a job description, you began to see the whole mass of things you do as one portfolio of activity?
This idea was first coined by Charles Handy in his book The Age of Unreason. In the book, Handy lays out five different types of work that make up your portfolio. They are: fee work, salary work, homework, study work, and gift work.”

8. Mastery Helps Us Realize Our Potential

Work is the ultimate dojo for our self-actualization in the real-world.

When we answer to our calling, and truly pursuit what we are capable of, we start to realize our true potential.

Via The Art of Work:

“Mastery isn’t about straight As or the highest salary in the company. It’s not even about being the most popular in your field.
It’s about understanding your potential and then dedicating your life to pursuing that ideal. It means doing your absolute best. Why? Because the craft deserves it, because the calling requires it, and because maybe you’ll be a better person for it. After all, this is the role of work in our lives—not only as a means to make a living, but as a tool to make us into who we were born to be.”

9. Think About Work in Terms of the Work Done

What if work was something that you did for free, and it was the very thing that inspired you to jump out of bed in the morning?

If the only reason you do your work is to get paid, you’re missing the chance to master your craft, and become something more than you are today.

Via The Art of Work:

“’The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us,’ she wrote, “that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done.” If we could make this change and think of work the same way we think of play, treating it as something we do for pleasure, it could change the world.
In essence, Sayers was saying that the same attitude we have toward the pursuits we enjoy doing, we should have toward work, going on to say that work is not a means to an end. It is the end.”

10. Work is a Means of Making a Difference

Work is a meaningful way to transcend simple existence and making a living.

It’s a way to make a difference.

Your difference.

Via The Art of Work:

“A few years later, I had a similar experience, having raised enough money through my blog to help build an income-generating workshop for women living in a leper camp just outside of Mombasa, Kenya. Work, it seems, was never meant to be something we do just to make a living. It was meant to be a means of making a difference—in our own lives and in the lives of others. The problem today is that many of us see our jobs just as a duty, something we’re obligated to do to pay the bills. Or we see it as a means of
improving our lives, of making so much money we can buy all the things we’ve ever wanted. But neither option will satisfy.”

Bonus Idea:  There is More Life In You Yet to Be Lived

More than just a bonus, this might just be the most important idea in the book.

You have a choice.

You can choose to become all that you’re capable of, or you can live in the shadow wondering what might have been.

And the best news is that there is always more life in you waiting to be lived.

Via The Art of Work:

“Ancient myths and legends speak to this. Every hero’s journey included some sacred task that culminated in a deeper understanding of who they were born to be. And how was this done? Through a personal quest—some great feat that required every talent, skill, and strength they could muster. In other words, they had to work.
Every day you and I face a choice: to either pursue our authentic selves or a shadow of the real thing. We either do what is expected of us, or we listen to that voice of intuition deep inside promising something more significant. And as we pick up our hammers and scalpels, as we sit down in front of our laptops or climb onboard the bus for another tour, as we endeavor to do meaningful work in the world, we are becoming ourselves.”

Fulfillment is for Everyone

The day, or more precisely, the moment that you decide to embark on your journey or your personal quest, is the moment that you start living and leading your path of fulfillment.

Fulfillment is not a destination, it’s a way of life and it’s accessible to us all.

Via The Art of Work:

“Fulfillment isn’t just for the elite few who find a purpose for life; it’s for everyone. And that potential exists in each and every one of us. You have everything you need to be your whole self; it’s already in you. Now you just have to become it”

If you are not living and breathing what you were born to do and doing the work that makes you come alive, then you know what to do.

The question is, will you do it?

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