Monday, March 24, 2008

Annotation - A Life At Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born To Do

During the January Residency in Vermont, someone passed me a note about half way through the week. It was just a folded piece of paper with a printed page on it: the pre-order page for this book. A short note at the bottom from Sarah Bowen said, “Thought this might be useful for your study.” I tried to research the book but at that point it wasn’t even in print at that time, and wouldn’t be released until mid-February. But based on the title alone, I was excited to read it.

I haven’t been disappointed. Thomas Moore comes at the question of vocation, not just in terms of a job, or even a career, but in terms of a “Life Work,” in other words: the work of one’s life. He talks broadly about the concept of the “opus,” the larger work that our vocation and calling comprise, and encourages the reader to think of that life work not solely in terms of employment, but in terms of the “opus of the soul” from which he says our work is inseparable. (20)

I found this book very freeing in terms of echoing the sense I have that my “vocation” is not tied to one particular calling or job. Moore says, “It seems important to nurture a strong sense of calling while not fixing on any particular form of work… Life is not usually monolithic, narrowly focused, or unchanging” (21). This is how I have felt, and even though I’ve grown accustomed to feeling that way in the face of a culture that often presses for consistency and specialization, it’s welcome encouragement.

The book is told primarily through two vehicles: stories from his life, many of which are borne of his experience as a psychotherapist, and using Alchemy as a metaphor for getting at the core of our own makeup. Going from the theoretical to the practical and back, he describes well the need we have to untie our activity - our work, with our soul – our purpose. It’s both comforting and challenging, especially to someone already consciously on that journey. Moore writes:
“A calling is a deep sense that your very being is implicated in what you do. You feel that you fit into the scheme of things when you do this particular work. You have a sense of purpose and completion in the work. It defines you and gives you an essential tranquility” (24).

It has been my frustration with the “unrelated-ness” of much of my work that led me to this search, and to the ADP, in the first place; a need to make things fit in the grand scheme, and for my “life work” to dovetail with the work of my soul.

Some of the most immediately helpful information came from the chapter “Life in a Tower,” where Moore discusses anger and resentment, and the role they play in the working life. Emotions borne out of past experiences can color and limit our current experience, bringing anger and frustration to situations that don’t really warrant it, and hindering our development in that task, our completion of our work, and harming relationships at the same time. This has certainly been true for me. One strategy he presents is to simply tell our stories. Not to analyze them or pick them apart, but to go back into the past and tell, as fully and completely as possible, the stories that make us who we are. In doing so, we get a sense of our grounded-ness, our history, and we also gain understanding of the forces that have shaped us. On my part this study was a conscious desire to do just that; but I think I’ve been encouraged even more by this chapter as to the potential effectiveness, not just consciously, but at a deeper level, that this work may have.

Moore writes extensively about the need for that “interior work,” and that often our career, vocation, and life frustrations result from patterns of which we are not conscious, like anger and resentment. However, when recognized for what they are, even these negative impulses can be trained to our good.
“If you are looking for your life work and carry deep, hidden anger within you, it will only work against you unless you submit it to an alchemy by which its constructive powers are released. Anger can become determination, personal power, a sharp mind, effective personal presence, clear decisions, and grounded creativity” (90).

In reading this, I made a list of my past jobs and employers, and tried to name the factors that were at work in every one of those situations. I later realized I was focusing more on the negative experiences, and could use some time spent on the positive ones, but the list I came up with had repeated experiences of frustration, feeling ill-suited to the work, being taken advantage of, underpaid, lied to, etc. etc. One of the main threads that came from the list as a whole is my tendency to unnecessarily submit myself to a situation or a supervisor in order to secure or keep a job. Then, once the job is mine, there’s no way to regain that lost self-respect. In fact, I often realize that it was never beneficial to have surrendered it in the first place. From that comes a feeling of victimization, as if that surrender of self was mandated by the job or employer, when in reality it simply came from my own insecurity. But at the time, it’s very easy to blame them for taking something from me. I see that as a pattern that remains at work in me, although I have become more conscious of it in the last five years and have taken some steps to correct it.

I might initially have liked this book to be a little more “practical,” by which I would have meant that I would have liked to gain more concrete answers from it. But it’s not that kind of book, and upon completing it, my strong urge is to pick it up and read it through again. It’s a book that at first can seem like it skims the surface of these issues, with broad theorizing on what might sum up one’s search without tools given to help one find it. But the truth is it’s a process and a search that can only be done on one’s own, and as I read more deeply I came to appreciate the value of Moore’s writing, of taking seriously the issues of work and the soul. I do feel like I take some good things away from this book, most notably a solid feeling like I am, and have been, on the right track in my journey, and that by continuing on, I might just come to that place of joy and synthesis he writes about. In the mean time, reading this once every few months certainly couldn’t hurt.

"A life work is not the same as a good job or a long career. It may not arise out of outward success. A life work is the emergence of your unique self, worked through and manifested in the things that you do. If you don’t dig deep enough into yourself and see the world around you perceptively, your life work may always appear elusive. But if you live from a deep place, your life work will blossom like a flower” (95).

Moore, Thomas. A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering what You were Born to do. Ashland; Boulder: Books In Print, (c) 2008 R.R. Bowker LLC; Blackstone Audio, Incorporated; NetLibrary, Incorporated [Distributor] Publisher Record .


Anonymous said...

If you're interested in Thomas Moore's perspectives, you may want to visit a blog dedicated to his work, Barque: Thomas Moore at . It links to a free related forum and you are welcomed to join. I enjoyed reading your response to A Life at Work. In one sentence you used the word "untie" and I think you intended to write "unite." You may want to edit this. Good luck with your studies and your opus.

Anonymous said...

love it! You are a very eloquent writer. Honest and raw, i really love it!

bd said...

:) thanks for your comment -and for reading.