The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do
The path to your life’s work is difficult and risky, even scary, which is why few finish the journey. This is a book about discovering your life’s work, that treasure of immeasurable worth that we all long for. It’s about the task you were born to do.
- “More people are watching your life and . . . are gaining strength in their own lives and in their own challenges because of what you’re going through. I promise you: your life matters, your life is significant, and things are happening that you don’t even fully understand yourself.” That’s what Eric has done and what he’s encouraged his son to do: To acknowledge that whatever is happening in their lives now, as difficult as it might be, is important. To not hold out for the right opportunity or wait for things to get better, but to make the most of life now. The question that Garrett Rush-Miller’s life answers is the same one many of us are afraid to ask: What happens when the life you end up living doesn’t look like the one you planned?
- we have to let go of what we think we deserve and embrace what is, which just might lead to something better than we ever could have imagined.
- an upstart named Brantley who is trying to get ahead in the corporate world. After continual rejection, he finally explodes in another failed job interview, saying: “Everywhere I’ve been today there’s always been something wrong: too young, too old, too short, too tall. Whatever the exception is, I can fix it. I can be older; I can be taller; I can be anything.”3 Like many people, Brantley believed that if he put his mind to it, he could accomplish anything. In the end, though, he realized the secret of success is that sometimes getting everything you want doesn’t always make you happy.
- Here’s what we know. A lot of people are unhappy with their jobs, where they spend a significant amount of time. A recent poll found that only 13 percent of the world’s workers are “engaged” in their jobs. The other 87 percent feel disconnected from work and more frustrated than fulfilled.4 These numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise. When a friend says she hates her job or a family member talks badly about his boss, we aren’t shocked. This is acceptable behavior. We’ve been conditioned to think of work as drudgery, a chore you endure in exchange for a paycheck. And this is a problem.
- But maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe the worst way to be happy is to try to be happy. The work of acclaimed Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl supports this idea. A Holocaust survivor, Frankl had intimate experience with suffering, and it taught him an important lesson. Human beings, he argued, are not hardwired for seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. They want meaning. In spite of what we say, we don’t want happiness. It’s simply not enough to satisfy our deepest longings. We are looking for something more, something transcendent—a reason to be happy.
- Frankl learned there are three things that give meaning to life: first, a project; second, a significant relationship; and third, a redemptive view of suffering. He realized that if people, even in the bleakest of circumstances, have a job to do, something to return to tomorrow, then they have a reason to live another day.
- The way you beat a feeling of purposelessness, according to Frankl, isn’t to focus on the problem. It’s to find a better distraction. Which is a roundabout way of saying you have to stop trying to be happy.
- We can distract ourselves with pleasure for only so long before beginning to wonder what the point is. This means if we want true satisfaction, we have to rise above the pettiness of our own desires and do what is required of us. A calling comes when we embrace the pain, not avoid it.
- Fear is a powerful deterrent, but it can also be an effective motivator. The fear of failure or rejection can be unhealthy and irrational, but fear of not telling your loved ones how much you care is important. So not all fear is bad. Some people, though, let fear run their lives. They avoid risk, hoping to minimize the chances of failure, and in effect move in the opposite direction of a calling. The trick is to know when to listen to your fear and when to not.
- The problem is so few of our lives look anything like what we want them to be. What prevents us from living the life we long for is fear. We fear the unknown and what we might lose—our security, our reputation, our lives. This is what keeps us from our life’s work and what numbs our awareness to the call—mystery. We are afraid of what we don’t know. But the truth is you will never have clarity. As Mother Teresa once said, you will only ever have trust.7 Fear, indecision, not knowing—these are the obstacles that keep you from moving forward. And they never go away. But if you are going to find what you were meant to do, you will have to act anyway.
- Here’s how it works, practically. Look at the major events in your life and write them down on a piece of paper. Note everything significant you can remember, even the things that seem silly or irrelevant but come to mind for some reason. Don’t try to decode the meaning; just put down everything you can think of. As you reach the end of the list, look for a common thread, some recurring theme. Can you see how one event, without any intention or planning on your part, influenced another? How that late-night trip to the diner led to meeting the love of your life? How a series of useless internships influenced your career choice? You will begin to see a theme, a surprisingly obvious thread that ties it all together. Will it be clear at first? Of course not. This is just the start. But there’s less intrigue to this process than we think. Your life, though a mystery, is trying to tell you something. Are you listening?
- But it’s not just about commitment; it’s also about perseverance. You can’t find your passion if you don’t push through pain. That’s what I learned from Jody Noland and what Viktor Frankl’s research revealed: discovery comes with dedication. We must seek to understand our suffering with a redemptive worldview, choosing to see the greater good in spite of the evil in this world. Otherwise, the challenges we encounter will threaten to consume us, leaving us to lives of cynicism and regret. We can’t get caught up in the magic of what might have been—we must move forward, pressing on when the hard times come. There will, of course, be failure, but with that come lessons to be learned. At times, you may commit to the wrong thing, which is fine, because it’s better than the alternative—nothing. Committing to the wrong thing is better than standing still.
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