In this review I will basically talk about the most interesting things in the book and add my own thoughts and analysis.
“The Art of Work”
This book tackles the topic of finding our true calling. That is, finding out what we were put on this Earth to do.
Jeff mentions that everybody has their own unique strengths and it is up to us to figure out how we can use these strengths to add value to society and the world at large.
However, a significant portion if not most of the book talks about how to figure out what we were meant to do in the first place as many people may feel lost and directionless.
Here are the four main themes in this book to find out what your calling is.
1. Choose to act
By choosing to act, you immediately do three things.
One, you expose yourself to experience. This way, you try different things and figure out what you like and what you dislike, what’s for you and what’s not for you.
With action comes clarity.
“Practice can teach you what you are and are not meant to do.” – Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
This ties in with what Thomas Jefferson once said:
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
Two – by proactively choosing to act and figuring how you want to contribute to this world, you’re not leaving your destiny up to circumstance.
“But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S. Thompson
And finally three – by choosing to act, you expose yourself to possibility and opportunity.
“And if you are paying attention, you will recognise them [opportunities] for what they are – chances to hear the call.” – Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
But Jeff also touches upon in his book how people tend to dissociate from others who they deem special to justify their own inertia. As Jeff puts it:
“We’d rather believe the fairy tale that says some people are just special. That way, we don’t have a responsibility to act.”
This is a terrifying, debilitating psychological trap to fall into.
I touch upon this trap myself in an earlier post of mine called “Extraordinary Person” which I had written way before I had read Jeff’s book. I talk about how deeming over over-achievers as “special” or “extraordinary” is a convenient dissociative psychological mechanism that makes us feel better about our inertia and lack of progress.
It’s easy to perform such mental gymnastics and the worst thing about thinking this way is that you rob yourself of the opportunity to become this extraordinary person yourself.
It’s comfortable to dissociate yourself in this way in this way. But comfort isn’t necessarily a good thing. Here’s Jeff:
“In an era where we prize comfort above nearly every other virtue, we have overlooked an important truth: comfort never leads to excellence.”
Watch out, for your own sake.
2. Look at the commonalities in your life
Whatever the experience we’re going through and whatever skills we’re acquiring, there will be overarching commonalities that should be treated as clues as to what work we were born to do.
Jeff says that “previous experience is conspiring to lead you in the direction of your life’s work” and for this reason “you must listen for clues along the way, discovering what your life can tell you.”
As a result, certain commonalities in our lives will emerge.
“Take time to look back at all you’ve experienced, and listen to what your life is saying. (…) A calling is what you have when you look back at your life and make sense of what it’s been trying to teach you all along.”
– Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
You already have the answer to your problem. It’s deeply embedded in the unconscious part of your mind.
Elements of your deepest desires bleed into your everyday routine. They manifest themselves in your everyday of your life.
Maybe you enjoy writing? Or you have a penchant for communicating with others? Perhaps you are drawn to the thrill of public speaking?
You will naturally put yourself in the position to take advantage of these skills and use them on a daily basis. You will do it because you love doing it.
Look for the commonalities in your days. These are the clues your subconscious is giving you.
“Look at the major events of your life and write them down. 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. (…) you will begin to see a theme, a surprisingly obvious thread that ties it all together.”
– Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
But if we manage to miss the subtle calls of what it is that we were meant to do – we can always look back on the commonalities and connect the dots in retrospect.
Interestingly, this is very similar to what Steve Jobs mentioned:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
3. Anything learnt or experienced will not be wasted
As you go through life, you go through different phases which offer their own unique types of experiences.
Going through these experiences, you gear up with new skills and acquire wisdom along the way.
With every opportunity, you gain knowledge and experience – each from a different source – all of which you will be able to use later in life.
Though perhaps at the time of building up these skills they don’t inspire much confidence as to what their use may be, they will somehow come in handy at some point down the line.
As long as you keep putting yourself out there, collecting experiences and building skills – if it hasn’t already, at one point it will all just click for you.
In short – anything learnt or experienced will not be wasted.
4. Painful practice
Lastly, a great way to determine your direction in life and what your “calling” might be is to observe what the activities that you can experience through painful practice.
“Pain is instructive to the person willing to learn.” – Jeff Goins
That is, if you can do something when it’s not fun, when you’re exhausted and maybe even bored, but no matter how painful the practice, somehow you still press on, forever motivated, forever curious regardless, that is a strong signal.
Picasso experienced painful practice with painting and through the highs and the lows, he’d paint relentlessly, whatever the cost. Picasso was simply passionate about painting:
“If they took away my paints I’d use pastels. If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.” – Picasso
I will leave you with this final quote:
“Feelings are signposts to be trusted in your journey to your purpose. (…) 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.” – Jeff Goins.
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