Book Review, Personal Development

The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do

Do you ever think you should do something else instead of binging Netflix?

Have you ever been confused about your purpose in life? Confused about what you were meant to do? About what your calling is?

Well…I was. I still am confused, but this book made me understand that this is ok, and it guided me to the next step in finding out my purpose.

Though I didn’t like it at first, because it starts with sappy, gooey stories of cancer patients and overcoming difficulties, I learned a lot from it and actually found it great by the end.

Here you’ll find a list of things I learned from “The Art of Work”, as well as my personal opinions about it.

1. We Need To Be Living Life All of the Time

Jeff Goins uses a story about beating cancer to illustrate how an illness can turn into a sort of blessing, because it brings closeness in the family, it makes the take advantage to the fullness of every moment together. It’s something you don’t normally do when you think you have a long life ahead. The story isn’t that different from many other stories of cancer survivors, but it had a major impact on me just because of the way it was told and the conclusion:

In his eighteen years of life, Garrett Rush-Miller has completed a half Ironman, climbed Machu Picchu, and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. When he’s not at school or working at the local climbing gym, he spends his free time volunteering with Wounded Warriors, a charity that supports and encourages war veterans. At the time of this writing, he’s getting ready to graduate high school and more than anything would like a girlfriend.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

I am of the opinion that things just happen and, when they do, you deal with them. Good, bad, everything just is. I worry a lot, too, but I also know that, in the end, I really can face anything.

So, while the story was fine, it didn’t resonate with me at all. That is until I reached the question of what would not have happened if Garrett had never gotten sick?. The reality was that he had this amazing life, impacted people around, enjoyed his family and changed their behavior so profoundly not in spite of his illness, but because of it. It is true that his life was difficult, but it was also special. He became a model for others going through the same problems. He made the most of what he got and his impact on those around is infinitely greater just because he was able to overcame difficulty.

I found this idea absolutely amazing and it gave a fresh perspective on so many things. Every little bad thing that happens to us, even every bad choice we make, shapes us differently. It makes us better if we learn from it.

This just means we need to start being grateful more for the “bad” things that happen to us, because they are not really bad. Nothing is actually bad. It’s all just an opportunity for growth. And this is also an idea shared by the renowned psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl: happiness is overrated, people need significance in their life more than happiness.

And that leads us to another small lesson from this book:

2. Be Aware That You Have a Calling

Logically, in order to find your calling, you first have to believe that it exists. For me, this is the feeling I have of restlessness, of “there is something out there I should be doing, I just don’t know what it is”.

This kind of awareness needs to be cultivated and explored. The feeling is very uncomfortable, because it’s saying that what you do now is not enough, what you are now is not enough.

I’ve lived with this feeling all my life. I found a cure for it when I started blogging and keeping a journal. Is this feeling normal? I don’t know. I think it is. I’ve embraced it and instead of letting it put me down, I’ve worked with it to uncover layers of unfulfilled desires, layers of myself I didn’t acknowledge, hidden because of fear.

What if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do? What if you have no idea what your passion is? […] When we say we don’t know what to do, what we’re really doing is asking something deeper. What we want to know is this:

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

When I read this book, I was already on the point of letting go of my fears, but the words in this chapter, “Listening to Your Life”, were so familiar! They were what I had been thinking for many years. And the question “What happens if you don’t do this?” echoed in my mind for days.

“Some of you here don’t know what your dream is,” he said. “In fact, most of you don’t.” […] “But the truth is,” he continued, “you do know what your dream is . . . You’re just afraid to admit it.”

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

3. When in Doubt, Commit

In my life, I tried a lot of things, been a lot of people. I was not afraid to start over many times. I absolutely love that about me! I feel it made my life interesting. Whenever I stayed complacent for many years, I became burned out, disengaged and really bad at whatever I was doing.

The thing is, I thought I really committed to the things I did. For a while, I was quite good at them. But they didn’t bring me fulfillment. I always got my fulfillment from other stuff – family, friends, books…never what I did, not even if I genuinely enjoyed it. That leads me to believe, my heart was never in anything I did. Not really. So, even with years of commitment, my results were never spectacular. However, I don’t regret anything. It all made me discover my real self, piece by piece. It made me understand how I acted to fulfill expectations of others that I internalized so deeply until I believed them to be my own. It all lead me to where I am today. And today, I know myself better and am fully ready to commit to something else again. This time, this something is actually “finding my purpose”.

Commitment is necessary. It teaches us to exchange instant gratification for long-term reward and shows us that some change takes time. In learning this discipline of staying the course, our character grows. This is the payoff of patience, the joy of watching something grow that wouldn’t have been had you not spent all those years sticking with it.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

However, if commitment is still an issue, the most important thing is to act. Start going in a direction. You’ll change your path later. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than standing still, not learning anything because we are stuck by fear. When in doubt, commit to “doing”.

4. You Need Help

To recap…finding your purpose is difficult. You first need to be aware then to pay attention to your life and ignore fear until you understand what your purpose is. Then…you commit to it. And that is as difficult as not having a purpose at all.

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.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

And pushing through pain, having patience to grow is terribly hard. What you need is surrounding yourself with people who will support you. Community is something we should all value the most.

In the past, it took at least 10 years to master something. You worked as an apprentice for more than 7 years and were ready to be a master able to teach others after at least 3 more years of practicing on your own. This kind of commitment is very rare this days. And yet, as this book tells us, truly remarkable people have, at a certain point, always encountered a guide, some sort of coach or mentor to look up to and to help them grow into who they’re supposed to be.

Some people will help you willingly, while others may contribute to your education on accident.
But if you are wise, you can use it all.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

These people often come unexpectedly and can serve a vital role in our education. So let’s look at how you don’t miss these accidental apprenticeships.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

For me, this makes a lot of sense. Friends, family, community – they are all invaluable for support, but, in the end, we can learn from absolutely anything and anyone, as long as we remain aware that this is one of our goals – to learn.

5. Boredom Is Essential

In searching your purpose, you should recognize the importance of a steady job. You should also recognize the boredom of a steady job. Sometimes, that is exactly what you need for a while. Sometimes, that can make you complacent and stunt your growth. Awareness of your situation is essential and shier boredom is invaluable in realizing what is it that you want. What you start doing when you are bored, should tell you something about yourself as well.

In the book, the example is of a single mum with a steady, boring job. She needed the job, but also felt it wasn’t enough. She then started a business around breastfeeding out of boredom. This business helped her network and, through such a connection, she understood she was interested in becoming a doula.

This story thought me about connecting past experiences with current interests and how “doing” is critical. Boredom may be what gets you going, but “doing” is the thing that will open all doors. In “doing”, no matter what, you evolve.

That is something I’ve experienced myself when I stopped binging Netflix. I have now a year without series or movies of any kind and I don’t miss them at all. Movies weren’t the problem, of course. I will watch movies again. The problem was the addiction. You see… binging gave me the illusion I was doing something, when, in fact, I was just eluding boredom. When I stopped, I gave myself the opportunity to actually DO something else with my time. I filled it with books, journaling, blogging, studying for my job etc. Sitting with my thoughts instead of watching movies gave me boredom. And from boredom, I discovered more fulfilling activities.

6. You Just Don’t Know

“How did you know this was your calling?” “I just knew”. This is what we hear from people who are too humble to admit how hard they worked or are uncomfortable with acknowledging how they got lucky. It sounds like how we often describe falling in love. You just know. The problem is that it isn’t true.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

Most people have no clue what their calling is. As the book says, finding your calling is a process, a journey. It requires effort, search and action when stumbling upon opportunities. What it usually is not, is a direct epiphany. This was a very calming thought for me, because if it would be the other way around, nothing is in my control. This way, everything is. I just have to keep searching and remain aware of opportunities.

Another great advice was:

Take time to look back at all you’ve experienced, and listen to what your life is saying. Invite mentors into your life to help you discern the call. This is the perfect opportunity to identify a thread, some common theme that ties everything together. As you begin to see the patterns, don’t move too quickly. Just take one step at a time, trusting that opportunities will open at the right time.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

I think journaling is a key habit that can help with this. It did wonders for me.

7. Practice Is Painful

I believe in the saying “you can do anything, but you can do everything”. For me, it means that if I try hard enough, I can succeed in anything I set my mind up to do. The problem is then that it’s very difficult to decide what I want to accomplish. Anything that we do requires effort and long practice. So the decision is ultimately in what you want to spend your life doing every single day, for hours. And when you put it like that, the decision is simpler – you only need to decide how to spend your time today.

The book cites studies saying the reason for success is practice. Actual talent is irrelevant. I tend to agree. However, practice is so, so difficult! It requires time and a lot of effort, and I think it requires for you to actual like the activity. The key is there, more than anywhere else. Enjoying the process of practicing and of learning is vital for performance in any field.

However, the practice also has to be challenging. Without being a little challenging as well, progress is not possible. If something is too difficult, most of us quit in frustration. If it’s too easy, we get bored or we don’t make any progress. Most people that get to excellence in their fields manage to practice even when it’s hard.

It’s easy to practice when the activity is something we enjoy, but what do you do when the excitement runs out and your strength disappears? What do you do when that first thrill of entering a new vocation begins to wane? Do you give up? Or do you push through the pain and make your way to mastery? This is where experts differ from the rest of us. They recognize the resistance we all feel but instead choose to see it as a sign of how close they are to their goal. Disciplining themselves, they deliberately lean in to the most difficult parts when most people tend to quit. We have come to call these people “geniuses” and “prodigies” without ever fully understanding the work that it takes to reach such a status. But the truth is, what’s in them just might be in all of us.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

And that is why I think it’s key to like the practice, even the difficult parts:

Most people won’t continue doing something they aren’t passionate about, especially when it gets hard. Putting an activity through painful practice is a great way to determine your direction in life. If you can do something when it’s not fun, even when you’re exhausted and bored and want to give up, then it just might be your calling.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

Love, I think, is a much better criterion than lack of difficulty. If you can love what you do, even when it hurts, then you may have more than a hobby. And if you’ve never pushed your talents this far before, if you’ve never tested your skills that much, then you probably haven’t discovered your true vocation. Sometimes, the only way to know the difference between a hobby and a calling is to put yourself through the crucible of painful practice.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

8. What If You Fail?

No one can guarantee an outcome. Even if you find your calling, there just might be setbacks that prevent you from pursuing your calling. The key idea is you don’t stop. You simply adjust, pivot: incorporate what you learned and what you like into something new, maybe similar to your calling. The book gives wonderful examples of this. One was very interesting, about how the Groupon company was built, out of the 2008 crash, because of people’s need to save money.

Sometimes failure is the best thing that can happen to you if you learn to listen to the lessons in it.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

Another powerful phrase that stuck with me was “Instead of saying “what if”, start saying “let’s.””. This too leads to always take action, not just dream about stuff.

9. Become Master of Many Things

This idea is absolutely delightful. It simply allows you to to incorporate in your identity everything you do. Your calling may just not be some one thing, but a porftolio of activities. you may be a writer, but also a business owner, a coach and a speaker. You can master multiple things and like them all. This portfolio may actually be your calling.

If you think like that, the world is your oyster. This allows you never to get stuck or bored. For some people, this myriad of activities is what’s most exciting. They get fulfillment out of each one. That is freeing and for me, it just gave me wings.

We are complicated creatures, full of many interests and assorted passions. What do we do with all of them? We are not what we do for a living, but our life is made up of what we do. So how do we take this complexity into account? And what if our calling will never pay the bills?

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

A calling is more than a career; it’s the purpose and direction of your life. Which means that it doesn’t just apply to what you do; it’s who you are.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

Jobs, even careers come and go, but everything you do makes you grow. We also all have things we do for our own enjoyment, activities that don’t necessarily provide income – our “play”. Researchers confirm these activities are essential to our growth as well.

Your taste in music, the kinds of books you enjoy, even your favorite foods all contribute to the person you are and the portfolio you’re creating—and therefore, make up your calling.

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

And my favorite analogy of them all, was:

“Don’t search for your calling,” he said. “Explore, try new things, keep your feet moving. Something will grab you. It will call to you. It is no different than falling in love. You can’t sit on your couch and decide you are going to marry a certain girl. You fall in love after sharing experiences, joy, challenges, maybe even heartbreak. All of which could not have happened without leaving your couch, being involved, and meeting the one girl you can’t stop thinking about.”

“The Art of Work”, Jeff Goins

All in all, I had a lot to think about after reading this book. It wasn’t a perfect read – I feel everything was either a story or a quote – I bit TOO much. I suppose most personal development books are like this.

However, the ideas in it helped me find new points of view for my own life, helped me clear ideas and encouraged me to try more things. And that can only mean it was exactly the book I needed at this moment in my life.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do”

  1. Wow, what a lovely and comprehensive post. This was a treat indeed, and I look forward to more of your thoughts on future books. I, too, believe that boredom is essential, and that it’s important not to kill every idle moment with our mobiles. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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