I dare say that most of us have never started a sentence like this:
My life’s work is….
We think of a writer or an artist or a great scientist as being able to look back with pride upon his or her ‘life’s work.’ The author, on the death bed, dropping final bits of wisdom to her closest family and friends while adoring fans tweet and Facebook and more seasoned columnists wax eloquent about that author’s ‘life’s work’ and ‘contribution to the world of whatever.’
Most of us who sell or account or lawyer up or teach or manage or cook or clean don’t think of what we do as our life’s work.
We think of our work as work. We think of our life as our life. We think of our family as our family. We think of those hobbies we love as hobbies we love.
That’s fine and all, but we’re missing out if we don’t sit back and look at our work, our relationships, our faith, our community service, and our various avocations as all being facets of our life’s work.
We fail to see the overall value of what we do and the legacy we have the potential of creating.
The Power of Calling All I Do “My Life’s Work”
I love the way writer and blogger Jeff Goins describes a ‘portfolio life’ in his book 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?
What strikes me about these words isn’t that you can clump all of the facets of your life into a ball and call it your life’s work, i.e. that your life’s work isn’t only about the work you produce throughout your career but about all the other bits and pieces that make up your world.
What strikes me is that we should actually call what we do our life’s work. Our careers, our family lives, and our hobbies aren’t just stuff we do. Each activity we do and decision we make is building something, something that at the end of our lives will leave a legacy.
Building a Legacy
All of those interests, passions, and activities aren’t just disconnected pieces. They are, in fact, building blocks.
I’m still working through my thoughts on this idea, but the older I get, the more I realize that my life’s work stares back at me when I put my children to bed at night.
My life’s work texts me while I’m on my way home from the office to stop and pick up milk and eggs.
My life’s work is every conversation I have when I’m at my day job.
My life’s work is actually doing good work and helping my managers and colleagues produce.
My life’s work is each word I write, each time I go for a jog, every time I cook a meal.
I’m building all day long.
If I don’t realize that I’m continually creating, then I won’t be intentional. Sure I run the risk of taking things too seriously, but if I don’t consider all I do as part of my life’s work, then I diminish the potential I have for leaving a greater legacy.
My job becomes a job. Parenting becomes about managing stress and logistics. Marriage becomes about what I can get out of it versus how I can serve. My faith becomes religion. The couch and a bag of chips become a way to medicate, not a moment to enjoy a favorite show or a flick with my lady.
It all comes down to what kind of legacy I want to leave. I’ve not always built well. And I’ve not always realized that I was, in fact, building something… that I was building my life’s work, for better or worse.
It puts things into perspective for me. I pray my life’s work is worth something, if only to just a few.
What is your life’s work?