The 800CEOREAD blog has several reviews of Bill Jensen’s new book, What Is Your Life’s Work up right now. I did one of the reviews and found the book to be pretty unusual for a business book, but I liked it nonetheless. The key point to really getting maximum value out of the book, and I really believe there’s much to gain, is that you’ve got to follow the instructions at the end of the book. Without the followup, it’s just a bunch of interesting, and sometimes inspirational, stories about some folks’ life journeys. Here’s my whole review…
Bill Jensen’s new book, What Is Your Life’s Work,
was intitially a bit of a mixed bag for me. I should note that I’ve
been a big fan of Bill’s work for some time now. Bill was kind enough
to send a preview pdf file of the book to me several months ago, and I
really liked the content. Once I began reading the actual book, though,
I began to have some doubts about whether I’d find much value in it.
There’s no way around it, this is
an unusual book. Jensen spent several years compiling personal letters
from people. Some were letters written specifically to loved ones,
others were "work diaries" in which the writers reflected upon the
bigger questions of the meaning of work. Jensen notes early on that in
reading through thousands of these letters and diaries, he began to
note some common themes, which he calls "Discoveries." Thus, the book
is organized by these five themes: Finding Yourself; Finding the
Lessons to Be Learned and the Questions to Be Asked; Finding the
Choices that Really Matter; Finding the Courage to Choose; Finding Joy,
Serenity and Fulfillment. Each chapter contains letters or diary
entries that exemplify that chapter’s theme, but which also may contain
elements of the other themes. The final part of the book contains a
"Field Guide" to writing your own letters–Jensen even asks readers to
submit their letters for possible inclusion in the paperback version of
the book. Additionally, the back of the book contains author
acknowledgements and some interesting statistics derived from Jensen’s
ongoing research into how work gets done.
beginning of the book gives some pretty specific instructions for use,
which include selective reading, thinking about themes and writing your
own letter. Straightforward enough, but I was a little skeptical about
whether there would be any letter so compelling that I’d actually draw
deep meaning from it, let alone be so inspired as to write my own
letter. Jensen notes early in the book that readers ought to expect to
find between three to five letters that really resonate with them,
challenge them or inspire them. Additionally, he notes that readers
ought not be surprised if all of "their" letters are grouped around a
particular theme. Then again, he notes, they may be more scattered.
I admit it. I didn’t follow the
instructions. I first read the instructions, then read the index that
details which letters cover which areas of life. But then I went ahead
and read the whole book, cover to cover. I did note those letters which
resonated with me–I was surprised to find some! As Jensen promises,
there really are letters for all sorts of folks and, despite the
diversity (there was even one letter that I couldn’t find anything to agree with at all), all the letters are well written. The letters that I found most helpful tended to be grouped in the second (lessons to be learned, questions to be asked), fourth (courage to choose) and fifth (joy, serenity and fulfillment) themes, though the three letters that I loved most were grouped in the fifth theme.
Now that I’ve read the book, I’m in a
decidedly different place than I was when I began. I love this book,
and I’ll be passing on copies to friends. Some of the letters were
trite or full of the same old truisms we’ve all heard a thousand times
before. But the letters that really struck me most seemed to have been
pulled from my own experience. Here are a few pulled quotes from some
of the letters that I found most helpful…
where we learned how soul-satisfying it can be to help someone else
grow and succeed. …to go home knowing that you have used yourself
–Barbara Simonetti, writing to her friend on p. 81
Believe that exhibiting character and discipline yields more
benefits than costs, even when the costs are all that you can see in
the short term and the long term seems a bit far off.
–Michael Civitelli and Janet Scarborough, writing to their son on p. 83
While one’s moral fiber must always stay intact, flexibility in marriage, careers, friendships, and adversity is a necessity.
–Dave Woods, writing to his children on p. 88
Be a rebel, a respectful rebel, but a rebel nonetheless.
–Rick Ritacco, writing to his children on p. 96
Consider the actual tasks involved in the work you would do every
day. And follow those tasks into different fields. Which means never
getting fixated on making one right career decision.
–Joan Malin, writing to the teens that Planned Parenthood serves in NYC on p. 116
In essence, I learned that the best commercial strategy for my tomorrows is to be present at all times today.
–Peter Tunjic, in his resignation letter to the parters of his law firm on p. 155
…work is…about searching for your place in the world and
cooperating with the many gifts that the Divine has bestowed upon you.
–Kenny Moore, writing to his sons on p. 179
You should enjoy what you do while helping others enjoy their work as well.
–Travis Thomas in his work diary on p. 189
There were plenty of others, including a couple of letters in their entirety that spoke to me (Kenny Moore’s, quoted above, and Kip Winsett’s on p. 194).
Additionally, the letter from Kristi Dinsmore, on page 182, is
hilarious–she uses a breakfast buffet as an extended metaphor for how
to work well…complete with many bacon references.
As soon as I finish writing this review, I’ll be starting the
exercises listed at the back of the book. The toughest part will be
writing letters that are honest to the bone. But that’s what I’ll be
doing. I’m learning that the book isn’t just about work–it’s about
Life and What’s Important. Those are the things I’ll be writing in my
letters. My goal is to have a letter written for all the most important
people in my life, which I’ll give them for Christmas ’05 (inspired by yet another letter in the book).
You can tell by now that I enjoyed
reading the book, and am continuing to reap it’s benefits. My guess is
that this would be an enjoyable read for just about anyone, but it’ll
be a challenging read for those people who commit to
following the message of the book to the logical conclusion. The
challenge is to dig deep and ask oneself the questions that often have
answers that are really difficult to hear. And then telling the answers
to others. Without the effort required to go these extra steps, the
book is still an enjoyable read, but about as challenging as Chicken
Soup for the Soul.