BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Maybe with a different sub-title ...

I came to having Jeff Goins' The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do through a relatively unusual route … author Chris Brogan (he gets mad anymore if you call him “social media guru”) - whose books you've seen covered in this space previously, put out an offer in one of his on-line vehicles about being able to get a copy of this for just covering shipping, and I figured if Chris was pushing it, it was probably something worthwhile. Which is making me somewhat uncomfortable, as I was expecting something more ... direct, perhaps ... for a book sub-titled “A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do”, and this is proving to be one of those occasional titles that everybody else loves (97% of the 217 Amazon reviews of this are 4 or 5 stars, with 86% at five), and I can't figure out why.

As regular readers of this space (and my personal blog in particular), will know, I have had a long bout with unemployment, and when I signed up to get The Art of Work, I assumed that it was a book-length permutation of one of those self-assessment things that would help guide me to some new unsuspected realization of what I was “meant to do” which would lead me into some vastly rewarding new career. Nope. In fact, while this does have some material along those lines, it's a whole five pages in an appendix at the back of the book.

Now, this is no doubt another example of “Brendan isn't like the other kids” … I have never found parables and related teaching stories particularly convincing or moving … with these sorts of things typically eliciting mental comments of “who cares?” and “why am I reading this?”. I certainly appreciate that there is a whole genre for that sort of stuff … and a wide audience that can't get enough of it. But that's not me. And, as you might suspect at this point … most of this book is stories about people encountering some sort of adversity, and either finding some way of dealing with it, or finding a way out of it due to some external factor or whatever (did I mention the “who cares?” reaction?). As noted … it may be too sweeping to say I never get anything out of these kind of stories, but it's pretty close … and that's the core of this book. To me, this might as well be describing things the author is seeing in the clouds as a way to discuss electronic circuitry … I want to hear about the circuitry … and that's limited to that one appendix.

There is a “system” here, and it encompasses the over-all arc of the book … as each chapter is set up to somehow “illustrate” the subject of one of these:

  1. Awareness

  2. Apprenticeship

  3. Practice

  4. Discovery

  5. Profession

  6. Mastery

  7. Legacy

The first three of these are in a section called “Preparation”, the next three in a section entitled “Action”, and the last in its own section, “Completion”, with an additional “Conclusion” section following. The book shifts in and out of narratives about the people featured in the various chapters, moving into “commentary” which does offer some concrete “action points”, but it was hard (for me at least) to get much out of that. Here's an example out of the “Accidental Apprenticeships” chapter (which otherwise is dealing with a gal from Singapore who ended up with an older guy who, when she got pregnant, wanted her to have an abortion … she didn't want to, and her family threw her out and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, she encountered somebody who got her into being a “doula”, and the next thing she's doing TED talks) about finding mentors:
How do you find these people? Where do they come from? It's hard to tell. Likely they'll surprise you, appearing seemingly out of nowhere at just the right time. The whole thing will look like an accident or a mystery but, of course, it is far from it. As Paulo Coelho writes, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” There's some truth to that. Fortune favors the motivated. When a person is determined to not just succeed but to do work that matters, the world makes room for such ambition. You won't be able to predict how this apprenticeship unfolds, but you can be prepared for it when it comes.
OK, how does one APPLY that? Again, this is about as “direct” as things get here … how do I force the universe to send me a mentor to make everything head in the right direction? Clap my hands and say “I do believe!” until Tinkerbell appears with a magic wand?

Now, these chapters aren't just filled with wishful pablum, the Apprenticeship chapter does have some interesting historical material about how this worked in the age of guilds, etc., and more recently in the arts, and even including a story of how Steve Jobs passed off a program written by Wozniak as his work to fraudulently get an engineering job (that's some funky “apprenticeship”). The closing instructions for this chapter are:
These experiences are impossible to engineer but easy to recognize once you know what to look for. … Sometimes the people who help us find our calling come from the least likely of places. It's our job to notice them.
Yeah, but HOW? Do we wait forever until the “mentor” arrives? Waiting for pixie dust to fall on one's head does not sound like a plan, let alone a "proven path".

Jumping ahead to the “Discovery” step, in the chapter “Building Bridges”: this is about a couple who decided to pull up stakes in the U.S. and move to one of the poorest countries in Africa – Burundi – where they intended to grow coffee. The husband had a passion for coffee, and they pretty much just went to Africa to follow that … it was a year and a half, in a backwards place where they didn't even speak the language (and they brought their kids), before they even started the business. Goins seems to think this was a swell plan, and notes:
{they} uprooted their family and moved to a remote part of the world because it was an opportunity to make a difference doing what they love. As it turns out, this is a great formula for moving in the direction of any calling: find what you love and what the world needs, then combine them.
Personally, this sounds more like a recipe for a good way to end up either dead or impoverished and stranded in a festering hell-hole, but hey, what do I know?

Goins then goes into a discussion of “callings” and how the idea that “you just know” what you're supposed to be doing isn't true, and that most have to “take a leap” and go with it. Additionally, this chapter spends a lot of pages discussing a biblical parable (that of Samuel), an approach which rarely clarifies any point. Of course the difficulty here is “finding what you love” (or, at least it is for me), and then finding some way that this activity can be packaged in some manner that the world will not simply ignore it. In the case of this couple, they'd identified a neglected coffee industry (started by the Belgians in the 1930's) which produced a very high quality bean, and they figured they could make something of this. However, is this a “plan” for you? I suspect that the ability to find a personal passion and a niche that would support it is vanishingly rare … and, of course, there's nothing here to get you from “I wish” to your goal.

I really wanted to like this book … and, mind you, it's not an unpleasant read, just nothing that I could connect with. As noted up top, I had sincerely hoped that I would have found something useful for me here, but I'm obviously not the “parable and postulate” kind of guy. You, however, might find this sort of stuff splendid (acid test: do you think the proposition “do what you love and the money will follow” is a universal law or a Big Lie? … if that resonates with you, you'll probably like this book, if you're like me, not so much).

The Art of Work just came out in March, and as I mentioned, people are falling all over themselves praising it. The on-line vendors have it at nearly a third off of cover price at the moment, and it's reasonably value-priced going in. While I was horribly disappointed in it, I realize that I'm an “outlier” on the cynical/bitter end of things, and get nothing out of stories like the ones at the core of this … but you might find them highly instructive.

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Tags: book review
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