June 10, 2005
News & Opinion: BOOK REVIEW: What Is Your Life's Work (#7)
What is Your Life's Work? : Answer the BIG Question About What Really Matters...and Reawaken the Passion for What You Do by Bill Jensen
There's something ironic about reviewing this book on deadline (ok, past deadline). It's all about getting away from day-to-day pressures to take stock of personal priorities, and deadlines are not part of the plan.
So, what is the plan? Simple. Stop and think about What Really Matters. The book, with its collection of letters and the suggested discovery process, can be your excuse to step out of the daily grind to look at your personal Big Picture. If you follow the well-worn path, you'll end up discovering the priorities you already know--family, friends, faith, love, charity, hope. If you're an overachiever who has sacrificed everything for work, maybe you need the reminder.
The author provides an unusual, but honest, warning late in the book. "Eight out of every ten readers of this book will do absolutely nothing with it." If you want to beat those odds, you'll have to overcome some barriers that the structure of the book puts in your way.
First, the title, What is Your Life's Work. If you don't already know and you're looking for another book on What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, this isn't it. It's more along the lines of First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey, but without a formal method for structuring your thoughts. Despite some introductory words to the contrary, this seems to be a book for mid-career and your mid-life crisis.
Second, the format of the book makes it difficult to get started. Before you get to page 1, you will find a section on "How to Use This Book." Don't read the book cover-to-cover, but select the letters that "speak directly to you." Um, how do I do that without reading them first? The instructions end with a referral to a Getting Started section on page 209. Read page 209 before page 1? Roadmap, bread crumbs, ball of thread... It takes some concentration just to get started with this book.
I never did find a way to pick letters without reading the whole book, although it's easy to skip the rest of a letter that misses the mark after a few paragraphs. Many of the letters seem to have been written by overachievers with dream careers, especially consultants and senior executives. Reading about how they realized the importance of life outside work after they reached the pinnacle of business success just didn't move me. I did find a few letters that made useful points, but all in all, it wasn't worth the effort it took to find them.
I do wish some of the people I've worked with would read this book, though.
Nathan Gilliatt (http://www.mindspring.com/~gilliatt/) is a technology-business strategist who connects the dots between product innovations and market dynamics to help technology companies create customer value.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.