June 7, 2005

News & Opinion: BOOK REVIEW: What is Your Life

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 8:24 PM – Filed under: Personal Development & Human Behavior

What is Your Lifes Work by Bill Jensen Review by Paul Gladen What Is Your Lifes Work( WIYLW) is a collection of letters written by 64 disparate individuals to loved ones about their experience of work. Why should you want to read that? How could this book possibly help you be more successful in your work and life? Whats the big idea? Wheres the 10 step program for career success? Where are the words of wisdom from the self-help guru or captain of industry? But thats the beauty of this book, its sheer simplicity in concept and the restraint shown in analyzing the lessons to be learnt from the 64 letters. Its also a great read. This book trumps reality TV. This book grabs your attention with real people writing about real work and real lives. Its raw and often emotional. Its usually brutally honest and the insights are based on hard learned experience. If Seth Godin hadnt used it for All Marketers are Liars the subtitle to this book could have been The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low Trust World. If All Marketers Are Liars is a book about the stories we tell ourselves about products and services then WIYLW is about the stories we tell ourselves (and others) about ourselves. If you are unhappy with your work, or the balance in your life, chances are youre telling yourself a lie to justify inaction. You tell yourself that youll change jobs next year or that the kids understand why you work so late. If these words have you shifting a little uncomfortably on your chair, you can be sure that several of the letters in WIYLW will hit home. But theyll hit home in a constructive way as you realize the situation you face is by no means unique and as you discover these ordinary people found a way to confront and change their situation. WIYLW has a very positive message. Each letter writer has reached some level of understanding or awareness that has given them clarity and a sense of both peace and passion about their work and life. Every writer tells an authentic story about the work theyve done, the mistakes theyve made, how theyve found the right priorities and how theyve found work that matters to them. Many of the letters seek to draw out the insights and principles that their loved ones should try to learn from and these insights are thought provoking and occasionally profound. However, the letters are at their most powerful when they discuss real situations and real decisions and leave the reader to extract the lesson. Bill Jensen has organized the letters into what he calls the 5 Discoveries and also provides a Field Guide to getting started. But, like any other book focused on personal development or improvement, it cant make change happen for you (and Bill Jensen doesnt try to claim he can). The 5 Discoveries and Field Guide are like a knife and fork, theyre potentially useful, but largely irrelevant if youre not hungry or cant stomach the food in front of you. WILYW wont be for everyone some people just wont connect with it (although they may be the people that need it most). But that said this book is relevant to people regardless of background. One of its most appealing aspects is that the stories are told by such a diverse group of individuals - a prison guard, a strategy and planning manager, a fishmonger. From a personal perspective, this book definitely connected with me. Over the last 3 years I have made my own discoveries some enforced others not that have lead me closer to my lifes work. There were many situations and learnings in the letters that had me recollecting similar points in my earlier career and relating to the changes Ive experienced in the last 3 years. That recognition is valuable to me. But I will also take away an additional perspective from this book. If you dont read WIYLW simply as self-help, but rather read it as 64 letters written by people who may be your friends, family, customers, work colleagues or the next customer service agent you deal with, it provides a powerful insight into the motivations and personal battles of those around us. Using this book and its insights to help others achieve their lifes work may prove to be the most rewarding lifes work of all. Paul Gladens work is in the field of foresight + innovation.