What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is your thing?
What is your niche?
What is your major?
What will your specialization be in (law) (medicine) (engineering) (art)?
Social norms push at us relentlessly to make decisions about a singular work path. Choosing well, we are told, will set us up for success or failure.
I think about it differently.
In our limited time on earth, we can choose to contribute our energy and efforts toward many meaningful things.
We can help solve complex problems – like David Batstone’s commitment to end human trafficking with Notforsale.org
We can build bridges – like Kai Dupe and his work on the digital divide for people of color at KaiDupe.com
We can change the world through powerful communication – like Nancy Duarte and her work with Duarte Design
We can make the world more accessible to more people – like Glenda Watson-Hyatt and her work at doitmyselfblog
We can strengthen the bond between parents and children – like Marilyn Scott-Waters and her world of free paper toys at thetoymaker.com
Each of these examples show deep commitment to a cause or problem that is bigger than any job title or profession or business. And they can include a whole range of output, including writing, physical products, legal legislation, speeches, books, conversations and roles.
Focusing on a body of work will give you more freedom to choose different work options throughout the course of your life.
So you won’t have to say things like “I am throwing away 10 years of studying and practicing law if I start a yoga studio.”
(Don’t worry — your relatives will say it.)
Or “I am undermining my potential if I take a job as a barista” after you get laid off from your corporate job as a highly-paid creative.
If your body of work is about creating beauty and art, why not make lovely images in latte foam while you are doing what you need to do to take care of your family?
What is your body of work?
Your body of work is everything you say, affect, create, contribute and impact.
Smiling at your neighbor every morning as you get the paper can contribute to your bigger desire to see more happiness and joy in the world.
Your jaunt in a legal career may be a very important part of your body of work contributing to the health of busy professionals through your yoga-based health and wellness practice (see Kelly Newsome’s story here and site here)
My passion for and commitment to seeing and stoking the fire of creation inside all human beings has led me from community development projects on the outskirts of Bogotá to non-profit education to teaching martial arts to corporate consulting to entrepreneur coaching and writing a book. And it will take me new directions in the future, without having to feel constrained by any one audience or business or job title.
A body of work is big and deep and complex. It allows you to experiment and play and change and test.
It supports creative freedom.
Change the spotlight
Focusing on your body of work rather than a you-centric career has the additional benefit of helping with your fear of coming out from behind the curtain of anonymity.
I often run into clients who get anxiety thinking about what may happen when they gain exposure and notoriety.
What if I don’t have all the answers?
What if my life is not all together?
What if I have spinach in my teeth when interviewed by Matt Lauer?
When you realize that your job is to contribute to your body of work, you can conjure up the following visualization:
Imagine you are standing up on a big stage with a large space in front of you. This space represents your body of work — the thing you care most about contributing to.
Now visualize many people directing their energy at you in the form of big beams of light right at your head.
Now strap a mirror to your forehead.
Take all these beams of light and direct them from your head to the body of work in front of you.
Notice how the more people who are sending energy your way, the more illuminated and bright your body of work is?
Fame is fleeting.
Consistent impact over the course of your life on a body of work you care about deeply is legacy.