Mantras are good for this, as are those perfect teachers students occasionally do will into appearing at just the right time. Ditto (if less obviously) music, art, poetry, fiction and drama. And for this frequently befuddled traveler, triple-ditto for the Holy Trinity of Maps to the Self: biography, memoir and other forms of well-conceived, well-written nonfiction of a personal nature.
The solutions for everything that befuddles, the inspiration to keep slogging through the dark toward the light, these things are embedded everywhere, but never so clearly and handily as in excellent, truthfully told stories of the self.
"Hey," we say, "this person's self struggled with that same envy thing that has me in a headlock!"
Or "Wow, I'm not the first person to be broke/sick/lonely/scared/overwhelmed/blue/green/blah!"
The trick of it is, of course, to read the right thing at the right time, no small feat in this modern world with enough choices to choke an underfed herd of horses. But there are some good places to start the search: commonalities of situation, for starters; it would be madness to look to Ben Franklin, however wise he was, for particulars on dealing with the particular woes of a 21st-Century woman in the throes of perimenopause. (Although the founding father was mighty smart about things like thrift and focus and getting enough sleep, all of which apply in spades to our particular condition.)
One of the greatest common-denominator places to start is with work, mostly because each of us is somehow called to do it. There is rent to be paid, for one. But also, if one has more than a few brain cells to rub together after watching all that reality TV, one realizes that life is just way more interesting when one is engaged in some kind of meaningful activity (and if one doubts this, one can click to any number of examples still housed in the DVR denoting the deleterious effect of endless consumption. Cf. Real Housewives Whose Cribs Have Been Intervened On or Battle of the America's Hoarders without Talent.)
Which brings us to a book I finished long ago and have longed to share since, but have been struggling to adequately define.
The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love is a great book in search of a better title. (And possibly a more enticing cover, but I'm kind of a snob about these things.) The stories, dozens of them!, are indeed about work, and are clustered around eight different topic-categories. They are not as simple as the title might indicate, though, nor so precisely and neatly prescriptive.
What they are, the stories, and the writing around them, is wonderful. Gripping. Fascinating. Delightful. And concise, distilled down to delicious, pithy essence from what must by now be hundreds of interviews with all kinds of wonderful people on Maureen Anderson's long-running, weekly show on terrestrial radio, "The Career Clinic." (I've been a guest on the show twice as of this writing, and can attest to Maureen's amazing interview prowess; some people are just really good at interviewing, and Maureen Anderson is one of them.)
These people run the gamut, endeavor-wise. Writers are well represented, maybe because Maureen is a writer, and writers like reading, which inevitably leads them to more writers. For starters, there's Dave Barry, the syndicated humorist; Marshall Goldsmith, who has written extensively on leadership; and Dick Bolles, Anderson's own guru of sorts, of What Color Is My Parachute? fame. There are interviews with Helen Gurley Brown, creatrix of the Cosmo empire; with casting director Jane Brody; with Sally Hogshead, marketing personality and best-selling author.
But the stories of the most famous personalities aren't necessarily where the gold lies, even when they do illuminate their path to "making it" (hint: paths are almost universally easier to make out in hindsight). What is most interesting about all of these stories, from potters and cowboys, peddlers and preachers, musicians and woodworkers and triathletes and hog callers, is how work done led to the work done next, and how the sum total of it all was to lead them back to themselves somehow. I know, I know, woowoo in the extreme, but there you have it.
As I mentioned, the book is divvied up into sections with purported themes, but really, it's this overall theme that is the main thing: we work to find ourselves, we work to make meaning of our lives. Work is the vehicle and work is the product but mostly, work is the process. Maureen's own journey, from unhappiness and confusion to a life and work she loves (and slightly less confusion), is as illustrative as any story in the book. She steps out of the way, mostly, to let her guests tell their stories, but her guiding hand is always there, shaping and leading us back to the main point: to make the most of a life, start where you are and adjust, adjust, adjust.
I do not know if you will find the work you love by reading this book, but I know it will inspire you, reassure you, comfort you to continue on the often-hard work of the journey. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
- Buy The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love on Amazon
- Visit Maureen Anderson's website (current episode available to stream)
Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.