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A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

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by Thomas Moore

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A job is never just a job. It is always connected to a deep and invisible process of finding meaning in life through work.

In Thomas Moore’s groundbreaking book Care of the Soul, he wrote of “the great malady of the twentieth century…the loss of soul.” That bestselling work taught readers ways to cultivate depth, genuineness, and


A job is never just a job. It is always connected to a deep and invisible process of finding meaning in life through work.

In Thomas Moore’s groundbreaking book Care of the Soul, he wrote of “the great malady of the twentieth century…the loss of soul.” That bestselling work taught readers ways to cultivate depth, genuineness, and soulfulness in their everyday lives, and became a beloved classic. Now, in A Life’s Work, Moore turns to an aspect of our lives that looms large in our self-regard, an aspect by which we may even define ourselves—our work. The workplace, Moore knows, is a laboratory where matters of soul are worked out. A Life’s Work is about finding the right job, yes, and it is also about uncovering and becoming the person you were meant to be.

Moore reveals the quest to find a life’s work in all its depth and mystery. All jobs, large and small, long-term and temporary, he writes, contribute to your life’s work. A particular job may be important because of the emotional rewards it offers or for the money. But beneath the surface, your labors are shaping your destiny for better or worse. If you ignore the deeper issues, you may not know the nature of your calling, and if you don’t do work that connects with your deep soul, you may always be dissatisfied, not only in your choice of work but in all other areas of life. Moore explores the often difficult process—the obstacles, blocks, and hardships of our own making—that we go through on our way to discovering our purpose, and reveals the joy that is our reward. He teaches us patience, models the necessary powers of reflection, and gives us the courage to keep going.

A Life’s Work is a beautiful rumination, realistic and poignant, and a comforting and exhilarating guide to one of life’s biggest dilemmas and one of its greatest opportunities.

Editorial Reviews

A job is never just a job. What we do in the workplace can imbue our lives with meaning. In this book, Care of the Soul author Thomas Moore explains how our daily labors shape our destiny in essential ways. With persuasive examples, he describes how even temporary jobs can help us identify our purpose and define our identity. Remedial mind work.
Publishers Weekly

In this slender volume, bestselling spiritual guru Moore (Care of the Soul) says that finding the right work, finding one's vocation, is also part of the care of the soul. Often Moore proves astute; for instance, he urges people to think about having not just one but a variety of callings. His consideration of the pleasures and foibles of friendship in the workplace is especially insightful. Although confident that even the most mundane job can be enjoyable and life-giving, Moore sets the question of vocation in a broader frame, suggesting that it is best addressed as a part of fashioning lives that are organically whole and meaningful. Though still influenced by Jung, Moore draws inspiration from a delightful array of sources, including Yeats, Socrates, and Rapunzel. The book's governing metaphor, alchemy, is often apt; Moore notes that both alchemy and finding a life's work require patience through a long refining process, and both are about the process, not just the end result. Often the comparison works; at other times, it's heavy-handed, and Moore also lapses into clichés ("take the past and own it"). Nonetheless, this will be of use to many people who seek joyful work and integrated lives. (Feb. 26)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

In his latest book, Moore addresses what might be termed the question of vocation-something beyond mere work or tasks-as one of the deep, important, and shaping mysteries of life. It is not easy to work out exactly what Moore is saying here, except that finding a life's work is challenging and important. While Life's Workis not written with the urgency that made Moore's boffo best seller Care of the Soulso engaging, readers will respond to his consistent warmth.

—Graham Christian Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
Praise for A Life’s Work
“Over the years, Thomas Moore has taught us how to discover the holiness concealed in the ordinary. In this very useful book, he shows us how to search for the sacred dimension of our work and find our life’s meaning in the process.”

“Forget about the color of your parachute, here is a book that teaches you how to fly. Through ancient parable, contemporary therapy, personal vignette, and, above all, an uncommon sapience, Moore deftly guides through life’s greatest quandary: Why have I been created? Give this book to yourself.”
—Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of Kabbalah: A Love Story

And Praise for Care of the Soul

“From time to time, I’ve been jolted by an extraordinary book that stops my world. It forces me to look at reality in a different way—a more expansive and meaningful way. It has provided a missing piece for me.”
—John Bradshaw, author of Homecoming

“The sincerity, intelligence, and style—so beautifully clean—of Tom Moore’s Care of the Soul truly moved me. The book’s got strength and class and soul, and I suspect may last longer than psychology itself.”
—James Hillman, author of Re-Visioning Psychology

“The book just may help you give up the futile quest for salvation and get down to the possible task of taking care of your soul. A modest, and therefore marvelous, book about the life of the spirit.”
—Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly

“Thoughtful, eloquent, inspiring.”
—Alix Madrigal, San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Pain penetrates me drop by drop.

I have a friend where I live in New Hampshire who is constantly depressed and frustrated because he can’t find the right work. He is one of the most gifted men I know: He’s intelligent, has a great sense of humor, loves people and is loved by them, and is an excellent artist. But he can’t hold down a job and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He hates the torturous rhythm of finding a new career, quitting, and trying again. With a ready smile for the outside world, he’s like the classic clown who beneath his happy face paint is desperately sad.

Many men and women are like my friend Scottie. They look relatively happy and get along on the surface of life, but deep down they despair of ever really feeling good about the work they do or believing that their lives have been worth living. They also know too well that unhappiness at work spills over into other areas of life.

The failure to find the right job or to enjoy the one you have creates a special kind of depression. A person may feel that her spirit has been crushed or perhaps never brought to the light of day. Some wonder why they feel so low and never connect their depression to work. In therapy they may be talking about marital difficulties or an addiction, and they are surprised when their counselor asks about their work. It seems they haven’t thought much about work in relation to their emotions and the things that give meaning to their lives.

An opus is the lifelong process of getting life together and becoming a real person, and it is no coincidence that the word is also used for a musical composition or an artist’s total production. You are also a work of art—alchemists referred to the opus as the Art. You are the artistic designer of your own life, and it is the most important work you will ever do. You will produce things that will make you proud—happy children, a good home, a well–functioning society, and maybe even some decent art. You will become a unique person. Nothing is more beautiful or more valuable. But if that potential goes unrealized, you may despair about life in general.

C. G. Jung once wrote that creativity is an instinct, not an optional gift granted to a lucky few. If you don’t find a way to be creative in life, that instinct goes repressed and frustrated. You feel its loss as a deflation, the spirit leaking out of your sense of self. You feel empty, disengaged, and unfulfilled.

The opus doesn’t come into existence fully formed. It takes sweat and tears to go through the arduous process of finding yourself, establishing a good career, and making a life. It is especially difficult to achieve all this in a world that doesn’t support such a deep, long–term process. Most people don’t think beyond the immediate need for money and a bearable job, and most companies don’t worry much about the personal calling of their workers.

Today we may not fully appreciate the workplace as a laboratory where matters of soul are worked out. We tend to focus on literal concerns such as pay, product, and advancement, whereas developments in your work life deeply affect your sense of meaning. Doing what you love and having relationships at work that help you as a person can give you feelings of peace and satisfaction at home and in the family.

A recent study of how Americans feel about their work lives concluded that today people are generally happier with their jobs than they were thirty years ago, but they see their work as having a negative impact on life at home. Specifically, they are working longer hours and therefore have less time for their families, their health, and their hobbies. Modern technologies, such as e–mail, blur the borders between work and home. Companies are also offering less in benefits and encouraging employees to work harder for profit sharing and stock ownership. The link between fulfillment at work and happiness at home is more important than ever.

My friend Scottie is a case in point. When I first got to know him, I saw a vibrant man full of talent. I envied him then and still do whenever I see him relaxed and congenial or showing our circle of friends his latest canvas. His talent and personality are extraordinary. I heard about his difficulties with work but thought that all he needed was to search around and find a business that recognized what an asset he would be to them. Naively I wrote a letter of reference for him, thinking that I might solve his problem at one stroke. At that time I looked at the surface of his life; today I’d look deeper.

As time passed, I learned that he had other serious problems, that his family life, so serene on the outside, was apparently troubled and always on the edge of collapse. I was surprised to hear that he had trouble with alcohol dependency and that his occasional outbursts of rage made him feared at home and threatened his marriage. In social settings people are drawn to him like a magnet, but his private life is tragic.

Scottie is having serious trouble finding the right job, staying with the job he has been able to secure, and finding pleasure and fulfillment in what he does. And I mean serious trouble. He stands a good chance of losing an extraordinary partner in his gifted wife and three unusually creative and promising children.

Whatever the source of his problems may be, Scottie’s troubled soul is focused now on his inability to find his life’s work. He secures jobs that offer money and some satisfaction, but he still feels that he is in the wrong place. He gets so frustrated and angry that he distances himself from his family and his friends. He doesn’t let anyone help him, and he can’t seem to get to the root of his problem.

Scottie is like many people who try to solve the problem of work at a purely practical level: getting new training, trying new careers, and judging success by the size of the paycheck. In fact, the process of finding a job, doing the work, and dealing with the relationships at the workplace has deep roots in family, personal experience, and personality issues. To get to the bottom of serious frustration, you have to consider the whole picture: the past, as well as the present; your family’s worldview and experience with work; and the personal issues you bring to the job.

In the ordinary job hunt you may be doing career testing and interviewing and experimenting with jobs, but to move toward your life work you have to work through the past, deep and raw emotions, and relationships that need attention. The roots of career problems run deep, and only a deep solution is effective in the long run.

If you have anything in common with Scottie, I would recommend stopping to look closely at the whole of your life. You will find in this book a long list of things to consider in the inventory of your life experience. Think of every aspect of your life as connected, and always go deeper than you think you need to go.

Stalled: The Feeling of Getting Nowhere

Frustration with work can take many forms. One complaint I frequently hear is the feeling of getting nowhere. Rose, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, has had an excellent education and comes across as an able and creative person. She has ability, intelligence, and a bright personality but still can’t move ahead with her career. She tries one job after another, but they seem to be lateral moves. She isn’t moving closer to where she wants to be. She feels stalled, stuck, and sometimes even as if she's moving backward.

These days one often hears a plea, expressed with humor or sadness, from men and women, old and young: “What am I going to do with my life?”or “What am I going to be when I grow up?”People in their fifties and sixties say this, meaning that they still don’t know for sure who they are and what they are called to do. I have heard Rose say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life. All I know is that this isn’t it.”

“What am I going to be when I grow up?”It’s a telling remark, suggesting strongly that the person feels that she is still at the beginning of her life, perhaps even a child, immature, not having progressed as far as she should have. The laughter that accompanies the confession covers over concern and anxiety about the situation. “Will I ever grow up? Will I ever succeed?”

If I had such a person in therapy, I’d want to explore the background of this important self–image. Does it play a role in other parts of life? Does it have roots in the family and in early experience? Dealing with the issue outside of the specific work situation might help resolve both the deep emotional problem and the search for a life work.

My friend Scottie has apparently built up a pile of rage as well as depression over the years, knowing that he is capable of doing great things but never able to get a project off the ground. This gap between ambition and achievement can be painful to behold. He is getting nowhere, not by sitting around doing nothing, but by trying again and again without lasting success to do something valuable and worthwhile.

Scottie is angry at himself for being a failure, but he directs his rage against his family. They are close at hand and will keep his secrets—his alcoholism, his anger, and his failures. “Disgruntled” workers notoriously aim their aggression at the people around them; the same is true in a more subtle way in families. The frustration of not having life in gear and not doing the right job transmutes into judgment and rage and, finally, aggression. The feeling of getting nowhere is serious business.

Many people believe that you should always be getting somewhere, that you should always be on the “up” escalator, moving forward in life. But many are not moving anywhere, especially not up. They may feel stuck in a job that feels inferior to them, far beneath their standards and expectations. They may never have found a position even close to their dreams and hopes. Their friends may worry, seeing a person doing work far from his abilities and vision.

People at the top of the ladder can also feel stalled. They have had all the success they dreamed about, and still they feel unfulfilled. I have met many people like this: to all appearances wealthy and successful. They should be happy, but they’re not. In many cases it's fairly clear that material rewards simply have not given these “lucky” people the deep satisfaction they crave. Late in the game they may discover that they chose the wrong path or refused an opportunity that would have given them less money but more happiness.

Sometimes people get so discouraged by their failure to find adequate work that they turn against themselves and go looking for a job that has no challenge for them, pays them little, and offers no future. They punish themselves for not succeeding by ensuring that they won’t succeed. At one point in his flailing around, Scottie did this: He took a starting position in an automobile dealership though he had no interest in it or talent for the work.

It’s clear to me now that Scottie’s failure at work has deep roots, perhaps in his past, certainly in his emotions and relationships. When problems with work tie in with other emotional issues like marriage, family, and mood swings, it’s clear that the only way to deal effectively with work is to face what Zorba the Greek called “the whole catastrophe.”

Dealing with the World

Our own disillusionment isn’t the only source of pain and depression with regard to work. The world is out there judging us, expecting things of us, demanding that we do things in their way and not ours. Frustration with work often comes from outside as well as inside.

People get moralistic about work. They tell you that you should make good money, use your talents, get more education, have objectives and goals, and stick to a plan. By these standards, most creative people throughout history appear misguided. They have lived their lives by serendipity, inspiration, and experiment.

You may believe that you have tried too many different things or that you’re too old to find a real life’s work or that you don't have the talent or the calling to do anything significant. People may have judged you so harshly that you lost confidence in yourself. In your pain, you may have turned to alcohol, drugs, or some other numbing distraction, and those addictions in turn cause you to fail at your work.

It takes a well–grounded ego to withstand the assaults of well–intentioned and not–so–well–intentioned critics. But people who are unsure of themselves at work by definition don’t have a strong ego. They are vulnerable to attack. They fall over easily when pushed. People in power may have gone through similar trials and now unconsciously force their underlings to remain equally unhappy.

To deal with such pressures, you have to be loyal to your essence or to the person you know you can be. People around you look for evidence of success, but you may have to trust the qualities in you that you know have not yet been revealed. Otherwise you may collapse and have your spirit crushed by criticism and expectations that are not your own.

Many creative people who have contributed much to the human race were not instant leaders and achievers. It took time for them to ripen into the outstanding figures we know them to be. An unexpected source of insight into this matter is the rock musician Sting. He is not only a fine musician but an excellent writer as well, as demonstrated in his penetrating and beautifully honest autobiography, Broken Music. There he tells of his early days trying to support himself and find his way. He worked outdoors on building sites as a laborer and then as a bus conductor and eventually as a civil servant. Later, he became a teacher in an elementary school. It was from there that he took a risk and became a professional musician.

Just try to imagine Sting taking your ticket on a bus. What if he stamped your fare and said to you, “I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want to be doing this job when I’m an old man.”Knowing where Sting ended up, with wealth and fame, the question is quite a tease. How did he get from one place to the other? Remember, he didn’t know that he was going to become Sting. He might have spent the rest of his life as a bus conductor, which might not have been a disaster, but he wouldn’t have found an outlet for his unbounded creativity.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Thomas Moore is the author of Care of the Soul, which spent forty-six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and fifteen other books on deepening spirituality and cultivating the soul in every aspect of life. He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy, and ecology. He also writes fiction and music and often works with his wife, artist and yoga instructor Joan Hanley. He writes regular columns for Resurgence, Spirituality & Health, and Beliefnet.com. He has two children and lives in New England.

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Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a book to help you discover your life's work, then don't buy this book. The point of the book is to open your eyes to the discovery of finding your calling, and to see obstacles as possibilities instead of roadblocks. So the book is just some thoughts to consider while you are on the path of finding your calling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago