Do you have a life work that defines you?
I’ve been pondering this question for a few weeks. Because I’ve had a rather mosaic career including stints in medicine, education, and writing, I’m at a loss to point to something that feels like an answer. For the last 15 years, writer seemed like an answer, but now I’m not so sure.
I’ve written and published books, created blogs and websites that brought in cash, but can I really continue to feel comfortable referring to myself as a writer?
I keep returning to the thought that only creatives can definitively respond to this question: creatives such as writers, painters, teachers, sculptors, photographers, singers, musicians, composers, playwrights, artisans, etc. It’s the creative professionals that contribute works that outlast them and continue to impart meaning to those left behind as well a future generations.
- Do engineers like my dad who bounced from project to project feel the same?
- Do those who who sell cars, jewelry, or real estate feel that they have a life work?
- Does what we do for money qualify as a life work or are they merely jobs?
I’ve never been happy just having a job
Even now, as a consultant who gets paid to perform a service for large companies, I don’t feel particularly fulfilled by the work. I can’t point to it and say with any certainty that the world is better off as a result of my work.
But then I ponder another question.
Does it even matter?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The years I spent on various career paths have brought me to this place of newfound uncertainty and although it feels like an ill-fitting shirt, it’s the one I wear these days.
Maybe my life’s work is something else
Alongside this quest for assigning meaning to my life, there were a dozen years in which I held one of life’s most sacred of responsibilities. Following a family split, I became a single custodial parent to my youngest son. As the years passed, he and I grew closer than I ever thought possible. We became friends as well as father and son and even now that he’s moved on to pursue his own creative career, he’s the one person closest to me.
During this time, I felt that my sole priority was doing everything in my power to help him come to the place of deciding for himself how to live his own life with honor and compassion.
This is the role that has given my life meaning and significance.
But I’ve chosen a life without a partner. I’ve been there numerous times over the years and I don’t regret where it’s brought me even though I do miss the sound of raging guitar solos from the next room and late night phone conversations that prevented me from getting to sleep on occasion.
These days, if I want see him I’ll ride over to where he works and wait for him so we can grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. I can also attend his performances as a cheering fan or help out the band as a roadie, though my middle-aged back prefers the former.
Maybe my life’s work isn’t about work at all
To see him absorbed in his creative world, though different from my own, brings me hope that perhaps my life’s work isn’t about labels. Perhaps it’s about enjoying the time I have in the present moment and realizing that it can all end without notice.
As I conclude this post and reflect on my various roles, I’m a bit more comfortable admitting that the question I posed in the first paragraph isn’t that important after all.
Experiencing moments like this is what’s important and knowing that I’ve played a role in getting him here is enough.