What is My Life’s Work? — A Vital Second Half of Life Question
“What is My Life’s Work?” might be a question we expect from those in their 20s, but it also matters in midlife transition and throughout the life cycle.
It may not be obvious to everyone, but we have a life’s work — something that we do and live as an expression of who we most fundamentally are. As James Hillman suggests in his book The Soul’s Code, there are things for each of us that are simply a natural expression of the inherent way we are in the world. The trick is to keep others peoples’ images of ourselves, expectations and prejudices about us at enough of a distance that we can begin to see what it is that really expresses us. And, as /a-midlife-transition knows, there is another whose images, expectations and prejudices are potentially even more destructive — and that person is found right in the mirror.
The question “What is My Life’s Work?” only gains in importance as we move through adulthood:
Don’t Assume That It’s Your Career!
It would be a very big mistake to assume overly quickly that your life’s work is your career. Some careers are true vocations; many are rather partial things. Often people will like their career, or tolerate it, but that is not the same thing as finding oneself in the grip of the passion of one’s life’s work. The question “What is my life’s work?” is only answered when one feels that “Yes! This is why I’m here! I was born to do this!” It may well take case studies to help people find this place.
Don’t Assume It’s Over If You Retire
Some plan to retire, and have a life of relative leisure, living as if their “life’s work” is over. However, as Jung put it, it’s good to retire, but not into nothing. If retirement is to be good, it mustn’t just be fun. It must be meaningful and engaging. That means that there must be involvements in retirement that have soul in them.
Don’t Expect to Find It Just By Thinking About It
Answering the question”What is my life’s work?” is not going to be accomplished by just sitting around reflecting on it in the abstract. It’s necessary to try things, to do things, to have experiences. If you feel something beckoning to you through a feeling that it would be good, joyous or meaningful, then it’s essential that you go and do it. Only by trying it will you know whether it’s truly you or not. Your unconscious mind will have something to say on the subject, also.
Your Life’s Work May be the Same Thing as “You”
Sometimes, a person’s life work may be something they do so easily or naturally that it doesn’t seem to have particular significance. I can think of a letter carrier who used to deliver mail in my area, a man with such a natural gift for connection with others that everyone in the area knew his name. I don’t think that he was aware, but I believe that his uncanny capacity to bring about connection may have been his life’s work.
Wholeness and the Self
The call to wholeness may have a great deal to do with our life’s work. That which we do with a natural creativity, and that continually opens new doors may be both our life’s work and a key part of our journey to wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst