A few weeks ago I heard a poignant talk from a head who was just about to retire. She spoke of 18 years building a school community, dealing with racial issues in the local area, the deaths of colleagues and pupils, the triumphs and the dark times. As I heard her speak it occurred to me that building and maintaining the community of this school was in many ways her life’s work.
I think it was during this talk, I remember Carl Gombrich describing the challenge of setting up the unusual and innovative BASc course in Arts & Science at UCL. At one point he paused to make a brief but striking aside, ‘this is probably my life’s work’, before continuing with his talk. I don’t know if the enormity of his statement struck him; it certainly struck me.
More recently, I have heard Andrew Brewerton speak on several occasions in reference to the Plymouth School of Creative Arts free school project, saying that ‘only once in a working life’ does such an opportunity for a project of such significance come along.
In all these cases, I got the impression this was something that had in some sense crept up on the people in question. They had been doing things that they thought mattered, and it had coalesced into a life’s work, something which brought together the strands of their passion, their hard work and what they believed was important. I’ve no doubt that a life’s work doesn’t have to fit into the narrow definition of work in terms of a career or a job, I wonder what diversity of things people would define as their life’s work… I’d be willing to bet many would define their life’s work as their family or children.
This got me thinking, how often do we think about that overall purpose to what we do? How do we turn those things that we believe into something concrete, something that matters? Could those of use closer to the start of our careers, or live, than the end plan for a life’s work and make it happen more consciously?
Is a life’s work something you can plan for and create, or is it something that you find? Have you found yours? Are you looking..? Is life always ‘what happens to you while you are busy making other plans‘?
Image: CC BY NC Oliver Quinlan