Blow up traditional careers in favor of bodies of work

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What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is your thing?
What is your niche?
What is your major?
What will your specialization be in (law) (medicine) (engineering) (art)?

Social norms push at us relentlessly to make decisions about a singular work path. Choosing well, we are told, will set us up for success or failure.

I think about it differently.

In our limited time on earth, we can choose to contribute our energy and efforts toward many meaningful things.

We can help solve complex problems – like David Batstone’s commitment to end human trafficking with Notforsale.org

We can build bridges – like Kai Dupe and his work on the digital divide for people of color at KaiDupe.com

We can change the world through powerful communication – like Nancy Duarte and her work with Duarte Design

We can make the world more accessible to more people – like Glenda Watson-Hyatt and her work at doitmyselfblog

We can strengthen the bond between parents and children – like Marilyn Scott-Waters and her world of free paper toys at thetoymaker.com

Each of these examples show deep commitment to a cause or problem that is bigger than any job title or profession or business. And they can include a whole range of output, including writing, physical products, legal legislation, speeches, books, conversations and roles.

Focusing on a body of work will give you more freedom to choose different work options throughout the course of your  life.

So you won’t have to say things like “I am throwing away 10 years of studying and practicing law if I start a yoga studio.”

(Don’t worry — your relatives will say it.)

Or “I am undermining my potential if I take a job as a barista” after you get laid off from your corporate job as a highly-paid creative.

If your body of work is about creating beauty and art, why not make lovely images in latte foam while you are doing what you need to do to take care of your family?

What is your body of work?

Your body of work is everything you say, affect, create, contribute and impact.

Smiling at your neighbor every morning as you get the paper can contribute to your bigger desire to see more happiness and joy in the world.

Your jaunt in a legal career may be a very important part of your body of work contributing to the health of busy professionals through your yoga-based health and wellness practice (see Kelly Newsome’s story here and site here)

My passion for and commitment to seeing and stoking the fire of creation inside all human beings has led me from community development projects on the outskirts of Bogotá to non-profit education to teaching martial arts to corporate consulting to entrepreneur coaching and writing a book. And it will take me new directions in the future, without having to feel constrained by any one audience or business or job title.

A body of work is big and deep and complex. It allows you to experiment and play and change and test.

It supports creative freedom.

Change the spotlight

Focusing on your body of work rather than a you-centric career has the additional benefit of helping with your fear of coming out from behind the curtain of anonymity.

I often run into clients who get anxiety thinking about what may happen when they gain exposure and notoriety.

What if I don’t have all the answers?
What if my life is not all together?
What if I have spinach in my teeth when interviewed by Matt Lauer?

When you realize that your job is to contribute to your body of work, you can conjure up the following visualization:

Imagine you are standing up on a big stage with a large space in front of you. This space represents your body of work — the thing you care most about contributing to.

Now visualize many people directing their energy at you in the form of big beams of light right at your head.

Now strap a mirror to your forehead.

Take all these beams of light and direct them from your head to the body of work in front of you.

Notice how the more people who are sending energy your way, the more illuminated and bright your body of work is?

Fame is fleeting.

Consistent impact over the course of your life on a body of work you care about deeply is legacy.

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76 Responses to “Blow up traditional careers in favor of bodies of work”

  1. […] read this piece a few weeks ago and it hit home as I’d had similar thoughts for so long. I long for the […]

  2. […] society and build a career around it. It sounds crazy, and when I first read an article about it on Escape From Cubicle Nation I thought, “Not everyone can be an entrepreneur… and certainly not […]

  3. […] Pam Slim Keep an eye on this lady, she’s got some really good stuff up her sleeves — a lot deeper than you might think at first glance. Enjoyed this recent piece from her blog: Blowup traditional careers in favor of bodies of work […]

  4. […] do like the Foo Fighters did, or as Pam Slim likes to say: Blow up traditional careers in favor of bodies of work WHERE’S YOUR PASSION????????  SHOW […]

  5. […] it’s possible to teach the same content to everyone, in the case of breadth each person will chart a different course based on their individual pattern of connections. Where breadth is strength, the map invents itself […]

  6. […] picked up this book after being enthralled with a blog post written by Slim: “Blow Up Traditional Careers in Favor of Bodies of Work.” Her writing is highly engaging and easy to relate to and this book is one of the best […]

  7. […] Blow Up Traditional Careers in Favor of Bodies of Work – The super-smart Pam Slim urges you to think past job titles and start focusing on your body of work. It will really change your perspective on how you approach your work and your life. A great read! […]

  8. This post really spoke to me, because this is the type of career I really want to live. I think of the 1990s Pittsburgh Steelers, who used Kordell “Slash” Stewart at nearly every offensive position on the field. This type of “Slash” career is a great model for those of us who value creativity and entrepreneurialism. I am already dabbling in this type of setting, as I teach for a noted education company and write for two sites as my “slashes”.

    The life of a free agent has many opportunities to create a body of work and have the enjoyment of a “slash” career.

  9. Pam – this is so well said, thanks for this. So many times we feel that having to take a job or project outside of what we love in order to pay the bills is like veering off our chosen path. This is a great way to see how you can bring your own passion and purpose to whatever you must do in the moment.
    cheers, Michael

  10. satsumabug says:

    I love this post! Thank you so much for articulating this idea and sharing some of the others who work this way.

  11. […] corporate grind to do what you are truly passionate about. She recently posted an article called  Blow Up Traditional Careers In Favor of Bodies of Work. What she means is, build your foundation not on “a singular work path” like being a […]

  12. jami says:

    I now look at 2 things in particular when assessing an idea: does this fit into my life mission, and will the idea/involvement either forward my career/expand my reach or return my energy in payment to support my family. The past week I have reassessed a few projects and volunteer commitments and find that these questions provide my clarity for how I should be spending my time. If life mission is not being fulfilled, then neither am I or anyone else around me as I get kinds cranky after a while! Thanks for this post, Pam, another wonderful addition to all of your words of wisdom and insight!

  13. Alexis Robin says:

    I love this. My body of work has been to heal corporate America. Sometimes, that means healing the leaders there, or teaching them how to communicate, other times it means blogging, or doing a personal retreat for someone who is burned out on their job. For years it was being a positive and creative force in an office job.

    This is so freeing to think about work this way. Can’t wait to share with my husband. :)Thanks Pam

    • Alexis, I love your body of work statement and how you shared its various iterations 🙂

      Keep on keeping on – Lord knows, the corporates need it 🙂

      • Alexis Robin says:

        Thanks Marcia! After reading it I feel like I’ve got more relevant experience than ever in my field. Something I didn’t always realize. Have a great weekend!

  14. Ed Fox says:

    Taking the “body of work” point of view will also enable people to see how their work fits into their life mission. Aim for the stars. Great post

    Work Stress Caoches
    Work Stress Coaches

  15. Lee McAulay says:

    It’s worth adding – take your time (something I constantly remind myself). It takes time to build up a body of work, and too often we fall into the trap of thinking success can come to us instantly. It rarely happens like that, and when it seems to do so for others, often you will find that they have been toiling in obscurity for a long time before they meet with success.
    Thank you, Pam, for another insightful post.

  16. Nicole says:

    Days after reading this for the first time, I keep coming back to read it again. I am so moved by it. It is like one of the moments when for a split second quantum physics becomes clear to me, but then a second later it’s gone. Unlike, quantum physics, I am slowly digesting the idea of a “body of work”. As I am leaving my streeful 9to5 job in three months for a different kind of life, your article gives me many ideas, and quells some of the fear I am feeling.
    Thank you!

  17. […] Blow up traditional careers in favor of bodies of work – another brilliant article from Pam Slim […]

  18. “Body of work” and “legacy” over material wealth and inheritance. Humanness over arrogance. Abundance of everyday joy over wasted time on hated, pointless careers. Meaningful mark over fleeting fame. Exquisite grace and effort over empty, theatrical gestures. This idea and writing of yours embodies the greatness of true creativity and the giving energy of the human spirit. Thank you, Pam, for sharing. 🙂

    Pedro

  19. I love, love, love this article, Pam!

    As someone who has changed careers more times than I can count (from mental health worker to bookseller to anthropologist to nonprofit consultant), I am only just now beginning to see the greater patterns that have guided my life choices. And once I view it from that bigger picture, everything makes so much more sense, and it doesn’t really matter if I don’t fit the conventional mode, which can be very oppressive.

    Thank you for being such a free thinker and an inspiring woman!

  20. Andy Pels says:

    When I am visualizing the beams of light, how do I get them to stop looking like Star Wars lasers that go “pwew” “pwew” “pwew”?

    I know – go hide some more Andy.

    Thanks for reminding me to attach meaning to my freakishness.

  21. excellent post that compels self reflection. unfortunately for many, the stomachs of many have to be fed and thus they stay chained in those golden hand cuffs. but you are right, nothing like pursuing your true dream/passion!

  22. Or what if you ask a dumb question like, Who is Matt Lauer?

    🙂

    • Pamela says:

      Host of the Today Show. 🙂 There are no dumb questions!

      • Thanks, Pam! I confess I haven’t had a TV since 1987 and so I’m missing out on a huge part of our culture. I’m okay with that.

        I love this post and told a friend about it. I already had him in mind and then I saw the cosmic foam art. He’s an astrobiologist so I knew he’d love it even more.

        I’ll be thinking about this for a long time, especially now as I am at a crossroads with my writing.

  23. Julica says:

    Ohmygosh, Pam, brilliant. Thank you for this re-frame…I’m going to run with this one. On behalf of my clients, who will be greatly benefiting from this wisdom – thank you!

  24. Lisa Alessi says:

    Hey Pam – As a veteran of slowly coming out from behind the curtain, I absolutely love the visualization you provide by envisioning your people as an embodiment of your work and their appreciation of you as beams of light ultimately reflected back on them. I had fun envisioned that one!

    I couldn’t agree with you more — its much more impactful if you can understand your internal drives, what you stand for or truly believe in and how it helps you make choices in the direction of your emerging body of work. So cool!

    And its the ability to recognize the patterns of what motivates you and demotivates you as a matter of fact that can keep you on course. And btw thank you for keeping me on course by pointing out my patterns!!!

    May the force be with you as you explore the next path in stoking the fire of creation inside all human beings! Awesome!!!

  25. Molly Gordon says:

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    I talk about the offer you ARE versus the offers you MAKE. The offer you are is analogous to a body of work. It includes everything you’ve learned, all your experiences. It is enriched and informed by all of you, warts and all.

    The offers you make are expressions or iterations of the offer you are. They may change, even dramatically. But at the heart there is you and what you care about most deeply.

  26. Julie Daley says:

    Pam, this is such a fantastic perspective shift. I especially like visualizing the mirror on my forehead and the reminder that it isn’t about me…
    This is why I am coming to Lift Off 4 this summer…for this kind of shift and wisdom to help me bring my body of work to the world. Can’t wait!
    Julie

  27. Al Pittampalli says:

    Great post, Pam. If you define yourself by your position or title, you’re bound to be limiting yourself. I love your advice, we should look at our body of the work, the change we want to bring to the world as the scope of what we do, really provides for some amazing paths.

  28. Judi says:

    Beautiful. I love how the idea of a “body of work” allows for all that we are. As a serial entrepreneur I couldn’t live any other way. But this nicely describes how building loft developments and building websites, people’s online homes, all fit into my”body of work”. Same idea different medium. Thanks Pam.

  29. fas says:

    Goes to show that its not only money but social cause also prevalent in some of us, certainly a good thing.

  30. Hi Pam! Thanks for this truth-ringing message to greet me at 4:55 a.m. after a mostly sleepless night of worrying about my infinite task list(s)… Your suggestion to frame our efforts as a body of work resonates so well. I always found that those seemingly high-stakes “career” crossroads choices boiled down to two issues: Where will I best learn? Where will I best contribute? And the paths that satisfy those questions — at least for me — seem to involve (to borrow your words) “deep commitment to a cause or problem that is bigger than any job title or profession or business.”

    I’m off to re-conceive my day! JB

  31. Prime says:

    “Focusing on your body of work rather than a you-centric career has the additional benefit of helping with your fear of coming out from behind the curtain of anonymity.” – love this Pam, and it is a relief to know that I need not be defined by my current occupation (copy editor for a news agency). Rather, I can choose what I can contribute to the world to produce my own body of work.

    Cheers!
    Prime

  32. Holli says:

    I love this post. It is very liberating. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at WDS earlier this month too. Thank you for being a part of the Summit. You were one of the reasons we chose to go!

    One thing that arose from you talk there and reading your book with my now cubicle-escapee husband is: how do you find your body of work or passions? I know what mine are, but was lucky to have an artist mother who encouraged exploration. My husband has lived his so far by the book, as they say.

    The only thing I can think of is to make a list of any interests and start giving him time to experiment and explore each one. Any other advice is appreciated:)

    • Holli

      I’d like to offer a bit of advice for your husband, if I may. In addition to that list of interests, also have your husband notice what does he gravitate towards in his reading? Cut out articles, jot down books, topics, magazines, etc. that peak his interest. Start developing a ‘body of evidence’ (sorry couldn’t resist:)) that provide clues to what he likes.

      Have your husband ask others what they feel are his strengths? What is he the “go-to” guy for? Have him take an assessment or 2 to pinpoint his strengths (Strengthfinder 2.0 is excellent).

      Also, I would suggest that your husband really start noticing what activities he is doing when he is feeling ‘in the flow’. Are there things that he does where he loses track of time, feels energized?

      Finally, he may not have 1 all consuming passion, but rather be enthusiastically interested in several 😉

      Best to you,
      Danielle

      • Holli says:

        Thank you, Danielle – wonderful ideas!

        He’s a software developer, and on a lower level fixes all our family computers (aunts, uncles, cousins) or anything around the house:)

        These suggestions are very do-able.

        Thank you.

  33. Amen.

    Stay tuned into The Light.

    Illuminatingly,
    Voncelle Volté
    voncellevolte.blogspot.com

  34. Denise Green says:

    Wow. I want to share this with everyone I care about. And save it for my 4 year old daughter. Maybe with your influence, people will stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up and will ask instead, “What problem do you want to spend your creative energy joyfully solving?” Or something like that. Brilliantly done. Denise

  35. Darren says:

    We are more than our jobs. Our entire body of life experiences – and contributions – better defines us.

    As long as there’s a tomorrow, we can re-create our stories if we choose.

  36. What a great article, Pam. I’m finally coming out of my cubicle-closet and moving into my body of work, and my life has change so much for the better! My past experiences had added to my knowledge base, but it I’d been in my BOW when I experienced them, I’d’ve been a lot more able to roll with the punches and been a lot happier. I’m very happy to see you spreading this knowledge out to more and more people. Hopefully they’ll shift sooner than I did. (Pssst! Hey, y’all! It *really* is worth it!)

  37. Thanks for this reminder Pam. Also, I’m finding that much of my body of work is coming not from my professional past, but from my personal health challenges and how I’ve had to learn to adapt because of them. The far-reaching impact of a seemingly horrible set of circumstances is really blowing me away. It’s taught me to look for purpose in EVERYTHING.

  38. Thank you so much for writing this Pam.

    This has been a recurring theme for me over the past few months. I’ve been taking a sort of gestalt view of my varied projects & positions in the past and all of my big plans for the future. I realize now that I *do* have a body of work. It all paints a cohesive picture of…well, something. I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate that part yet. But, it’s on the tip of my tongue. Soon. I’ll know it soon. 🙂

  39. Very thought-provoking. I can’t tell you how many clients have told me that they don’t know what they will be when they grow up – and some of them are 50 or 60 years old. When we condition people that they have to go a single path and that they have to know the path at the age of 20, we condition them for failure and then wonder why they do. Thanks for the inspiration!

  40. Marlee says:

    Hi Pam!
    I love the way you put this. Looking at a “career” in this manner simply lends itself to an individuals natural inclinations. I think people would be much closer to finding themselves satisfied with their work if they approached it from this paradigm.

    Thank you for putting it so well.

  41. Pamela:
    First, it’s a pleasure to “meet” you.
    Secondly- you hit the nail squarely on the head.
    I was one of those folks. I was 8 years old, going to be a chemical engineer and invent an artificial kidney. And, it probably was cute to my folks, relatives, and others (no one really knows where this idea came from- I have a few hypotheses). But, the real issue is… I did it. At a VERY early age. And, like the dog that catches the car, WHAT NEXT? I was goal-less, to a large extent. Oh, I did things- worked for a few companies, developed a few very neat products, but they were outside imposed. To use a phrase that has become trite this year- “No fire in the belly.”…
    Until… I realized that it was going to be my body of work. My personal tag line (and the one I convinced my partners to use) is “Making the world better, one person at a time” (the corporate verson- enterprise). I have taught that to my children, as well.

    Thank you so much for this post. I will be sharing it with my clients, friends [all our clients are our friends; not all my friends are clients]), and family.

  42. What a beautiful way to think about our lives unfolding in front of us. This takes the pressure off. So many of us think that we must find the right job. It’s not about one job – it’s more like a path. And as you said so beautifully – staying on your path and committing to it, and continuing to focus attention on it can create a legacy.

  43. Carrie Hutton says:

    Beautifully written. A great reminder to focus on the bigger picture of how we bring our gifts and talents to the world. As someone who has been struggling with the “fear of coming out from behind the curtain” this article was an encouragement. Thanks!

  44. Glad says:

    I needed this today. I’m going through some sort of transition with regard to what I’m doing/my mission/how to use my life for good.

    I believe changing my perspective from “what’s my job title” to “what is my body of work” might help me.

    I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” when I was reading this.

    xo

  45. Gail Gaspar says:

    Once again, P, you tell it slant and hit a winner! This one opens the window to shift from compulsion of THE recognizable career to one of creative and outward expression that is recognizable to our selves.

  46. Hi Pam

    So, it’s more about the way you move through the world (what I think of as the energy behind what I do) than specific expressions…

    I like it! Takes away limiting decisions/boxing in.

    And we know you’re all about the un-boxing, right?

  47. I do so love this post Pam (you’ve obviously been poking around in my head again!). I had a client that was laid off after 21 years at a corporate job and she said “I basically wasted 21 years of my life and have nothing to show for it”…ouch. I love strategizing and figuring out how skills and experiences can be used to expand on other areas and interests in a person’s next chapter.

    “A body of work is big and deep and complex. It allows you to experiment and play and change and test.
    It supports creative freedom.”

    I love how you touched on the fear aspect too…really breathing into your body of work IS scary because it is where you will truly shine and that does bring attention that you may not be comfortable with…but it is so worth it!

    Hugs~

  48. Colette says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, just like the corporate business is beholden to stockholders, too many people are scared to move off of the norm.

  49. MeganE says:

    Beautifully expressed! Other people have always perceived me as being very fragmented and scattered, even though my life feels very cohesive and coherent to me. The lens you hold up in this post really helps because I am just now building an online presence and trying to explain who I am and what I have to offer the world in a way that others can understand and relate to. I look forward to really embodying this paradigm shift and feeling solid with it in my own life! Thank you. This was powerful for me.

  50. Tisha Morris says:

    So beautifully said! Growing up (even with kids today) we are pushed into a vocation, a box, a title, a career with an identity, instead of how we want to contribute to the world. It doesn’t take long before this becomes unsatisfying and the search for something with meaning begins. I absolutely love the latte pic! Perfect example of how art – in unsuspecting ways – can brighten our day!
    And may you have a great day too 🙂
    -Tisha