I lived in Verona, Italy for three years when I was in high school so I couldn’t resist picking up Ann Fortier’s novel Juliet. It’s the story of a modern day Juliet who discovers she’s somehow related to the famous one, only that maiden actually lived in Siena, not Shakespeare’s Verona.
The tale bounces back and forth between 1340 – when the real Juliet met the real Romeo – and the present day – as the contemporary Juliet tries to determine the true story of their love affair and its connection to her. In many respects, she’s trying to rewrite Juliet’s tombstone (at least as it’s been recorded in literature) and that reminded me of a key early section in The Career Fitness Workbook.
As you all know, I think most Americans don’t realize they’ve been endowed with an inherent talent and therefore never make an effort to discover it. That’s a shame because it’s impossible to have a fulfilling career without a sure sense of your “capacity for excellence” which is the only meaningful definition of talent.
To overcome this pervasive myopia, I’ve put three exercises in the Workbook to help the reader triangulate on his or her talent. One of them is called Writing My Own Tombstone.
Most of us have heard the age-old adage that no one ever inscribes his or her tombstone with a memorial to their employment. You’ll never find a grave marker where the departed’s final words are “I wish I had spent more time on-the-job.” The point being made by the adage, however—the message it is meant to convey—is often misunderstood.
We do, in fact, spend most of our adult lives in the workplace, and the conventional interpretation of the message is that we should spend less. We ought to take time away from our work and invest it somewhere else. And, most of us assume that this alternate commitment of our time and attention should be directed toward our families and our leisure time pursuits.
No one can argue with trying to spend more time with family and friends, but that is not the lesson this adage is teaching. Its message is not that we should replace work with something else more important, but rather that we should engage in work that is more important to us.
No one wishes they had spent more time on-the-job because most of the time we spend there fails to fulfill or satisfy us. The adage, therefore, is reminding us that we get just one life with which to pursue happiness—one opportunity to make our life’s work worthwhile—and the only way to do that is to work at something that is personally relevant and meaningful. Without a sense of purpose, there can be no lasting expression of our best selves, and without that expression, there is little worth remembering about our work, on our tombstone or anywhere else.
Thanks for reading,