While throughout most of the twentieth century, a career path was viewed as a means of survival, security, status or power, today it is increasingly being valued on its own terms. “It takes being part dreamer, part builder,” says Laurence Boldt, author of Zen and the Art of Making a Living. Referring to a “bottoms-up movement that is transforming the way people live and work,” Boldt claims people are reorienting their own lives. The book pulls from diverse sources of wisdom spanning the arts, philosophy, all religions, anthropology and science. It also addresses important changing factors in the workplace: the new work environment, globalization, mergers, the electronic revolution, mass retail and out-sourcing—the rise in temporary, part-time and independent contractor work.
Zen is defined as “a form of Buddhism emphasizing meditation and intuition”; but what exactly is Zen? According to Boldt, it means to be awake, to bring full presence and consciousness to what we are and what we do. “Zen says LIVE! Be what you are!” according to Boldt. Quoting D.T. Suzuki, Boldt writes: “The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one’s hum drum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.” It is “an awareness and spirit applied to everyday life and work.”
Your “internal alarm” is going off if you feel stuck, stifled, or bored with your current work situation, Boldt argues. If your primary experience is a “have to,” and not a “want to,” or if you feel like you have to be someone else on the job, this internal alarm may be going off. If you choose to ignore this alarm, there can be considerable consequences to your self-esteem, your relationships with your mates and children, your physical health, and your spiritual and emotional well-being, says Boldt. On the other hand, if you feel you could be making a more meaningful difference in the world, you may be hearing an “external alarm,” and ignoring this alarm can result in a kind of deadening of the soul.
The book is divided into four sections to help you design creative strategies for identifying work that will be deeply satisfying. In each act, readers will find a detour indicating a place where they might get off track. Of all potential barriers, Boldt claims the psychological factor is undoubtedly the most significant. Act I: The Quest for Life’s Work, involves identifying your work purpose, your part in the grand play of life, your key talents and objectives—not based on societal convention but based on joy and that “zen” spirit. This includes a special section on breaking through barriers of fear to unleash your full potential. Beware of Detour #1—“The Denial Trap.”
In Act II, you begin by mentally projecting yourself into the career path that will best enable you to express your mission in life. Next, you are guided through the often difficult process of conducting research on the career path you have envisioned. Being yourself is what Boldt claims is the biggest challenge at this stage, or “The Approval Trap.”
Act III is about implementing your personal marketing strategy to achieve your life’s work. “Taking it to the street” strategies involve choosing your marketing strategies, starting your own business, the essentials of a freelance business, looking at non-profit opportunities, landing the right job and the “street smarts” of networking. The third roadblock, or detour, is to“settle for taking what is easily available rather than to persist until you get what you really want.”
In Act IV, you develop a plan for making the transition from what you are doing now into your new career path. It contains sections on increasing your ability, credibility and marketability, and “how to love what you are doing ‘til you are doing what you love.’” Boldt claims the final challenge and detour to achieving your new career is a lack of confidence in yourself, that is, in your ability to learn and remain patient through all of the tests.
If the reader does take the time to read through the book and find the “art of life’s work,” it will undoubtedly be a rewarding experience, not only in learning how to go about this business of work, but in learning the natural art of human living. New avenues and pathways may begin to appear reopened, as the reader learns to trust personal life goals and become more self-reliant. “Of course, it will always be up to the individual to realize his or her own destiny,” says Boldt.