CROSSING THE UNKNOWN SEA, Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity – great book about leadership, the meaning of work in life and the meaning of our life in our work. If you ever have a chance to read it, please do. Here is my summary.
About the Author: David Whyte is a Yorkshire-born poet and consultant of the most prominent American corporations, such as Fortune 500. Using poetry to bring understanding to the process of change, he halps clients understand individual and organizational creativity and apply that understanding to vitalize and transform the workplace.
The author’s quotes in this summary refer to the edition: Riverside Books, New York, 2001.
„We are strange, difficult creatures who long for both freedom and belonging at the same time, and often run a mile when the real thing appears. That is the frontier on which we dwell“. Whether we call the two choices freedom and belonging, sea and shore, travelling and staying at home, the conflict is always the same. We allways live on the edge.
According to David Whyte, the best opportunity for discovery and personal growth lies in the thing most people often want to get away from: their work. Yet, those who embrace it, and consequently become team managers and group leaders, often forget why they undertook the journey in the first place. Many things can make them lose their identity and the connection with the real world: the ambition and daily routine, the fear of a failure, the impossibility to see clearly moments when saying no to things or persons that seem bigger than them is even more important than saying yes. Can one be a good leader and still a happy person?
Without a constant pilgrimage of our identity through our work, we will never know who we really are and how greater than regular ourselves we can be while crossing unknown seas. Our projects are the seas. Our work is a pilgrimage for our identity. „Work is where we can make ourselves or brake ourselves. It is difficulty and drama.“ It is a journey which shows what we are made of – if we should have stayed back, or we can be a captain.
David White finds the metaphore for it in the capacity to „move the mountains“, as defined by William Blake. The 18th century English poet and engraver developed a unique kind of active relationship, a constant conversation with the process, results and effects of his work on other people. He deeply believed in it and he named the feeling of it a firm persuasion.
„Any life, and any life’s work, is a hidden journey, a secret code, deciphered in fits and starts. The details only given truth by the whole, and the whole dependent on the detail.“
Those who work with dedication are like sailors always seeking for new seas – challenges in pilgrimage for their own identity. The best among them will eventually become the captain, the one who is able to navigate the boat and at the same time see the tiniest detail happening on it and around it at all times, whether it is an upcoming storm, low moral or the crew, a fatal rock or promised land ahead. Wave against wave, crossing the uncharted sea of work, he is the one who draws maps. And as soon as one is finished, he already has an articulated plan for another journey. He is the leader.