New York: Penguin Compass, 1996, New Edition, 2004 (Quotes are from the Original Edition).
Now, when I say this, I have to justify it. I have worked two times through Zen or the Art of Making a Living, and yet did not find this smaller book obsolete because the books serve different purposes. The present booklet is not just a thinner copy of the larger career guide, it’s an entirely different book. It addresses perhaps a different audience as well.
To begin with, Boldt stresses in this book that you burst your limits if you are serious about finding really meaningful work. Bursting your limits doesn’t mean you have to become a superman or superwoman; it rather means bursting your understanding of the world, and your humanness.
It means accepting your soul identity, and do away as much as you can with social conditioning. That in turn requires you to get in touch with inside and give priority to your inner world:
At times it may seem that our inner world is nothing more than an endless chorus of conflicting voices. We hear them rattling around in our heads—the voices of the media and popular culture, the voices of our parents and peers, the voices of our escapist fantasies and infantile fears. To engage the creative life, you must be able to discern the voice of your own best self amidst the clamor and confusion of this strange and bewildering cacophony. You must be able to discriminate between what is really true for you and what merely sounds good./26
I have done this work from A to Z, over more than two decades, and can testify for the validity of this statement. This is your turning point or perhaps the test that the universe or ‘destiny’ puts up for you. It’s really that hard, and the author did not joke when he said bewildering cacophony. It’s not a movie that you can store away after having watched the journey of the hero.
The movie reassures you because you know how the story ends, but in your own life as a potential hero, you don’t know how it’s going to end. When you read the Bible, do you get a feeling that life is easy? Then read the Koran, the Tora, and then the Vedas. In none of the scriptures you are told that life is easy. So why do you believe it? You believe it because television tells you so. And it’s here where you are knocked out of your soul-being, like a football that is kicked out of the terrain, and lost somewhere in a street, where it has no more meaning. And if you are not connected with yourself, with your self, with what are you going to be connected?
What Laurence G. Boldt says is that life while it’s a game somehow is not an amusement, and that if you take it as an amusement, you are like the pack who go for everything just because everybody else does. If you are serious about your life and yourself, you will not take a job haphazardly, and you will do all you can to steer clear about what you really want in life, and about what you want in your career. And to do this, you have to be honest with yourself. Boldt confesses:
In my work as a career consultant, I have observed that men, especially, have difficulty admitting that their work life is not working for them. They endeavor to conform to the cultural stereotype of the macho man—the strong, silent type who has everything under control. They try to uphold the illusion that they have it all together, even though on the inside they may be falling apart. (This may be one reason why suicide rates are so much higher for / men).
Women generally seem more willing to acknowledge their pain. Among the men who seek my services, I see three general categories: young men or sensitive types who are not invested in the stereotype, those who come at the urging of their wives or lovers, or those who have already achieved considerable financial success. /35-36
You may think this is not the quick-fix career book you were searching for? Yes, right, it’s not, and that’s why it’s a good book. After all, you can win a million in the casino, tomorrow night. And what are you going to do with the money?
What touched me very deeply is what Boldt conveyed about his younger years, and how it came about that he embraced the career of a coach. He writes:
In my youth, I spent a portion of my spare time visiting the elderly in nursing homes. I was struck, time and again, by how many of these people expressed regret about things they had always wanted to do with their lives, but hadn’t. It wasn’t just that they had failed to achieve their dreams: they had never even worked at them. Many had secretly cherished an idea of something they wanted to do for twenty or thirty years or more, but had never taken even the first step./76
Can you imagine? Can you see yourself there? My grandmother, the day before she died in a hospital without being really sick, at the age of seventy-three, said that all she did in her life had been wrong. It was a shock for me. My grandmother was the only person of the whole extended family that I always respected, and who taught me so much, and who had a noble attitude that contrasted very strongly with the attitude of her four children. Why did she say this?
Later in life, through research on my family roots, I found the answer. She had a dream of something much greater than she had realized (and which was already great), but she had given up on that dream about twenty years before she died. That is probably why she died and did not live twenty years or thirty years longer. What my grandmother said on her death bed was true and not true at the same time. She was the person I had most admired in my young life, and for whom I would have testified to have done everything right in her life. But she saw herself differently, because she had much higher expectations of herself, and never had revealed those to us.
The lesson of this is that you have to communicate your expectations, without being afraid you are going to be ridiculed for your ambition. Life is a strange soup, our universe is a strange pudding, it’s all about communicating vision. Yes. If you keep it inside, it’s like a plant you put in a cellar and that can’t really grow because it lacks sunshine. When you tell people what you want, and if it’s the craziest idea in the world, you get that sunshine, even if they criticize it, then you get the sunshine in the form of anger, which is also a sun. But when you keep it inside, you bury it alive. And these elders, in the nursing homes, had done exactly that, they had buried their lives long before they themselves were buried, because they had buried their dreams:
The prevailing atmosphere of nursing homes I visited was one of profound sadness and regret. It was poignant to hear these people—many bedridden, some with trembling hands—tell their stories of regret./76
This experience touched the young Boldt so much that he took something like a vow, dedicating his life to not only help himself avoiding the denial trap, but helping others to avoid it, too:
Even more moving was the emphatic way they urged me, with all the strength and force they could muster, to follow my own dreams, not to allow what had happened to them to happen to me. Had this occurred once or twice, it would have made a strong impression, but its repetition left an indelible mark. I learned more about how to live from these people than from all the books I had ever read or classes I had ever taken. At that point, I determined not only to follow my own dreams but to dedicate my life to helping others, in whatever way I could, to avoid the fate that had befallen these poor souls./77
And here I will stop this review, primarily for respecting the author, as extensive quoting would need the permission of both author and publisher, and second because I think it’s good for you to pause a moment and reflect about death, old age, and generally, things coming to an end, taking this view as an inspiration for changing your life, changing your perspective of life, and changing your attitude. You have not a minute to waste, not a moment to lose, and not a second to chat just for passing your time.
Your time should be dedicated to your mission—all the time! That is what this book is telling you.