The Art of Work is Jeff Goins’s personal challenge to “live a life that matters.” With an entire generation of millennials now coming of age, everyone’s on the lookout to market to us. We’re skeptical of traditional mass media and blending in, so we want “real” experiences, “genuine” memories, and “analog” tools. This is at least a lucrative market segment, which is the only reason Thomas Nelson picked this book up (oh, and millennials are also cynical).
Goins has a few good pieces of advice on writing (avoid his theology like the plague, however), so I had reasonable expectations for a decent book on career choice. Given the fact that I’m pretty much the exact target audience for the book, how bad could it be? Unfortunately, pretty bad. The Art of Work is heavily skewed towards creative fields, extremely self-focused, and lacks coverage of important life and career skills. Though Goins would say that any dream is worth pursuing, and while his examples are somewhat varied, the process outlined in the book would work best for someone like himself: a writer, or an artist, or some other creative. There’s less here about years of education and preparation, and more about forsaking preparation to jump off into the blue and pursue a dream.
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing dreams, and for the most part I was onboard with Goins’ section one: preparation. Life throws curveballs, and as you grow and mature you want to be making decisions that will lead you into a career that you can thrive in, and not just exist in. I don’t think anyone wants to be miserable at work, so Goins is picking low-hanging fruit here. Still, there’s not really harm in what he’s saying.
Parts two and three, on action and completion, are more problematic. Goins advocates leaping into what feels right, not being afraid to make pivots (changing your career a second or even third or fourth time), and mastering many skills in order to truly find what ‘fits’ you. But this kind of action seems more like frenetic technology startup mode than any sort of solid, proven path to building a lasting career. Goins even goes so far as to say the career is dead, and opens the door to permanent hopping around from pursuit to pursuit.
Yes, personal goals are important, but Goins has little to say about growing to love a job, or taking years to develop skills in a job. The process Goins outlines is self-centered, and throws out years of tradition and experience. I fear it will do little more than perpetuate the stereotype of the floating-around millennial who’s afraid of commitment. Other than a single chapter on mentorship, Goins has little to say about community input, such as from a school, church, or family. He has nothing on listening to counsel against making the decision — only striking out in spite of such counsel.
Sure, the stories are inspiring. But is this the best path to a fulfilling career? Is a me-centered, feelings-based approach really the best way to decide a career? Nothing Goins says is inherently wrong, but those who read it won’t always run with it in good directions. I’d even argue that Goins’ inspirational stories are more a product of good luck, rather than a foolproof process he has developed. The Art of Work is an ambitious book that’s largely a product of Goins’ generation (which is also my own) and will likely appeal to many. And while it may have a few things going for it — a lot of what Goins says sounds great on a dust jacket — this book fails to provide “a proven path to discovering what you were meant to do.”
His life advice sounds good, but doesn’t work well in real life — and the fact that Goins followed his dream and ended up writing such mediocre books casts doubt on his life advice — especially when other books do it so much better. I’d highly recommend N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living or John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life as much better examples of who-am-I-and-what-am-I-supposed-to-do books. Wilson focuses on humanity more broadly, and zeroes in on family specifically. John Piper looks specifically at broader ambitions and life goals, coming to very different conclusions than Goins.
Published on 15 May, 2015. Last updated on