We’ve been talking about the “joy” in living joyfully, so let’s dive right into why I find joy such a useful guide for building a personal body of work.
I love Pamela Slim’s description of a body of work—a bigger concept than a job or even a career—from her book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together:
Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created.
It’s an unschooling friendly perspective: everything counts.
We actively encourage and support our children as they follow their interests and choose the things they want to do, day in and day out. And as they get older, this doesn’t stop. Our unschooling lifestyle gives our children gobs of experience in understanding themselves, the environments in which they thrive, and in choosing the things they want to do, create, build etc. And joy continues to be as useful a guide in adulthood as it was in childhood. Of course, as an adult there are often more parameters to consider, like living expenses, but analyzing situations and making informed choices is something they’ve been doing for years. It’s second nature.
I want to take a moment to make a distinction: I consider joy to be different from passion. “Find your passion” is a common rally cry lately, but I think that can just as often derail a person, leaving them in limbo until they find “the one thing.” I don’t think there is only one “perfect job” out there for anyone, and that if you don’t find it, you’re doomed to a life of drudgery. I can find joy in so many things!
For me, right now, it’s writing. Here’s a little story. Recently I was hanging out at a gym—or more correctly, in the lounge at a gym. Michael and a couple of his friends were working on their acrobatics, and I was glancing up and down, sometimes enjoying their energy and skill, and sometimes reading a book about building a writing career (For Love or Money by Susan Kaye Quinn). And then I came across a section called Joyful Writing. I was excited!
Firstly, because a year or so ago I decided on and registered the domain name for my author website: writingjoyfully. While journaling at the time, I realized, again, that focusing on joy was key. (I haven’t built that site yet, but I’m getting there.)
And secondly, because I hadn’t yet come across a writer who spoke about the value of a joyful perspective and approach. So I was reading along and came across these nuggets:
When I was in a place of joyful happiness with my work, I was insanely productive. It was precisely when I let go of the productivity hamster wheel, that I soared through the clouds of creative productivity.
This affirms a core belief I have about creative work: that our best stuff comes when we are most in touch with the joy of the work itself. This is not to say writing isn’t hard: plot points will vex us; character motivations will resist us; and the very words themselves will torment us as they elude our grasp.
How cool is that?
Joy is valuable.
And it doesn’t imply minimal effort, either. When we freely choose what we do, when we follow our interests, we don’t “take the easy way out.” Over the years, unschooling children gain oodles of experience in the joy and satisfaction of pursuing challenging things that are meaningful to them. Effort and perseverance aren’t something to be avoided.
And as unschoolers get older, they more deeply understand that everything they do is a choice. They don’t feel trapped by conventional expectations. Even if they choose something that appears conventional—like a part-time job or college—chances are they are approaching the situation from a completely different mindset. One where they understand why they choose to be there (not just because they’re expected to do it).
Maybe they take a “typical” teen job and enjoy saving or spending the income, depending on their goals. Maybe they take that low, or no, income apprenticeship and enjoy learning on the job and gaining experience. They have their own reasons for their choices. And they also know they can change their mind as circumstances or their needs change and choose to quit. They deeply understand that their life isn’t a laundry list of compulsory check-boxes. It is full of choice.
As parents, we’ve chosen the unschooling lifestyle for our family precisely because we now see these conventional expectations differently. We see the immense value in being free to choose our actions.
Living joyfully is a mindset. It reminds us to get out of our own way and engage directly with whatever we’re doing: that’s where joy sits. Jobs and hobbies, interacting with others and quiet time alone—it’s all living.
And it’s your joyful body of work to build over a lifetime.
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The Search for Meaningful Work — As the principles of unschooling begin to spread into every nook and cranny of our lives, we discover the joy and power of making our own choices. Doing what is important to us, rather than what we’ve always been told to do, makes our actions feel so much more meaningful. We begin to ask those questions of all areas of our lives. Is what we are choosing to do with our lives meaningful? Does it bring us a sense of purpose?