direct the individual towards a materialist approach on everyday life and experience. More and more often people are motivated in choosing their work by material and financial gain rather than by the inner satisfaction that work should bring about. “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity” by David Whyte provides an interesting and captivating description of the actual thrive that should stand as cornerstone in choosing the work we do, be it in everyday life or as lifetime experiencing, in achieving one’s calling and in finding that inner satisfaction that needs to motivate our action. His view on the matter is that the work that we engage ourselves in represents the identity people project in life. However, that work should be the result of genuine motivation and meaningful choices rather than material gain.
One of the main points provided by Whyte is related to the role imagination has in improving our day-to-day life. More precisely, the life as we have come to live it in a century of technology, fast pace standards, lacks the imagination our ancestors benefited from centuries ago. This is often the result of a standardization of life, of the huge improvements modern technology has brought about, as well as the evolving reality that is constantly changing. For instance, poetry reading is no longer considered as one of the practices that delight the young generation, whereas in the age of Emily Dickinson for example, poetry reading was a rewarding social experience. This is not to say that the society regressed, but that such pleasures have been replaced with modern activities, with a less sense of cultural input. This perspective can be applied to work as well. In this sense, the British poet stresses in the beginning that “Work is a very serious matter in almost all respects, whether it is work in the shelter of our home or work in the big, wide, dangerous world. Through work, human beings earn for themselves and their families, make a difficult world habitable, and with imagination, create some meaning from what they do and how they do it.” (Whyte, 2002) The role of imagination in this case is crucial in improving one’s life. It is essential in providing a sense of greater good and of fulfillment in achieving one’s work.
Another point made by the British poet refers to the fulfillment that one must have it its work. That is to say that a need for motivation is essential and a sense of a larger horizon is always important when doing something. As he does throughout his book, Whyte offers multiple examples from artists such as William Blake. In this sense, the author points out “We do feel, when we have work that is challenging and enlarging and that seems to be doing something for others, as if, in Blake’s words, we could move mountains, as if we could call the world home; and for a while, in our imaginations, no matter the small size of our apartment, we dwell in a spacious house with endless horizons.” (Whyte, 2002)
One of the most important achievements of this book is not necessarily the artistic retrospect of William Blake’s work for instance, but rather the questions that are set forth by the content of points being made with the help of Blake’s citations. More precisely, “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity” offers the opportunity for the reader to ask questions over its own identity, its role in the greater universe, and the benefits its work can ensure for the community. In this sense, a relevant passage from the book points out “Showing up for work is difficult. You would think not showing up would be impossible for living, breathing human beings, but we know enough of ourselves on a bleak Monday morning, or certain co-workers of a bad day, to realize that as human beings, we are the one part of creation that can refuse to be itself. Our bodies can be present in our work, but our hearts, minds, and imaginations can be placed firmly in neutral or engaged elsewhere.” (Whyte, 2002) Our work must and should be an expression of our greater self-identity and of accomplishment.
Whyte’s work is significant for the way in which he focuses on issues such as work, satisfaction, fulfillment, life and imagination as a sea voyage. In fact, he points to the idea that life in itself represents a voyage that needs to be taken with the spirit and dedication. “Gracefully using the metaphor of a sea voyage to depict the journey through the world of work, Whyte views work not only as a means of support, but as a means for interacting with the world and developing self-expression and identity. While he draws on the philosophical underpinnings of the self-help movement aimed at finding one’s “inner compass,” Whyte doesn’t offer the step-by-step pragmatism of other books. Instead, his approach is subtler and more organic, presenting an abundance of provocative ideas, especially on one’s relationship with time and daily ritual, on the importance of dignity and ethics and on honoring the labor of one’s ancestors.”(Publisher Weekly, 2001)
Overall, “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity” points out several important questions that each and everyone of us should, at one point in time, ask ourselves and their answers should be guidance in our everyday life and in providing a larger and more inclusive perspective on life. The role of imagination and of passion are crucial in ensuring that the work we do defines our identity and offers meaning in shaping the world around us.
Publisher Weekly. “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity.” Reviews Publisher Weekly, Online edition. 2001. Available at http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-57322-178-8
Whyte, David. “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity.” New York: Penguin Group, 2002.
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