We tend to refer to the collective paintings by an artist or writings by an author as a body of work. And in doing so, we form opinions or project a value to their efforts. This exercise allows us to believe our conclusions are based on true substance.
While this practice is common, we also should have the courage to look in the mirror. Every day of our life, every decision or opportunity, every action or non-action, is a contribution to our personal body of work. We control the paintbrush, the keyboard and the outcome.
I value this concept more with each passing year. The lesson was underappreciated in my youth. I knew my actions were important, but I didn’t fully understand the world was keeping score.
Our society is an odd one. Material objects rule short term. Attractions tend to be glamorized, and the carcasses of bad decisions are left behind. Under the darkness of the past, we simply smile and move on.
But like any artist, our body of work is always there, available for the same scrutiny a film critic projects onto the film director. We are always on display. And our decisions will define us in the end.
One of the most unusual benefits of walking around with a head of gray hair is you increasingly see the world from a different vantage point. In this newfound scope, your life — or body of work — finds itself under a more introspective lens.
Suddenly, you realize you have nowhere to hide — nor did you ever. You recognize you were only kidding yourself to believe otherwise.
When we get to the latter stages of life, we begin creating our Greatest Hits album, one that we believe represents us most accurately to the world. An award by a local organization, a school record established back in high school or the story of when we played in a cover band one summer.
But in reality, these are not the pieces the most important people in our life will remember us for. No, the best tracks are hidden between the hits of life, the ones we believe no one noticed along the way.
The real body of work is the one resulting from who you are as a person. Your relationship with your spouse, your children, those whose lives you directly touch.
The world is full of materially successful people living alone in giant houses. Or maybe surrounded by people nodding yes to his or her every word, but they’ve not shared a conversation with their adult son or daughter in more than three years.
A family reunion to them is measured more by a headcount than an experience or making of a memory.
If, one day, someone looks over my body of work, I hope they see a good friend others could count on, a man crazy in love with his wife and a father who loved his family with all his heart. To me, that is a body of work worth being proud.