Body of Work

Over the past handful of years I’ve thought a lot about not just my work, but the totality of the work I’ve ever done, am doing, and will do.

This is a different exercise than mulling over a single essay or podcast or book: it’s looking at each of these things in the context of all the essays, podcasts, books, talks, tweets—anything at all—I’ve ever made for publication, distribution, and ultimately consumption by other people.

It goes even further when I allow myself to take another step back.

My portfolio of work matters, but so do my other actions and activities. My pursuits beyond the things that allow me to pay rent and buy groceries.

Looking back, considering the whole, did I help people see or learn or do more than they might have otherwise?

Did I grow as a person in a way that demonstrated the potential and possibility of such growth? Did I do it in a way that was valuable for me, but also for others?

Did I, in general, leave people better than I found them (for some value of “better”)? Did I leave the world better than I found it, and bare-minimum did I do everything I could to avoid making it worse?

There are countless tangled threads in this larger, kinked and knotted knit of big-picture considerations and concerns.

Some people, I suspect, have latently lace-like life-braids that’re tight and smooth and effortlessly intricate. They intuitively know what they can contribute and how to apply those contributions beyond themselves.

But most of us need to regularly reassess, check our warp and weft for inconsistencies and imperfections, and decide which of these strands of effort and expenditure to adjust—to correct to the best of our ability—and which to further integrate into our design.

On a grand enough timescale it’s unlikely anything we do will be meaningful enough to be etched into monuments for our distant descendants (or successor-species) to remember and celebrate: that’s just the nature of eons and erosion.

We can nudge, and that nudging—combined with the nudges of others—can move mountains and reroute rivers. In this way we can do big, difficult (hopefully positive) things, even if our personal contributions are proportionally piddly.

At the human and even societal scales, though, we wield more potent powers. We can change lives and life-paths, and we can brighten someone’s day and top up their energy levels when they desperately need a boost.

The more we align our individual efforts, assessing our output as a textiled totality, calibrating our arsenal of oomph and creative capacity and our lifetime of interactions and inventiveness toward outcomes we believe will make things better, the more likely it is we’ll make a measurable, if modest difference.

And in some rare cases, we’ll find ourselves in the position to say or show the right things to the right person at the right time, directly or through our body of work.

At such moments, even the most humble purposeful effort can mean the world (far out of proportion to the exertion itself) to whomever is on the receiving end of it.

If you found some value in this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee :)

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