Turns out there are 2 ways…
English is sure a funny language. It is a blend of Anglo, Franco, Latin, Germanic stuff all smashed together. You have to feel sorry for people who learn it as a second language. There are so many bizarre exceptions that you “Just have to know”. Imagine trying to explain to an immigrant learning English who reads about a bizarre redneck accident: “It was on his way to the President’s address that he missed the right address and landed in the midst of the pond. All the musical instruments were in the back. But there was no way to console the driver while fish were swimming around his console. The striped bass inside the bass drum was comic relief.” Good luck. We won’t go further down the path wax for cars in Warsaw: Polish polish. Or the next layer of confusion where words spelled different sound the same. That going through this word phase shouldn’t faze you.
So enter the word “work”. When in the midst of drudgery, we use the phrase “this feels too much like work.” But make a trip to the art gallery and we remark “I love this artist’s work”. Same word, both imply effort, but one is negative and one is positive. That first use of the word work while in the context of taxing, non-fun, boring, tedium effort shows up in Latin as “labor”. Yep, just like in Spanish to those of you versed in that language. But the word “work” when we are talking about beautiful compositions of art on a wall is completely different. God bless those ancient Romans – they had a language that actually had some consistent structure! This other word for “work” you’ve likely heard before, you just don’t typically use it in your speaking and writing. If I gave you the clue “Mr. Holland’s O____” could you fill in the blank? Most of you immediately know the word is Opus. The word describing the creation of an artisan. The finished product. The symphony. The statue. The masterpiece.
So we ask you to consider the things you are putting your hands to. What are the things in your personal professional work world that are Labor? And which are Opus? If you are running around doing “labor” most of your professional life, your energy will inevitably wane, you will be tougher to get along with, and you are on the path to fizzling out. Seek out the things that are Opus for you. This is the sweet spot. Finding it may be a multi-year quest but it is where you will make the greatest difference on the planet. And as you someday look back and reflect on your life, isn’t that what it is all about. And if you are in a leadership role, have you ever considered that part of your duties besides overseeing the work, is to help your people find their life’s work? Yes, those are different Latin words and differing responsibilities for you. It might mean letting someone go because you can see that their work product is purely labor and you want them to find their Opus. And to replace them with someone who thinks that what your team is doing is their Opus. Meanwhile, I am going to see if there is a Latin word for “fizzling out”.
Keeping you sharp. The Whetstone.