I started excitedly nodding as soon as I started reading Pamela Slim’s ‘Body Of Work’. Her approach to her subject is like hitting the Zoom-Out button on the contemporary career landscape, and then zooming right in on the day-to-day tools required to navigate it. The result is a well-grounded argument for a new career paradigm, coupled with solid, practical and empathetic advice for employees, freelancers, business owners and corporations alike.
Slim explains that historically, a conventional career was vertical and constrictive. You entered a line of work and the only way to move was vertically. If you didn’t progress upward, you were failing, and a sideways move represented a failure.
In contrast, your body of work is a broad and complex story – an ever-evolving celebration of something that matters to you, and that you’re uniquely placed to support:
‘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… A body of work is big and deep and complex. It allows you to experiment and play and change and test.’
Slim argues that a ‘body of work’ is not just the most effective way to view your career in today’s work landscape, it’s the best and most flexible way to navigate the process of a developing career. It’s flexible, it’s grounded deep in the nuts and bolts of what makes you unique and valuable, and it focuses on the long game rather than the short gain, which liberates you from the angst attached to having to make the ‘right move, right now’. What's particularly impressive is the fact that Slim's ideas around creating a body of work apply to people and businesses of all types and stages; employees, startups, freelancers and even corporations, making them useful for anyone who picks up the book.
'Body of Work' outlines the eight specific steps involved in creating a body of work, which encompass both discovering pre-existing themes in your career and wider life, and envisioning and creating your impact on the world in the future. Chapters such as ‘Define Your Root’, ‘Choose Your Work Mode’, and ‘Surf The Fear’ are each dedicated to one of Slim’s eight steps, delving deep into the questions that will help you create your personal body of work.
Slim anchors her arguments in real-life stories from her own career and those of people she's met along her way (ranging from bestselling authors and musicians to stay-at-home mothers), and regularly references websites, tools and other books to help readers make the most of her ideas. It's this beautiful balance between big concepts and small actions that makes 'Body of Work' such a comprehensive pleasure to read.
The exercises offered within each chapter are broad and challenging. Some people may find the questions she asks us to consider ('What do you want to create'? 'Who do you want to help'? What drives you to act'?) too big to grapple with without further guidance, especially if you're at a total loss for what to do next with your career. However, whether or not you can articluate clear answers to them right now, questions such as these are important to consider for any career changer, and clearly offer compelling food for thought.
Recognise that you are the sole agent of your career
Where there used to be a clearly-defined career ladder to climb, it’s becoming increasingly unusual for people to stay in one job for more than a few years at a time. When you also consider that more and more companies are moving online and making use of global talent pools, it becomes clear that as a worker, you’re more and more on your own. It’s time to start relying on more than your CV.
“No one is looking out for your career any more. You must find meaning, locate opportunities, sell yourself, and plan for failure, calamity, and unexpected disasters. The new world of work requires a new lens and skill set to ensure career success.”
Broaden your conception of what you’re here to do
A ‘body of work’ encompasses anything and everything that you do in aid of the cause you’ve chosen to serve. By creating a body of work, you open up a previously unheard-of level of possibility and freedom:
“It will give you more freedom and clarity to choose different work options throughout your life, and you’ll be able to connect your diverse accomplishments, sell your story, and continually reinvent and relaunch your brand. You won’t have to say things like: ‘I am throwing away ten years of studying and practicing law if I start a yoga studio’”
Define success on your own terms
Your body of work is self-defined and self-created. As such, your definition of success must also come from within. Be very clear about what success looks like to you, and be conscious of ‘success dysmorphia’ creeping in and making you question your path:
“Success dysmorphia is viewing your success through someone else’s results and finding yourself feeling awkward, ugly, less then, and not quite on par with their accomplishments”
If your conception of success is aligned with your roots and your values, you’re on the right track.
Tell the right stories
Your body of work is defined by how you articulate your purpose in the world, and then by what steps you take to support it. How you talk about yourself (and to yourself) about what you do and why you do it is a major part of who you are, and therefore of your personal brand. Become conscious of the stories you tell.
“Every day, I see people with similar backgrounds and equivalent skills accomplish radically different results. One big reason for this is the story they tell themselves and others on a daily basis. The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of your stories. You must craft them well.”