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Love and Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life

Jasmine Gonzalez

April 07, 2022

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I hope, in writing this review, in doing what I can to “take this, all of it, and do something with it,” that the right person will find it at the time they need it most, that someone else’s galaxies will once again shine brightly, too.

Love and Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life by Marcus Buckingham, Harvard Business Review Press 

Hi, Marcus. I’m Jasmine, and I’m glad to have met you. 

It took me just two days to read your book from cover to cover. I could hardly put it down. I hugged the book close to my chest when I was done with it, because this is something I tend to do with the books I love the most. 

And yet, it’s taken me nearly two weeks to try and write this book review.  

Even with ample time to do so, trying to write this has been a struggle, and I’m veering close to my deadline now. I wouldn’t attribute it to writer’s block, necessarily—in fact, I have hundreds of words written out across at least six separate drafts. I have plenty of citations and sources and statistics that I’ve collected and tried to put together into a crisp mosaic of ideas. But none of these drafts have felt right to me. The process has been incredibly vexing—how is it taking me this long to write about something I thoroughly enjoyed?  

It is—and I am still in complete awe of this fact—my full-time job to read and review books like yours. I suppose I could just put my frustrations around writing this book review to rest by writing out something short and clinical and just-good-enough that could go up on our company website without making any waves. I could finally cross it off my to-do list and move on with my day. But I can’t do that.

In your book, you note that, “At work, according to the most recent data, less than 16 percent of us are fully engaged, with the rest of us just selling our time and our talent and getting compensated for our trouble.”

And for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—I now get to count myself as part of that fully engaged 16 percent. To write a review for the sake of taking it off my to-do list wouldn’t be fair to this book, nor to my work, and certainly not to my team of fellow reviewers, who I get to witness day in and day out pouring their own hearts into the work they do. If ever there was a time to phone it in—and I hope that day never comes—this is not the book review to do that with. 

It’s been gnawing at me that I need to say something about this book that conveys exactly how enraptured I felt when I was reading it—at times, moved to tears, even. You did say, after all, that reactions are “excellent raw material to help you understand the dent you are making in the world,” and so I’m here, writing a letter directly to you.

“I’m not going to be much help to you if I don’t share some of my own story,” you write in the early pages of the book. It seems appropriate for me to do the same here. 

You mentioned in the book that at twenty-nine, you were having panic attacks. 

At twenty-seven, I was burnt out.  

It was late fall, 2020, in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress of the pandemic was weighing on me, sure, but not as much as the psychological pain that was coming from my day-to-day work life.  

I was a textbook example of burnout at the time: I swung between feeling completely numb to breaking down in fits of rageful sobs for reasons I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t sleep. I was impatient. Everything irritated me. I functionally stopped showing up to my remote (and very well-paying) job, ignoring Slack messages and skipping all-hands Zoom meetings because I failed to see what the point of anything was anymore, and I was secretly hoping that I would just get fired so I could finally feel even an ounce of relief.

Anger was an emotion I’d rarely felt before, and now, I was just angry all the time. I didn’t recognize myself, just as you note that you once didn’t recognize yourself either:

[My] grinning expression is all surface, a happy mask, strapped on and held in place by the strings pulled taut around my neck. Who is that guy? I look at him now and he’s not me. His happiness is unconvincing. A happy hollow man.

Perhaps seeing how bad my mental decline was getting, my partner gave me a gift: the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book. The very assessment, I now know, that you had a hand in creating during your time at Gallup. It was originally a gift my partner had received from a close friend, but he must have intuited that in that moment, I needed it more than he did. So, on an afternoon when I probably should have been at least faking productivity at this job I hated, I decided to instead read the book and take the assessment. 

My top five strengths were Intellection, Futuristic, Connectedness, Input, and Learner. At first, those words meant nothing to me, but when I went in to read my detailed results, I was stunned. This combination of personality traits indicated (broadly) that I was someone who most enjoyed spending time in quiet solitude, reflecting on all the ideas zooming in my head. Four of the five strengths noted that I was best nourished by reading anything I could get my hands on: books, articles, et cetera.  

And it hit me in that moment that I could not remember the last book I had read. 

In fact, nearly everything about my life at the time was wrong. I was working what had somehow become a sales job for a tech startup, my days filled with back-to-back meetings and sales pitches for a product I had so little belief in that I started actively steering people away from it.  

Everyone on my team was expected to perform the same tasks in the same way, to hit all the same quotas, to prioritize not the needs of our clients but the metrics that would boost our bottom line. Several times, I had attempted to rewrite my own job description, showing the value I could bring to the company, offering to take up the more solitary, creative tasks that my extroverted peers were noticeably struggling with and that I excelled at. Each time, my proposals were denied, and I was instructed to just try harder to be more like the rest of my team. Each time, my spirit felt a little more crushed. 

In your book, you go beyond the concept of the data-driven StrengthsFinder assessment’s “talent DNA” and explore the idea of the Wyrd:  

[An] ancient Norse term, the idea that each person is born with a distinct spirit. This spirit is unique to you, and guides you to love some things and loathe others. Having a Wyrd doesn’t mean you don’t learn and grow during your life. It means simply that you will learn and grow the most when you’re in touch with this Wyrd and honor where it leads you. 

And this concept, as you note, goes beyond the purely spiritual—it’s scientific. We have one hundred billion neurons in our brains that link up to form a network of one hundred trillion unique connections. As you illustrate: 

How big a number is that? Since there are approximately four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and there are a thousand billions in one trillion, your brain has more connections within it than five thousand Milky Ways. 

That there is such an infinite number of variations across each individual human being shines light on how immensely ridiculous it is that we should all be asked to fit into the same molds, like we’re replacement pieces of some machine and not, in fact, absolute marvels just as we are. 

Of course, you feel the same way. In your own words: 

You were hired by organizations […] fixated on how full your "vessel" was and how much fuller—with skills, experiences, credentials—it could be. […] None of the above has anything to do with who you are on the inside. The uniqueness of what you love or loathe is beside the point. Instead, you are—from school on into the world of work—assessed against a set of models. You are judged not by how intelligently you’ve cultivated your unique loves, but by how closely you’ve matched the models. So, in truth, you won’t just get lost. You’ll get hidden—and by the very institutions that are supposed to reveal you. Little wonder we’re facing such an epidemic of lost people. 

We all, to some degree, engage in this gradual smothering of our Wyrd. As a child, I regularly carried stacks of books home from the library, finding endless joy in the company of imaginary characters and new ideas. As a teenager applying to college, I got accepted into creative writing programs across the country.

But then I changed my college major to political science because I thought it’d be a little more respectable and more lucrative, and I stuck with it even as I became disillusioned with the inner workings of American politics, even after an English professor of mine tried to convince me that I was meant to be a writer and that it wasn’t too late to return to that path. (To that professor’s credit, I did end up adding on a minor in Writing-Intensive English, proof perhaps that our Wyrd will always believe in us even when we fail to believe in it.) 

I shaped my adult career by pursuing the things I could or should do, rather than the things I loved to do. It was increasingly miserable, and yet, this is the experience most of us have. We’ve rarely, if ever, been told we can do otherwise. And while some of us are lucky to wake from this slumber, there are some that never will. 

Mercifully, just a few days after I got those StrengthsFinder results back, I got laid off from my job. And sure enough, I felt relieved. With the temporary safety net of a severance payout and pandemic-boosted unemployment benefits, I could use this unexpected gift of time to start finding myself again. 

I read—feasted on—so many books, feeling like I had years to make up for. My bookshelves, which had been woefully empty save for some old college textbooks I hadn’t gotten rid of, started to overflow with all the books I was collecting. I started up a small online book club and found new friends I could share my love of books with. I started writing a newsletter about these books, stretching out the writing muscles that had been dormant for years. 

And then one day, over a year after I’d gotten laid off from that terrible job, a new friend of mine reached out to say she’d been promoted at work, and her old job needed backfilling, and in her own words, “it would be amazing to work with you.”  

The company she worked for was Porchlight Book Company. 

Seriously. A book company. 

What are the odds? 

Well, you might argue that this, in fact, isn’t as unbelievable as it may seem, but simply a natural progression of events that were already in motion:  

To discover your Wyrd, trust in your loves. Trust that what you lean into, what makes you happy, what makes you feel in control, what brings you joy—trust that these little love signs are worth taking seriously, because each one, despite what anyone may tell you, is utterly unique to you. 

I didn’t, of course, set out to get myself recruited for a job at a book company when I was spending all that time reconnecting with my passion for books. I didn’t have any plans, other than to read and write and share my treasures with my friends. There were no ulterior motives. I was just doing what was making me happy.  

And yet, that’s exactly what brought me to this place. Here I am, spending my waking hours reading books and writing about them (and incredibly, getting paid to do all this), turning my loves into my work even before I’d come across that idea in your book.

“Your life, lived fully,” you write, “is the search for the strongest possible connection between what you feel—your loves—and what you give to others—your work.”  

There are so many parts of the book I want to cite, so many pages where I put down my little sticky notes so I could go back and revisit your words over and over again. But if I tried to summarize everything I loved about this book, I’d damn near be copying the entire book down word for word. I’ll leave those ideas for my fellow readers to discover on their own, in their own way. 

Near the end of the book, you tell the story of a film you worked on, where your lead actor accidentally looked into the camera, breaking the fourth wall, a mistake that inadvertently became the best part of the film: 

“Look.” He rewinds for the sixth time. “His eyes. They are saying, ‘Over to you.’” […] It’s the very last frame of the very last chapter of the film. His eyes were saying exactly that. We couldn’t have directed it more perfectly. He is handing it over to the viewer as if to say, “Take this, all of it, and do something with it.” 

Well, we are that part of the book together. I’m looking at you. Right at you, saying, “Over to you.”  

I realize, as I’m writing this, that this is why writing this book review has been weighing on me. This isn’t just about writing a review. I’ve been handed a responsibility. All these realizations, the knowledge from both my lived experiences and from your book that life can be so much better for all of us, I know it can’t all just stay here with me, just as you knew it couldn’t all just stay with you, either. To read this book and to then just keep my experiences to myself is to fail to make use of all that I can do, as a writer with a platform to do something more about it. 

I also struggled with this book review because there is still a part of me that just wants to write something safe, something that conforms to the norm. I still find myself thinking, I don’t want to reveal my Wyrd. After all, who out there takes their assignment to write a public book review and instead opts to turn it into a deeply vulnerable letter to an author that may never read it? 

But I think back to this passage, my favorite one in the book: 

Linger on this truth. You have galaxies within you. These galaxies will shine brightly for only your life span. And, upon your death, once they shine no more, nothing and no one will ever shine in quite the same way again. It’s overwhelming. What a responsibility. What an opportunity. What a gift your loves are to the rest of us. 

I know that there will be plenty of book reviews for Love and Work over the next few days, and I expect many of them will be positive, as they should be. But it’s not my job to write those book reviews—only to write my own. That’s my responsibility, my opportunity, and my gift. And in the end, it is my honor to praise your book in this way that only I could come up with, which no one else could ever replicate “in quite the same way.” 

This book meant so much to me. What you have given to others, Marcus—from the work you once did with Gallup to the work that went into writing this book—completely changed the course of my life for the better, even if I didn’t know it was you back then. Reading Love and Work, then, felt like a reunion with a dear friend. Perhaps, in a way, it is. 

I hope, in writing this review, in doing what I can to “take this, all of it, and do something with it,” that the right person will find it at the time they need it most, that someone else’s galaxies will once again shine brightly, too. 

At the very least, I know that’s what this book did for me. 

Thank you, Marcus. I’m glad to have met you. 

About The Author

Jasmine Gonzalez is the social media manager and editorial assistant for Porchlight Books. The youngest daughter of a high school history teacher and a local business leader, one of her earliest memories involves toddling over to the living room bookshelf and reading aloud all of the titles on the book spines. She’s been voraciously reading and writing in English and Spanish ever since. In her free time, you can find her cooking intricate recipes, playing video games on vintage consoles, and fulfilling her role as the very cool aunt that gives books and Rolling Stones vinyls as gifts. Yes, she would like to befriend your dog.

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