Why does my life matter? This is the question that Wes Moore tackles in his book, The Work. This week, I heard him recount, in person, how his mother continually threatened him with military school if he didn’t straighten up when he was growing up in Baltimore. And then one day, when he was thirteen years old, took him – to his surprise – to a military school in Pennsylvania. When he tried to run away (five times in four days), his mother told him that too many people believed in him, too many people had sacrificed for him to be there, and that sometimes, “it’s not about you”.
Although I’m not a widow with three children like Ms. Moore, I am a single mother of a child with special needs, and some of the mother-son exchanges struck a chord with me. As a parent, it’s those moments of tough love that are the hardest. And for our children, it can mark the beginning of self-reliance and true independence, although they may not recognize it at the time. At the time, they may hate you, or at least think they do.
The Work starts many years later when Moore is no longer a child, but a young man in his 20s. The narrative opens with his experience aboard a flight to London on “one of the first transatlantic flights granted airspace after the attacks of September 11, 2001.” A Rhodes scholarship recipient headed to Oxford University, he began his journey at that moment to understanding the difference between his occupation, or place of employment, and what he calls his work. Your work, says Moore, is “that place where your greatest gifts overlap with the world’s greatest needs.”
Your work is that place where your greatest gifts overlap with the world’s greatest needs. — Wes Moore
“No one has whispered in my ear how much time I have left,” Moore emphasizes. Making every day count, making his life matter, is part of his philosophy and driving energy. He also tells stories about the people who have crossed his path and impressed him with their passion, purpose, and gratitude for the opportunity to share their gifts. These are the ones “doing the work”.
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