Beyond a Book Review: The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope

The second nonfiction book I read after returning from Asia. I’ve been lucky with three amazing choices over the past few months–here was the first.

I waited to write about The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope because every time I thought about revealing its work in my life over the past few months, something held me back. A little voice kept saying: “There’s more to come.” Trusting in this book helped me overcome an obstacle that has plagued me especially in the past three years: the job search.

With “Work” in the title, I didn’t want to read this book. And yet when I returned to Toronto and renewed my job search, I felt it was time to take as much advice as possible.

What I found wasn’t job advice, career guidance, or anything temporary like that. I found a contemporary explanation of the Bhagavad Gita. I found answers to why I’d felt such paralyzing doubt for the past year.

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I rediscovered Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Many of Cope’s examples of individuals who had the courage to follow their dharma inspired me, especially Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Ludwig van Beethoven (the subject of my very first oral report back in the second grade, funnily enough). But Robert Frost finally helped me unlock the confidence to follow my own gut, my own inner voice, my God-given dharma.

I first came across “The Road Not Taken” in high school. Though I’d already survived two seasons of Texas marching band and thrived in the second session poetry workshop at the Young Writer’s Workshop the summer before, when we read this poem in sophomore year English, a thrill of fear coursed through my veins. Looking at my high school classroom and my shy nature, I thought, “That’ll never be me.”

I was so afraid to be a sheep even though that at age sixteen that would have entirely opposed the core of my being. Quiet and unassuming, yes, but another member of the herd trampling down the road often taken? No.

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Just ignore the pillow case. That part I grew out of (mostly), but dancing joyously like no one is watching–that I will NEVER grow out of.

And returning to the poem now ten years later gives me powerful evidence.

How have I taken the “road not taken?”

  • studying abroad at Oxford, though many of my friends wouldn’t miss one semester of undergrad at Rice University
  • writing and earning productions for three of my plays (so far)
  • moving to Canada, sight unseen, for graduate school
  • living and working in Canada as an artist, a writer, a support for adults with intellectual disabilities

The list goes on (see here and here especially.)

In the past few months, it’s been hard to see it. Visiting Asia opened up my eyes. Writing a horror play about my old childhood fears and conquering helped me begin to see it. But Stephen Cope’s examples like Robert Frost have driven these points into the core of my being.

They have given me words to live by when my confidence begins to waver: Walk by faith, Trust in the gift, Think of the small as large, Let go of the fruits, Take yourself to Zero, and Turn it over to God.

And they’ve worked.

I took career refresher courses even though they felt repetitive and sucked up my pride. I listened, learned, and reached out to the world without desperation. I’m still terrified taking what feels to me like unknown territory, but I’m starting a new job in the next few weeks that’ll allow me to keep exploring what my day-time career, besides writing, will be in this life.

If you’re feeling doubt and cannot hear your own inner voice, I highly suggest reading The Great Work of Your Life. It could be the book you don’t want to read that will give you the greatest peace, once you take a deep breath and accept it.

Thanks to the other artist “black sheep” in the family for finding her dharma in teaching yoga and for passing on this book and so much more of her wisdom to me. And if you’re in NYC, check out her yoga classes.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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3 Responses to Beyond a Book Review: The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope

  1. Nancy Ingraham Sulc says:

    It is beautiful to see you risk taking and confidence flourish and blossom!

  2. Pingback: One Word 365: 2016 edition | gladlybeyondaustinausten

  3. I love “The Great Work of Your Life” and you’ve done a wonderful review of it. All of the best to you! Annie

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