Defining, refining, creating, and redefining your “body of work”


I’d like to revisit a topic I wrote about in August 2009, the idea that we create a “body of work” in our lives that helps to define who we are and what our contributions are to the world. Here’s what I said back then:

Until recently, I’ve regarded the term “body of work” as being somewhat odd. It refers to an individual’s total output, or at least a substantial part of it. We often hear “body of work” invoked when assessing an individual’s creative, artistic, or athletic endeavors, as in looking at the career of a great musician, writer, or baseball player.

But I’ve come to realize that we all produce our own body of work, even if we are not famous artists or athletes. It may include work we are paid for, but it also may capture our contributions as parents, friends, caregivers, volunteers, and members of the community. For some, their “day job” of showing up to work or caring for their children may be complemented by starting a band, coaching a softball team, or singing in a community chorus. Taking into account all of these possibilities, our body of work represents our contributions to this world while we are a part of it.

I confess that turning 50 has been a prod for looking at life in this way. But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, if these notions were planted in us at a much earlier age — as opposed to more conventional ideas about success and achievement — our lives would be more meaningful and, quite possibly, the world would be a better place.

I’m happy to echo those words today. In addition, my current interest in this topic has been piqued by a recent book, Pamela Slim’s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013). Slim pitches her book in career development terms, saying that it “shows how to find the connections among diverse accomplishments, sell your story, and continually reinvent and relaunch your brand.” Having spent some time with it, I’d suggest that it also can help us think about our lives more holistically, starting with her definition of “body of work”:

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.

She adds, looking at this from a work perspective, that “(i)ndividuals who structure their careers around autonomy, mastery, and purpose will have a powerful body of work.”

Her point about careers is well taken, but I find myself more focused on her general definition of body of work. To me it’s a useful starting place for assessing where we are in our lives and where we would like to go. Being an educator, I’ll pose a couple of essay questions:

What is your body of work so far?

What do you want your body of work to look like when you’re done?



Related post

Last fall I pulled together a bunch of previous posts on themes related to this in “Roundup: On legacy work, transitions, and the march of time.” 

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill draws 58 sponsors and co-sponsors for the 2015-16 session

The re-filing of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) in Massachusetts has drawn 58 sponsors and co-sponsors in the state House and Senate. Rep. Ellen Story (a pioneering supporter of workplace anti-bullying legislation) and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan are the lead sponsors. The re-filed bill is House Bill No. 1771, and you may click here for the bill webpage on the Massachusetts legislative website.

This represents a significant sponsorship increase from previous legislative sessions. The HWB was introduced in Massachusetts by one sponsor in the 2009-10 session. This was followed by 13 HWB sponsors and co-sponsors in the 2011-12 session, and then up to 39 HWB sponsors and co-sponsors in the recently concluded 2013-14 session.

The growing support for the HWB is a testament to individuals who have asked their state legislators to sign on as co-sponsors and to advocacy groups that have given the bill their endorsements. We are grateful to the 58 legislators who are supporting this legislation:

Lead Sponsors

Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst)
Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster)


Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston)
Senator Sal N. DiDomenico (D-Everett)
Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton)
Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover)
Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester)
Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn)
Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow)
Rep. Bruce Ayers (D-Quincy)
Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton)
Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville)
Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose)
Rep. Gailanne Cariddi (D-North Adams)
Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn)
Rep. Angelo D’Emilia (D-Bridgewater)
Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge)
Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale (D-Fitchburg)
Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen)
Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead)
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield)
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester)
Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington)
Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham)
Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield)
Rep. Kenneth Gordon (D-Bedford)
Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset)
Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown)
Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton)
Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester)
Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton)
Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton)
Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington)
Rep. Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge)
Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester)
Rep. Brian Mannal (D-Barnstable)
Rep. Paul Mark (D-Peru)
Rep. Mathew Muratore (R-Plymouth)
Rep. Harold P. Naughton, Jr. (D-Clinton)
Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch (D-Wellesley)
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville)
Rep. Angelo Puppolo, Jr. (D-Springfield)
Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge)
Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston)
Rep. Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland)
Rep. John Scibak (D-South Hadley)
Rep. Alan Silvia (D-Fall River)
Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline)
Rep. Todd Smola (R-Warren)
Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield)
Rep. Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton)
Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke)
Rep. David Vieira (R-East Falmouth)
Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Framingham)

Helping workplace bullying targets get beyond rumination

“….what consumes your thoughts controls your life”

Creed, What If

I don’t listen to a lot of hard rock, but when I heard these lyrics from What If, a song about hatred, oppression, and vengefulness by the group Creed, I thought immediately about the experiences of many people who are dealing with severe workplace bullying.

Bullying targets often ruminate obsessively about their situations. In a piece for the Greater Good Science Center, therapist Linda Graham defines rumination as “thinking the same negative worrisome thoughts over and over again.” She continues:

Rumination usually doesn’t solve what we’re worried about and, in fact, leaves us more vulnerable to staying in a funk, even becoming depressed. Rumination makes our view of events, and our feelings about ourselves, worse.

Graham encourages her clients to engage in self-compassion, which includes “evoking a sense of kindness and care toward one’s self.” Her full article delves deeper into nurturing practices of self-compassion, and for those who want to learn more, it is well worth a click and read.

For some targets, self-compassion practices will prove helpful and healing. For others, however, it’s awfully hard to avoid dwelling upon the negatives. I frequently invoke the findings of a 2006 study by communications professors Sarah Tracy, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Jess Alberts, who found that bullying targets’ narratives of their experiences “were saturated with metaphors of beating, physical abuse, and death.” That’s a pretty dark place to be, and it is not uncommon.

As I’ve written before, we are still in the early stages of developing effective counseling, therapeutic, and coaching protocols for helping targets of workplace bullying. Too many practitioners remain unfamiliar with workplace bullying and its effects on individuals. Among other things, we need to enable those engaged in these helping modalities to help more people move out of that state of obsessive rumination and toward better places in their lives.

Related post

For more about the Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts study referenced above, see my 2009 post, “Workplace bullying as psychological torture.”


Lynne Shallcross, “Grown-up Bullying,” Counseling Today (2013) — Includes extensive commentary by therapist and coach Jessi Eden Brown, who for many years has been affiliated with the Workplace Bullying Institute and is one of the nation’s most experienced and knowledgeable practitioners in working with targets of workplace bullying.

Are you feelin’ the telepressure?

The other day, when I was in one of those half-asleep modes where your mind goes on a weird walk or two, I had an irrational fear: Will I ever be able to escape my e-mail inbox, or will it be with me always, wherever I go, no matter what I’m doing? I mean, what if I’m on vacation, sitting before the ocean, having to spend all my time typing furiously on my iPad responding to e-mails about work?

Okay, I’m not really into sitting at beaches anyway, but maybe my fears aren’t so irrational. In fact, my half-dream reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about telepressure, a term defined by Northern Illinois University (NIU) organizational psychologists Larissa Barber and Alecia Santuzzi as  “an urge to quickly respond to emails, texts and voicemails – regardless of whatever else is happening or whether one is even ‘at work.'”

In a feature posted by NIU, Dr. Barber — lead author (with Dr. Santuzzi) of a 2014 study on telepressure — explains what this means for our everyday lives:

“Workers who indicate they feel high levels of telepressure are more likely to report burnout, a feeling of being unfocused, health-related absenteeism and diminished sleep quality,” says NIU psychology professor Larissa Barber, lead author of a new study on workplace telepressure and its implications, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

“Over the past few decades, we’ve seen organizations increasingly rely on email or text messages for conducting business,” Barber says. “The main benefit is that employees have lots of flexibility about when they can work, including at home.

“But this flexibility can sometimes have unintended costs,” she adds. “Employees start to feel like they should be available and responsive to work requests at all times. This type of continuous connection does not allow people enough time to recover from work.”

So…does this resonate with you? If you want to learn more, Drs. Barber and Santuzzi discuss the ramifications of telepressure in this snappy two-minute video:

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