“I’ve talked about it long enough, now I have to write it. All that happened to me in that business. If I can write this memoir, I will have told people who I am,” said a former colleague of the main character in Philip Roth’s Everyman. He was dying of cancer.
Work does not encompass our entire life, but the choices we made in work, in large part, define who we are. Did we settle? Did we take risks? Did we respond to our setbacks with resilience, making the best of our circumstances, or did we respond with fear? Did we seek environments that reminded us of those from which we came? Did we embrace being part of an established group or did we create something of our own? Did we live day-to-day or embrace a larger vision of what we wanted our life to be and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it?
Many memoirs began with a detailed account of the storyteller’s origin, though the reader knows it’s the life of work where the writer’s life culminates. Even the memoir that focuses solely on childhood, such as Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, is full of her calling to come, a love of books and language. Childhood sets us on the path to adulthood; the way in which we spend most our adulthood, work, is where our legacy is made.
Those of us that dismiss work as something we only do during the day should look again.