April 15, 2020

The Important Work For Each Moment

In his book, The Hot Hand, Ben Cohen tells a backstory of William Shakespeare that most of us knew nothing about. Of course, most of us know about Romeo and Juliet but what about the many other works by this poet and playwright? What Cohen fills us in on is the context in which this creative genius generated his work: the plague.

As Cohen tells it, Shakespeare's life was shaped from beginning to end by the impact of the plague on the world around him. While Shakespeare did not contract the disease and is rarely alluded to in his works, it impacted how he worked and what kind of work he conducted. In one season, extensive touring of the country limited his time to write but offered increased exposure to his work. In another season, something akin to quarantine measures provided him the opportunity to write a prolific amount.

The impact of our contemporary version of the plague will be extended. We are all a bit jarred (if not a lot) by the changes this pandemic has had on our daily lives. The changes will not likely stop for quite some time. As soon as we are adjusted to one routine, the impact of the coronavirus will force us to pivot towards new routines. Which is another way to say, for many of us our work will change from season to season as the ramifications of this disease play out on our health, our economics, our politics and our culture.

Maybe we can take some solace in that humans have faced such challenges before. And in the midst of such challenges humans, like Shakespeare, have generated important work. At times, it was important work for the moment, work for those that were directly in front of him–such as the times when Shakespeare and his troupe performed ceaselessly. At other times, it was important work for the long-term–penning works that are read and performed even to this day. Shakespeare took advantage of the crisis to create important work. Different work in different seasons but important in each season nonetheless.

Your work will change. It will have seasons in which certain work is important and other work will have to wait. This is okay. It's all important work. But it's important to be able to know which work is needed and possible right now. For most of us, one thing that is important about our work in this moment is staying home. But what opportunity does that open up for you?

An adapted excerpt on Shakespeare from Cohen's book was published a few weeks ago on Slate.

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