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Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  877 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Crossing the Unknown Sea is about reuniting the imagination with our day to day lives. It shows how poetry and practicality, far from being mutually exclusive, reinforce each other to give every aspect of our lives meaning and direction. For anyone who wants to deepen their connection to their life’s workor find out what their life’s work isthis book can help navigate th ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 2nd 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published 2001)
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May 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
I got perhaps one third of the way into this book and then took it back to the library -- because I knew I needed my own copy so I could write in the margins and underline Whyte's beautiful, insightful sentences.

I've been struggling with work for my entire adult life, and now, at age 45, I've been worried that I'll never find the place where vocation and income intersect. Whyte puts my personal fears in their larger context of the deep relationship of work to the rest of our lives, as well as th
Jonathan Biddle
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
"In work as in life, we must contemplate the loss of everything in order to know what we have to give; it is the essence of writing, the essence of working, the essence of living; an essence that we look for by hazarding our best gifts in the world, and in that perspective, all of use are young and have the possibilities of the young until our last breath goes out."

"A life's work is not a series of stepping-stones onto which we calmly place our feet, but more like an ocean crossing where there i
Ana-Maria Petre
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: finding_vocation
I've found several bites of wisdom that did not leave me disappointed. But the book could have been much shorter. So far, Whyte's poetry seems to be better than his prose.

Better yet, anyone with basic poetic intuition could probably just read his poems and understand everything that needs to be understood.
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is not a book one can read in a sitting. Plan on reading and re-reading many times if you are serious about revisiting just why you are doing the work you are currently doing. Also plan on having a pen/pencil with you for underlining.

Here's one of my favorite quotes about endless work tasks:

"When doing is followed immediately by doing, it can seem impossible or indulgent to celebrate any accomplishment. One set of good figures can be replaced by another on the company ledgers and the botto
May 14, 2016 added it
Shelves: finished
I must have underlined about half of the sentences in this book — so deep was my appreciation for what David Whyte has laid out for those of us, especially at midlife, who are beginning to ask more from our work and our lives. Highly recommended.
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommend to all the corporate and even just work world poets I know. I am on page 6 and feel like I'm flying, deep in poetry and prose and thinking of my whole life as a continuum.
Carolyn Francis
Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
David Whyte is described as a "corporate poet", which fascinates me. Hats off to anyone who has figured out how to entice the corporate sector into funding their poetry! I struggled to know what to make of this book. At times it descends into superficial self-help territory, but at other times it reads like a classic spirituality text, drawing on the poetry and literature of the Western canon (and some Eastern poets) rather than any traditional sacred text. My own grounding in Christian theology ...more
antoanela  safca
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
David Whyte spoke to me again with this book. I am by now quite a fan of his pace, his choice or words, his gently wondering and wise prose. It's not a career advice kind of book, but an invitation to soul searching and reflection. With some practical advice to make it seem less daunting. I read a library copy, but I feel the need to own my own copy. I can see myself picking it off the shelf, reading a couple of random pages and walking away with a most-welcome invitation to reflection.
Jul 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
As I was reading this, I kept asking myself, Why am I reading this? I found very little of value in this treatise on work and certainly could see the author's "pilgrimage", which had very little relation to my own work life. I think that much of Whyte's premise of "good work" and "firm persuasion" represents a pretty privileged viewpoint. I slogged through to the end because this book is for an assignment.
Glennys Egan
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Useful in light of all the burnout conversations recently. NOT a structural take on navigating the world of work (still gotta seize the means of production, etc.) but lots of advice in here on separating ourselves from our work, staying true to our values, acknowledging work and leadership not as individual pursuits but a product of the collective - something I find most self-help books are woefully terrible at.

For those of us privileged to consider making a living out of what we love, this is
John Stepper
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
A book best enjoyed slowly, in a quiet place where you can immerse yourself in it and let the language wash over you, one sentence at a time. It’s an homage to “good work” that makes us feel alive, a poetic perspective akin to “Shop craft as Soul Craft” or even “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Whyte’s wonderful storytelling makes the book come alive, rending it more personal and yet also more accessible.
Alyssa Foll
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a beautiful, meditative read on work and vocation. Whyte is a poet and that certainly comes through in his prose as well. I appreciate the depth of insight that he offers about work, especially the metaphor of work being a "conversation with the elements as a part of a sea-crossing."
Whyte has given me much to consider for the years ahead in my work.

Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Crossing The Unknown Sea, is a beautiful and intelligent book that needs be read slowly and savoured. A friend lent me her copy, and like other reviewers here I now want my own copy to re-read and highlight all the amazing quotes. It really spoke to me.
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I recently discovered that I love talking about work: other people's work, my work, anybody's work. Do they like their work? Love it? Hate it? Why? Did they land there accidentally or achieve their position on purpose, with great strategy and striving? Did they always dream of becoming what they are? How do they spend their days? What is their next goal? I could talk to anyone for hours about this topic.

So it comes as no surprise that I loved this book. David Whyte marries the subject of finding
Nov 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Not necessarily groundbreaking, but there are some wonderful ideas about work and life related rather succinctly and poetically. That it's all a balance of not only providing for one's family, but also playing one's part in the machines of business -- and neither of these mean handing over your soul. Whyte stresses the importance of creating something meaningful out of your work life. He's big on putting everything you are into your work, being the work -- which makes sense for someone in my lin ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is the sane response to things like "The Law of Attraction." David Whyte says that the larger forces of nature don't give a damn about your career agenda. It is our responsibility to put ourselves up to the edge of what's not controlled by us and allow that interaction, not our propped-up self esteem, to form our identities.
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is simply great. My only caveat is that you need to let this book find you. You'll know when it is the time to read it. If you start, and it instantly doesn't grab you. Don't force it. Put it down! And try again later - you will get pulled in immediately if you are meant to read this book at that point in time.
Vicky Griffith
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up, read-in-2016
I wanted so much to love this book -- the topic, the fact that the writer is a poet, even the title I love so much -- but I found myself re-reading the same passages over and over trying to get the cadence right.
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Couldn't finish it. It was a LOT of stories that were not ....interesting. Maybe I'll try again another day.
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I wasn't prepared for the intensity of poetic imagery used in this book (although I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me.) It's gorgeous, if at times a little over done. The images and stories certainly stick in your head.

I also wasn't prepared for how _male_ this book is. Adrienne Rich is the one that popped David Whyte to the top of my 'to read' list, but he didn't seem to read and admire her in return. I mean, I get that a big portion of this book is his personal experiences, but he present
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This thought-provoking book about work (as in, meaningful life work) and identity resonated deeply with me in my current life stage. David Whyte writes with a beautiful, lyrical style that can only come from a poet who is used to paying close attention to words. He incorporates story-telling (from his own life and others), poetry (his own and others), and musings to draw a painting of what work ultimately means to us human beings trying to live out our full potential. There were so many quotable ...more
Stephanie Thoma
May 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Whyte has a unique way of exploring the depths of work and why our wellness depends on it. It began a bit slow with personal stories and finished more strongly with a broader view of life, death and everything in between.

Expect a variety of thought provoking quotes featured throughout, both original from Whyte, and borrowed from others like Rilke.

Some of the concepts I appreciated:
- there's 'temporary power in leave taking and a more overt powerlessness of those left behind'
- the beauty in the
Oct 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
Crossing the unknown sea by David Whyte

I've read 27 pages of this book so far.

- Did not like the book
- Not interesting; not captivating; no learning
- Do not know for which target audience is it written; no purpose or learning coming out of this book so far
- Not well written (average language); flow of content is not good; many sentences sound redundant..repeating same things over and over.
- All living things on the planet work; the essence of why we work; our purpose, our attitude, our approach
Rick Killian
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Got this book a while ago on the suggestion of a friend and tore I to the first few chapters and loved it. Then it got a little muddled, but finished with a bang. I need to read the last essay again. Outstanding.

David Whyte crosses from poetry and its responsibility into the world most of us live in 5-days and 40+ hours a week and shows how the two need each other, especially if we want to take our souls with us to work. It’s not enough to do at work anymore, because it is also the place we do m
Alan Geygan
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is beautifully written and you can tell he is a poet. There are some very deep and impactful moments in this book, but it at times felt like a challenge to persevere long enough to find them. It’s a book worth writing in and highlighting, because those insights are beautiful and precise. I didn’t finish this book and have a profound revelation on work and my calling, but I do see the need to pause and step out to the edge of my comfort zone. Using his own story intertwined with poetry ...more
Rebecca Stuch
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: career
I am not sure how this ended up on my to read list and am grateful that it did. I really enjoyed the intersection of poetry and the career journey and found it a soothing read. I would read a chapter in the morning and let in sink in during the day. I was more entranced by the opening chapters of his journey, maybe because that is what I am reflecting on in my own life. I enjoyed the description about leadership and being a captain, it was a helpful reminder about being the captain in my own lif ...more
As one who has reflected and thought about work and vocation in its intersection with spirituality and life, this book is pretty amazing. As in his other works, Whyte creates a topography of our work as a journey or pilgrimage. He describes the boundaries and transitions of our work and the interdependence of our work with the world and its forces around us. The understanding of our work as an expression of our sense of purpose and how it continues to evolve and unfold is a theme throughout, in ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
i find myself using my Goodreads Reviews as a holding place for the great quotes from the books I read. Crossing the Unknown Sea is so full of goodness, i may find myself typing in the lot of it.

" human beings, we are the one part of creation that can refuse to be itself." (p. 7)

"Any life, and any life's work, is a hidden journey, a secret code, deciphered in fits and starts. The details only given truth by the whole, and the whole dependent on the detail." (p. 8)

"To have even the lead notio
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't own many books and I don't read many books twice but I returned this one to the library and ordered my own copy after I was done because I know I'll read it again. David Whyte writes one of the most important books about vocation and identity that I have ever read. He writes beautifully and intimately about who we are and how we ensure that we bring that person into our work and into the world. Buy it now and read it and treasure it.
Tamara Suttle
This is a beautiful book that explores self-expression, identity, and belonging through the lens of work. The author's writing is creative, thoughtful, evocative, and poetic.

This book would be a beautiful gift for a new graduate headed off into college, an adult preparing to enter retirement, and for those grappling with career advancement and / or stagnation, too.

One of my favorite reads in 2017!
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Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The author of seven books of poetry and three books of prose, David Whyte holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including living and working as a naturalist guide in th

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