Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity” as Want to Read:
Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  960 ratings  ·  128 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Crossing the Unknown Sea, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Crossing the Unknown Sea

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  960 ratings  ·  128 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
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. ...more
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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.

May 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
An insightful and comforting read for anyone unsure about what to do with their life. David Whyte weaves together poetry, observations, and practical wisdom to help you think deeper about how the work you do connects to your inner self, and how to develop a healthy relationship between the two. While certain parts may feel more applicable than others, the underlying themes of humanity and wholeheartedness are ones that everyone can benefit from spending some time thinking about.
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
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The first thing to say about Crossing the Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity is that it’s not actually about work. The second thing is, my God, what would it be, to be able to write as David Whyte does? Whyte’s lyricism infuses the pages with linguistic beauty that has to be experienced to be understood.

This book, you see, was supposed to be merely a distraction for me, an interlude between various histories of Southeast Asia, works of fiction by Vietnamese and Indonesian authors, tales – rea
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
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
Vicky Griffith
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2016, gave-up
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. ...more
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
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was ok
One benefit of reading this book was that it spurred me to think through my personal approach to work.

In my opinion, the author is only speaking certain subsection of society who have strong artistic/creative desires and are struggling to find meaning/purpose/satisfaction in their current job/profession/career.

The author has a number of hot takes in the book, making numerous large, sweeping statements without backing them up.

The author goes on a number of tangents that do not relate or really e
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up
  • Twilight of the Idols
  • Entering Hekate's Garden: The Magick, Medicine  Mystery of Plant Spirit Witchcraft
  • The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution
  • The UnAmericans
  • Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America
  • Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You
  • The Last Train to Key West
  • The Topeka School
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
  • Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design
  • Breaking Trail: Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks
  • Learning to Walk in the Dark
  • Little Pilgrim's Progress: From John Bunyan's Classic, SAMPLER
  • Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss
  • An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League, #1)
  • So Brave, Young, and Handsome
  • The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs (The Physick Book, #2)
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

News & Interviews

Secrets between siblings, grandparents with grievances, parents with problems. If you're looking for serious drama, check out these new...
1 likes · 1 comments
“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” 37 likes
“Desire demands only a constant attention to the unknown gravitational field which surrounds us and from which we can recharge ourselves every moment, as if breathing from the atmosphere of possibility itself. 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 is no path, only a heading, a direction, which, of itself, is in conversation with the elements.” 26 likes
More quotes…