Leadership Library: If You Love Your Work, You'll (Happily) 'Die Empty'

A friend once told author Todd Henry that he thought the most valuable type of land in the world is a graveyard, because in it is “buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, unreconciled relationships and all of the other things people thought they would put off until tomorrow. One day, however, their tomorrows ran out.’’ 

It was this thought that led Henry to his latest book, Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day.

Henry starts the book with what it is definitely NOT about:

  • Get everything done today.
  • Live like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Follow your whims.

What this book IS about is the idea that your best work goes beyond checkmarks on a to-do list or how you make a living. If you’re looking for a different breed of career advice, or perhaps some inspiration about your job, you’ll find ideas here about identifying your deeper sense of purpose and working on the projects that really matter the most to you.

The book shows how doing your best work is about balancing the scale of passion versus expectations. It’s about taking a chance on making a difference today while being mindful of how your choices will impact tomorrow.

Die Empty is divided into three main sections: Why work matters, specific principles that will help you unleash your best work and practical strategies for applying these principles to every area of your life. Throughout the book are suggested daily checkpoint questions to help you improve your focus and manage your time better. Henry also uses lots of acronyms and alliterations to describe key concepts, which I actually appreciated. It helped me grasp and retain the important details. (Just like how we studied for exams at school, right?)

Henry talks about how we, as a human race, naturally form habits around rewarding activities, but he warns that this can become a dangerous path to mediocrity. He suggests people don’t strive or plan for mediocrity, it just happens. What we should all be striving for instead is a dedication to excellence and long-term success, which usually requires breaking away from our habits for the sake of growth. Henry wants us to understand how the lull of comfort can actually keep us from achieving our ambitions.

He shares what he calls “the 7 deadly sins of mediocrity” – aimlessness, boredom, comfort, delusion, ego, fear and guardedness – and discusses in detail how to avoid them by focusing on your ethics, your relationships and yourself.

He then defines the three major aspects of any kind of work – mapping, making and meshing – and how to balance all three to find that “sweet spot” of your fullest potential.

Your best work is about falling in love with the process, not just the end product. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.”

Says Henry, “Ultimately your life is measured by what you gave, not by what you received. Spend your life building a body of work you will be proud of. Plant seeds every day that will yield a harvest later, and engage each day with diligence. I believe you’re capable of more, and that your best work is still ahead of you. The cost of inaction is vast…don’t go to your grave with your best work inside you. Choose to die empty.”

Related Post

Book Review: Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek