I know I can throw around the word “Magnum Opus” like it’s in the common vernacular.
Today I want to take a step back and explain what it is, so you don’t give me a “What is a Magnum Opus, what are you talking about?” look. And also so I can get it into the common vernacular.
(It’s so fetch.)
What is a Magnum Opus?
It comes from the Latin for “Great Work”.
Latin: magnum, neuter of magnus, great + opus, work.
In essence, it’s a person’s masterpiece, their crowning achievement. Typically, it’s used for an artist, musician, writer, or another creator, but even the most practical of practical people can have a Magnum Opus. You just have to look at it in another light. I like this definition from Wiktionary:
Magnum Opus: n. The best, most popular, or most renowned achievement of an author or artist, representing his major life effort.
“Representing [her] major life effort.”
Ahh, so lovely.
Even the most pragmatic among us can have that.
There’s more to creativity than being an artist, writer, or composer. You have to think creatively to solve problems, to get kids to go to bed, to be engaging on social media, to schedule your work day, and on and on. Engineers are creative. Scientists are creative. Nurses are creative. CEOs are creative. You don’t have to be a graphic designer. You just have to be alive.
— Holly O. 🎃 (@GirlAlchemy) October 29, 2016
So what is a Magnum Opus to the non-Leonardo da Vincis among us?
It’s the ultimate result of our greatest passion. It’s our legacy.
It can be anything from “write an NYT #1 bestseller” to “get my kids to 18 alive”. What is your passion? What do you want your legacy to be?
- Creator of abstract oil paintings so majestic they bring people to tears?
- Best parent in the universe?
- Rockstar who consistently defies the times?
- Classier Kim Kardashian? (I kid, I kid)
- Airline magnate who makes an entire airline carbon neutral?
Pick your passion. Pick your legacy. That’s your Magnum Opus.
Other ways to express Magnum Opus
I admit, Magnum Opus is a bit of a mouthful. Fortunately for all of us, there are plenty of other ways we can express this amazing concept. You may be more familiar with one of these:
- Great Work
- work of art
- seminal work
- master stroke
- crowning achievement
- the piece de resistance
- tour de force
- definitive work
- stroke of genius
Got anymore? Comment and I’ll add them to the list!
Why not just say Masterpiece?
Masterpiece is arguably the most familiar of the alternative forms of Magnum Opus, and we could easily just go with that. But let me try to convince you to stick with Magnum Opus. I promise there’s a good reason. Here’s why:
*puts geek hat on*
Can we just talk for a minute about how much I love Alchemy? Per Wikipedia:
You’ve probably heard the above before—that Alchemists tried to turn lead into gold and/or make the Elixir of Life from the Philosopher’s Stone. Maybe you even heard about those golems they tried to make. Records showing attempts at Alchemy go back at least to the first century when it was connected to Maria the Jewess (and for more super cool ancient women, check out Cleopatra the Alchemist, who invented the alembic, a derivative of which is still used today to make all those microbrews you drink).
These ancient Alchemists would sit in their laboratories burning things, heating stuff up, dissolving things, and recombining the ingredients, trying to find the magical recipe that would lead to gold, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone, and so on.
It all sounds like nonsense pseudoscience, right?
While people certainly did try to transmute lead into gold and find elixirs of eternal life—including Isaac Newton, and Paracelsus, they were also real scientists, who contributed to the science we know today—it was often a metaphor for inner transmutation: turning your inner lead into inner gold.
It was about transforming your spirit. Becoming the best person you’re capable of being.
That is something we all want.
And also, real, actual people have actually, really turned lead into gold. No joke. This ain’t magic, y’all. Okay, it takes a particle accelerator, so it’s not like you or I can do it, but it’s possible.
The Magnum Opus was what those ancient Alchemists worked for. The Great Work. They devoted their lives to achieving it. Maybe some of them actually achieved that other version of Alchemy, perhaps even more difficult: Inner Alchemy.
I want us all to find our own Inner Alchemy. Let’s all of us be Alchemists. Keep yourself in the mindset and reach for your Magnum Opus instead of your masterpiece. Make your entire life your Magnum Opus.
How could a Magnum Opus make your life more awesome?
One of my best friends from junior high onwards has been having something of a life crisis lately. He started and then quickly stopped online dating when he realized that he was looking for someone to fill a void in him that he should be able to first fill alone. Intuitive, isn’t he?
As we were talking about this, I asked him what he wanted, and he told me he just wanted to be happy. When I asked him what happy looked like, he said him with a partner, enjoying life. And then he quickly said, “But that goes back to needing another person to be happy,” which he didn’t want. He asked me how I was able to be happy with myself first so that I could be happy in a relationship. I told him about my driving force.
Yeah, my quest to reach my Magnum Opus.
Having something to work towards gives meaning and clarity to your life that you just can’t have without a passion. You can be content, yes, but to be truly fulfilled, you need something that pushes you forward. It gives you:
- a sense of purpose
- and so much more
What will your Magnum Opus be?
Do you know what your driving force is? I’d love to know!