Summoning Your Life

David Brooks writes this week in his op-ed The Summoned Self:

Life isn’t a project to be completed; it is an unknowable landscape to be explored. A 24-year-old can’t sit down and define the purpose of life in the manner of a school exercise because she is not yet deep enough into the landscape to know herself or her purpose. That young person — or any person — can’t see into the future to know what wars, loves, diseases and chances may loom. She may know concepts, like parenthood or old age, but she doesn’t really understand their meanings until she is engaged in them.

The Burt's Bees Business Model - look anything like your life?

People who think this way are very skeptical of using a business model to manage their lives, as if life is a project to be mapped out and boxes to be checked off.  In fairness, Brooks allows that there is more than one valid and meaningful way to manage one’s life.  But seeing the different perspectives in black and white, there was no question in my mind I am living a “summoned life” and have been for many years.

I have tremendous admiration for people who have earned their MBA degrees.  Some of my best friends have achieved this, and I even considered going for it myself once.  It’s a very practical degree and can make one quite wealthy if you know what to do with it.  The trouble is, I’ve seen too many people confuse their degree with their lives.  I seriously had one friend drawing diagrams of his relationship with his wife and calculating how to get the highest ROI (return on investment) out of their marriage.  This was shortly after attaining an MBA from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country.  And you would be correct: They are no longer married.  Business model FAIL#.

There are parts of life that respond well to planning.  And there are parts that don’t.  If you saw George Clooney in Up in the Air, you know what a brilliant job his character’s young protege Natalie Keener does of illustrating to a T the bloody collide of the Well-Planned Life with things she can’t control.  George has a couple of crashes himself. 

There is a balance to be had between trying to uber-manage our lives and being open to what unfolds, as it unfolds.  Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter very much which you prefer, it just is what it is.