A recent column by David Brooks is a real thought stimulator. He illuminates two ways of thinking about your life, that are described by Clayton Christensen who is a professor at the Harvard Business School.
The first is what you might call the Well-Planned Life. Once you have come up with an overall purpose, you have to make decisions about allocating your time, energy and talent. Christensen notes that people with a high need for achievement commonly misallocate their resources. If they have a spare half-hour, they devote it to things that will yield tangible and near-term accomplishments. These almost invariably involve something at work — closing a sale, finishing a paper.
“In contrast,” he adds, “investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. ... It’s not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, ‘I raised a good son or a good daughter.’ ” As a result, the things that are most important often get short shrift.
The second way of thinking about your life might be called the Summoned Life. This mode of thinking starts from an entirely different perspective. 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 most important features of the human landscape are commitments that precede choice — commitments to family, nation, faith or some cause. These commitments defy the logic of cost and benefit, investment and return. The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency, and asks, “What should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context, and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?”
AMS: Just some food for thought as we contemplate our lives and roles as parents and spouses.