The Summoned Self

This is a column about two ways of thinking about your life. The first is what you might call the Well-Planned Life. It was nicely described by Clayton Christensen in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, in an essay based on a recent commencement talk.

Christensen advised the students to invest a lot of time when they are young in finding a clear purpose for their lives....

Once you have come up with an overall purpose, he continues, you have to make decisions about allocating your time, energy and talent....

Christensen is a serious Christian.... But he combines a Christian spirit with business methodology. In plotting out a personal and spiritual life, he applies the models and theories he developed as a strategist. He emphasizes finding the right metrics, efficiently allocating resources and thinking about marginal costs.

When he is done, life comes to appear as a well-designed project, carefully conceived in the beginning, reviewed and adjusted along the way and brought toward a well-rounded fruition.

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....

Moreover, people who think in this mode are skeptical that business models can be applied to other realms of life. Business is about making choices that maximize utility. But 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?”.... What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?

- David Brooks, "The Summoned Self," New York Times Op-Ed, August 2, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/opinion/03brooks.html?emc=eta1



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