Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Well-Planned -- or Summoned Lives?

Should you plan your life out in your 20s, like Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christiansen advocates? Or let it happen according to circumstance? David Brooks, in today's New York Times oped piece, presents the contrast:

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?”

Instead, I think the best answer is, like Dion says, "Both."

Reading Christiansen's lecture reveals that, when he was a Rhodes scholar, he dedicated an hour every day to "reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth." He says that a shocking number of HBS students have not contemplated their purpose in life.

People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.

Another Christiansen quote from this well-worth-reading essay:

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

Christiansen essentially teaches in parables: When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.

How to choose between the Well-Planned Life (which Brooks attributes to Christiansen) and the Summoned Life (a roll-with-the punches approach)? I would say you can do both. Think ahead what your moral, ethical, and religious guidelines are going to be. Then adapt and stay fast on your feet.