September 3, 2012

Constructive encouragement for those with multiple interests

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just OneThe Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much workplace advice is based on becoming an “expert” in one’s field. But some of us don’t have the kind of single-minded devotion required to dedicate oneself to a single field for a lifetime. For years, I worried that my career was hampered by the odd personality bent that led me to pursue diverse hobbies or topics of study, sometimes for years on end, only to drop them later for something else. My jack-of-all-trades nature made single-mindedness impossible, but I sometimes regretted my lack of focus. I carved out a niche for myself as the newsroom factotum, but I felt I couldn’t be considered an “expert,” even at copyediting, because I lacked that single-mindedness.

Then I discovered this book.

Margaret Lobenstine has done us a great favor by giving us a reassuring label for our predilection. Being able to label one’s behavior is to increase one’s understanding of it. Better still, by collecting the stories of other Renaissance Souls -- people like Maya Angelou and Ken Burns -- Lobenstine reassures us that we’re not alone.

Reading this book, I discovered that I’m not odd. I’m not scatterbrained. I’m not a failure. I’m a Renaissance Soul.

Lobenstine proposes a continuum of interest, ranging from the single-minded pursuit of one art from an early age, as we see in Wolfgang Mozart, to the multitude of changing interests pursued throughout a lifetime, as we see in Benjamin Franklin. People will fall at different points along this interest continuum, and knowing where you are on it can help you design a career and a life that will be fulfilling.

Lobenstine gives us another helpful label: focal point. This is her term for any area of interest, regardless of whether it’s a job, a hobby, or a hobby you want to turn into a job. She outlines a variety of career paths, including options such as developing an umbrella title to embraces several interests -- writing, for example, can embody numerous topics -- and pursuing two careers simultaneously that complement one another -- such as banking and financial planning.

The book contains a number of exercises meant to help one identify one’s values and interests and prioritize them. These will be familiar if you’ve worked with a life coach or executive coach before, or if you’ve read life and career design books. But the attitude of this book -- the way it embraces the variety we crave -- distinguishes it from all other such books. Because this isn’t just about career design. It’s about designing a life around your interests and desires, with the understanding that those interests WILL change.

Lobenstine recommends picking four or five focal points to concentrate on in any season, while keeping a notebook filled with ideas for pursuing other interests you may wish to keep in store for the future. Then, when you feel you’ve exhausted your possibilities for one focal point, you can pull your notebook out and choose another to take its place. She offers a structure and plan for the kind of interest-shifting Renaissance Souls will do anyway.

But one of the best lessons I learned from this book is that expertise does not require exclusivity. It may take longer to develop -- In my case, it took ten years in a newsroom -- but that doesn’t make one any less an expert.

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  1. Aha. Seems as though we have something in common. I've delved into several different creative pursuits over the years. Currently, as you know, it's writing but not writing exclusively. Hence, my slow progress. I think I'll look into this book. Thanks, Kristin!

  2. You're welcome, Pat! I hope you'll enjoy this book as much as I did. :)