Review: The Renaissance Soul

Are you a W.A. Mozart or a Benjamin Franklin? In other words, do you like to dive deeply into one subject and give it all your attention, or are you more happy when you’re jumping from idea to idea?

That question is at the heart of Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul. And the subtitle of the book (Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One) is a good first clue if Lobenstine’s message will resonate with you.

Before getting too far into the review, it’s probably a good thing to set the stage. So (borrowing from the back cover):

Do you enjoy following a diverse and evolving set of interests? Do you get down on yourself for being a “jack of all trades and master of none”? Do you feel trapped by others’ expectations of you to stay in your current field forever? Do you feel envy when someone says, “I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do with my life?”

That description sounds very much like me, and so this review will be written from that perspective. If that sounds like you, then this review will probably make sense; if it doesn’t, you may have a harder time understanding exactly where I’m coming from. Just as I can’t understand how you can be wired to know what you want to “do with your life”, you may not be able to understand that I (and other “Renaissance Souls” aren’t wired the same way).

But don’t let that stop you… let’s get on with the review itself.

What’s It About

As I suggested above, The Renaissance Soul is basically a guidebook for people who (like me, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci, and a host of others) have so many passions and interests that choosing just one feels constraining.

Those of you who are familiar with Barbara Sher’s work will recognize “Renaissance Soul” as a synonym with Sher’s term “Scanner” — and they are in fact the same thing. In fact, Lobenstine makes reference to Sher’s work in her resources section as well as in some of her content.

The Renaissance Soul content itself is divided into five sections, intended by the author to provide a whole view of career and life design planning for the self-proclaimed Renaissance Soul. Starting from identifying yourself as such a Soul (and learning that there really is nothing wrong with you) through to learning how to model this personality for others like you (so they don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with them), Soul’s map covers the whole spectrum.

What is a Renaissance Soul

Lobenstine starts with a description of what exactly it means to be a Renaissance Soul. In the section entitled “Claiming Your Renaissance Soul,” she gives lots of examples of Renaissance Souls — the situations we find ourmselves in, the dilemmas we face, and she does a very good job of acknowledging that people in all walks of life and in all situations can be Renaissance Souls.

Some of the examples may seem a bit unrealistic to attain in our own lives (Benjamin Franklin being the biggest example), but it’s reassuring to know that if you’re a Renaissance Soul, there’s nothing wrong with you. Lobenstine also carefully points out that just because you have a variety of interests doesn’t mean that you automatically are a “genious” or more intelligent than anyone else — it doesn’t exclude the possibility, but being one isn’t a requirement.

That’s a good point to make, as it’d be easy to otherwise look at the classic examples of Renaissance Soul-“ness” (DaVinci comes to mind) and feel as though the book wasn’t really speaking to you. But Lobenstine is very careful to keep the definition very broad and welcoming, and it works.

How Does a Renaissance Soul Live?

The bulk of The Renaissance Soul centers around life- and career- design for Souls. In particular, she spends a good deal of time talking about identifying your Focus Points — interests and overreaching patterns of interests that draw you in at the moment — and finding ways to integrate those focus points into your everyday life.

Lobenstine dedicates a chapter to what she calls the “J-O-B” — a way to connect your goals and focus points into a career which brings them into alignment. You may feel that it’s impossible to bring all of your varied interests under one roof, but Lobenstine mentions many different techniques (such as the “umbrella”, in which you have one “J-O-B” that encompasses many areas: being a writer that writes about everything from Ancient Greece to emerging technologies, for example)

If you’re younger — high school or college age — Lobenstine has specific tricks on picking colleges and programs that can foster the … er… “Spirit” of the Renaissance Soul; if you don’t want to go back to school, there’s suggestions for that route as well.

One of the best sections in The Renaissance Soul is a short piece in which Lobenstine talks about perfectionism — it seems that for many Souls, perfectionism goes hand-in-hand. She notes,

What do you do if you’re a perfectionist as well as a Renaissance Soul? I learned long ago that it’s impossible to talk perfectionists out of perfectionism. A far better strategy for adapting to roadblocks created by this character trait is to learn how to become a perfect perfectionist — someone who knows when a task demands 100 percent perfection, when it calls for 75 percent perfection or 50 percent perfection, and when 25 percent perfection will do.

Even before reading about Lobenstine’s formula, this is something that I had found myself naturally starting to do, and let me tell you — it does make a big difference. Simply looking at something and asking if 100% perfection really is necessary can save a lot of headache.

Overall Thoughts

For some people, the notion of being a “Renaissance Soul” is foreign — societally, it’s seen as a bad thing, and such “souls” are called jack-of-all-trades’ or dilettantes. Where Lobenstine’s book shines is in showing Renaissance Souls that it is possible for them to find a place in this world which is targetted to “Mozarts.” Especially if you are looking to make a career move, or are just starting out in the career world, Lobenstine’s book offers some strong suggestions.

That being said, it’s not for everyone. Clearly, non-Renaissance-Souls won’t get as much out of the book. Apart from that, though, not all Souls are created equal. We don’t all function the same way — and as such, because Lobenstine often only offers one or two solutions, the suggested plan of attack just won’t resonate with all Renaissance Souls. For those that it does resonate with, it will really resonate.

I found myself actually falling a bit more on the side of “didn’t resonate”, to be honest. To me, this was especially true in the distinction that Lobenstine makes between Career Design and Life Design. Although early on, she acknowledges that “Renaissance Soul coaching … is not limited to career planning. It is about life design as well,” I found that for me the book was a bit heavy on the career planning side of things.

I personally think of career planning as an extension of life planning, and Lobenstine’s book almost put it the other way around: life planning read as an extension of career planning. Not that either is right or wrong in approach; it’s just a different approach that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.

Whatever the reason, the main points of the book just didn’t resonate with me (the “J-O-B” idea, the “Focus Points” description, etc.) — but at the same time, I recognize that the book does have huge ability to resonate with people. At times, I felt the book was a little thin on explanation, but I’m also acutely aware that it may just be that it just wasn’t suited to me; I’m not sure.

My Verdict

Ultimately, deciding whether this book is “for you” will rest on one major factor. If you struggle to know what to do with your life, simply because there are so many things you want to do, then give it a read. The writing is light and easy, and overall it’s a fairly quick read.

Personally, I felt as though Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! was a better overall read (it resonated more, and just felt better organized and more clearly written) — but I know people who have had the exact opposite feeling on the subject

At the very worse, you’ll feel as I did: a good read, but not quite right for you. At best, you’ll have found a book that shows you how to truly give your Soul a voice.

Either way, if you feel that you have too many passions to pick just one, I recommend giving The Renaissance Soul a look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *