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

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

by Margaret Lobenstine


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767920889
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/10/2006
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.53(h) x 1.03(d)

About the Author

MARGARET LOBENSTINE founded Alternative Approaches, a career and life-coaching business, fifteen years ago and has worked with more than five thousand clients. A Renaissance Soul herself, she has created three successful—but entirely different—businesses. She lives with her husband in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

The Renaissance Soul

By Margaret Lobenstine

Random House

Margaret Lobenstine
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0767920880

Chapter One


Renaissance Souls: Who You Are-and Who You're Not

When my sister told me about Renaissance Souls, I got so excited. But when I tried telling my partner this was why I don't finish all the projects I start, he just laughed and said I was lazy. And when I tried to tell my realtor friend Janet this was why I hadn't picked one field and stayed with it like she had, she said I didn't need a new name for myself, I just needed discipline. Are they right? How do I know I really am a Renaissance Soul?

-Tracy, twenty-five

Even if you've taken the quiz in the introduction and identified yourself as a Renaissance Soul, you probably still have some questions. Can I be a Renaissance Soul even though I'm not a genius like Leonardo da Vinci? What if I've successfully climbed one career ladder but still feel like a Renaissance Soul? You may also long to hear more about the characteristics you share with so many others, especially if you've experienced a lifetime of feeling different. Why do I have so many interests? you may wonder. Or even: Why do I still feel so alone? In this chapter, I'll take you on a journey deeper into the Renaissance Soul.

Amadeus Mozart . . . or Ben Franklin?

The Continuum of Interests

Amadeus Mozart
One Passionate Lifelong Interest

Benjamin Franklin
A Great Many Varied Interests

Picture a line representing the continuum of human interests. At one end, you have people like Mozart. To say that Mozart chose one interest and stuck with it is an understatement. He made his career choice at age three, when he begged for piano lessons and spent his playtime performing on make-believe musical instruments. And he continued to eat, breathe, and sleep music, playing for royal courts as a youngster and then composing his masterpieces practically up until the minute he died. Mozart would never have needed a self-help book or career workshop to pinpoint his interests and help him figure out what to do with his life. (He could have used one of my money-management workshops, but that's another story. . . .)

Now look at the other end of the spectrum. There, with his multitude of changing interests, stands Ben Franklin. (I warned you he was my favorite example!) Just for fun, let's imagine that Ben is alive today. How might his friends and family react to his revolving-door approach to careers? Having played his key role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, they might expect him to head for a tenured position at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. But what about his strange fascination with kite and key experiments? Fine, his wife might say. Why don't you go to MIT and pursue a nice stable career in science? But no, it turns out that Ben also wants to go abroad to study French culture and language! Okay, his friends suggest, he can work for the United Nations or Berlitz. But wait-he also has plans to design a post office, invent bifocals, and print his Poor Richard's Almanac! Looking at Ben's life this way reminds us that a life can look scattered and fragmented while it's unfolding but still go down in history as a smashing success. (This viewpoint can also help keep complaints from family and friends in perspective.)

In my workshops, I often use "Ben Franklin" as a kind of shorthand for the Renaissance Soul, because most people immediately understand him as a kind of goodwill ambassador for the multitalented. Afterward, people will often tell me of the moment during the workshop when they realized, "I'm not a weirdo-I'm a Ben Franklin." Their relief and pride are written on their faces.

Not every Renaissance Soul takes the concept of versatility quite as far as Ben Franklin did, though. Those people who are closer to the middle of the continuum often have a foot in both camps. Some, like my client Matt, may even have one foot on Mozart's side of the line. A brilliant Harvard Medical School graduate, Matt turned down the opportunity to work in one of Boston's high-pressured teaching hospitals for a far less remunerative rural family practice, because it allows him time to pursue his other passions. While Matt will be happy being a doctor all his life, he can't live without time for his horses, his softball team, his oboe playing, and his million different fix-it projects. Matt, too, is a Renaissance Soul.


You may find yourself more toward the middle of the continuum, or you might be jostling Ben Franklin for elbow room toward the end of the line. But what all Renaissance Souls have in common are the following three characteristics. Some Renaissance Souls demonstrate them more than others, but most will feel a warm sense of recognition and belonging upon reading this list.

Characteristic #1:
A Preference for Variety over Single-Minded Focus

The most obvious trait shared by Renaissance Souls is our love for variety over concentrating on just one thing. This doesn't mean that we can't concentrate on what we're doing! Quite the contrary-when we're working at peak performance, we are as absorbed and detail-oriented as neurosurgeons. (Which is a good thing for those Renaissance Souls who happen to be neurosurgeons.) But we do love variety, and there are many ways in which Renaissance Souls express that love.

Many Renaissance Souls pursue several interests simultaneously. Caroline, a client of mine, is both a professional clown and a Holocaust educator who gives talks on the lessons of Auschwitz. Mark, a college student, is majoring in economics and English with a minor in piano performance. Guess how my client Ellen combines her passions for urban history, commerce, textiles, and women's issues? She spends part of her time showing visitors from Europe the hidden joys of Atlanta and the rest of her time importing and selling handmade rugs from women's cooperatives in Turkey.

One particularly dynamic way to practice several interests at once is to combine them under one title-what I call an umbrella. Take Dan. When Dan set out to create a second career after running a successful restaurant, his wife suggested he get trained as a social worker. After all, she knew that Dan wanted to help troubled kids. When his friends heard that Dan dreamed of finally spending time rock climbing and white-water rafting, they suggested he start a business to take outdoor enthusiasts on wilderness trips. Did Dan choose between these two career tracks? No! Instead, he is now the happy owner of a beautiful camp in wild northern Maine, where he can share the outdoor activities he loves with paying customers and inner-city kids. (I'll come back to the subject of umbrellas later in the book, when you're ready for specific life-design strategies.)

Others pursue their varied interests on a rotating basis. Betsy, with her love of gardening and quilting and helping others, changes her activities with the seasons. During the winter she makes unusual baby quilts to sell over the Internet. In early spring she offers quilting workshops for seniors, using materials specially adapted with Velcro for arthritic hands. From late spring through early fall she has a position developing outdoor gardening and landscaping projects with prisoners. Come late fall she again gives quilting workshops for seniors.

Then there are Renaissance Souls who do just one thing at a time . . . until they move on to their next interest, so that each distinct passion reads like a chapter in a fascinating book. A Renaissance Soul I interviewed, Bob Lodie, is a great example. What are the chapters in his life? After seven years as an Air Force aviator, he became a sales executive for a Fortune 50 company. After about a decade, that lost its charm. So Bob spent the 1980s chasing sweat equity in the personal computing industry, moving from company to company. Currently, he's engaging his new love of speaking and writing as an executive at a corporation that provides planning and training tools to businesses worldwide.

As a Renaissance Soul, it doesn't matter much whether we engage in our multitude of interests simultaneously, on a rotating basis, or sequentially. What's important is that we honor our delight in variety, rather than forcing ourselves to choose just one thing. Our multi-interest way of life is the one we prefer, and it's one to which we're entitled.

Characteristic #2: A Working Style

That Emphasizes Growth and Evolution Insteadof Rigid Adherence to a Plan

Renaissance Souls tend to enjoy a working style that doesn't follow a linear, predictable process. We're not like career academics, for example, who relish the process of starting out in the college of liberal arts, then choosing an English major, narrowing that down to Elizabethan literature, narrowing that down to Shakespeare, narrowing that down to tragedy, narrowing that down to Romeo and Juliet, then narrowing that down to dialogue within Romeo and Juliet, until they can clearly define their doctoral thesis topic. What to them feels like a satisfying sense of narrowing in on one clear choice can feel to us like a straitjacket.

This don't-fence-me-in feeling can confuse friends and family, especially those who are smitten with a favorite technique of college advisors and career counselors: the five-year plan. In the five-year plan, you describe exactly where you'd like to be in five years and then outline specific actions you'll take to get there and a timetable for taking them. Now, Renaissance Souls are certainly capable of creating and executing a long-range plan, if one of our current enterprises requires it. But in general the Renaissance Soul chafes at being strapped down to a rigid set of long-term goals and actions.

Renaissance Souls much prefer a work process that's less restrictive, one that allows us to grow and evolve. We need lives and-yes-flexible plans that allow us to change direction and to respond eagerly to new possibilities. We enjoy stretching in directions we had no idea we'd turn. My client Katherine, for example, was growing a business that helped individuals and corporations record their histories. Then the tragic events of September 11, 2001, occurred, and like so many of us, Katherine felt a new call to help the victims. What is Katherine doing now? She's following that call by heading a national organization of volunteers who document the life stories of 9/11 victims. Instead of riding her first business down a fixed path for life, she let that experience evolve into an entirely new option when circumstances changed.

If I were to envision the Renaissance approach to life, the traditional career metaphors of a highway to follow or a mountain to climb wouldn't come to mind. The Renaissance approach to life looks more like a tree branching out in myriad directions, some branches overlapping, some intertwining, and some just finding their own merry ways to the sunlight.

This organic process applies to our daily activities as well. When given the choice, Renaissance Souls prefer to be governed by our own energy rather than by a schedule, calendar, or "to do" list. We may write down an activity in our planner, such as going to the library or doing research on Thursday morning. When Thursday comes, if we feel like doing research, we'll be dynamite at it. But should we not feel that energy, in two seconds flat we'll be out chatting up clients, developing a new system for our files, walking the dog, or doing any one of the other million and one things we find interesting and worthwhile. Even we may find this go-with-the-flow process frustrating at times. Nevertheless, it's a plain truth about how many Renaissance Souls operate.

Characteristic #3: A Sense of Success That's Defined by the Challenges We've Mastered, Instead of How Far Up the Ladder We've Climbed

You are probably already familiar with the learning curve, the graph that demonstrates how long it takes to master the new information and challenges that arise in any given situation. As you begin learning a task, you push your way up the learning curve's steep incline. Eventually, as you understand this new environment or task, the path begins to level. It's easier going now that you're over the hump, and you become more efficient and productive.

Most people dread the difficult time spent moving up the front end of the learning curve. Not the Renaissance Soul! We are most fully engaged when learning something new and discovering how it works. Because we love a good challenge, we tend to define success and completion differently from other people. Once we've mastered a particular problem, we're done-and ready for a different set of problems to solve. Jim, the construction-company owner from the Introduction, is an example of a Renaissance Soul who felt trapped by other people's definitions of success. Jim's family and peers felt that he should have been intoxicated by the rarefied air at the top of the business ladder, especially since those first few rungs had been difficult to climb. But to Jim, it was those first years of business that he looked back on most fondly, as a time when all his faculties were fully absorbed.

It's this love of new challenges that causes Renaissance Souls to opt for change-not continuation-in the face of success. What would most people do if they had a shoe store that, after years of grunt work and staff turnover and inventory mistakes, finally became highly profitable? They'd carry on. Maybe they'd relax into a routine with their current store, or perhaps develop a chain, with each new outlet looking much like the previous ones. But what about Renaissance Souls? The instantaneous response from my Renaissance Soul workshop participants is inevitably: "Sell! Do something else!" I often think that "been there, done that" is an expression we could have invented.

Some lucky Renaissance Souls come to this understanding early in their lives, before spending years in a career that has lost its luster. When my client Annie had her first session with me, she was a caterer with a stellar reputation and a profitably packed schedule. Her colleagues were encouraging her to cater bigger and bigger parties, or maybe open a carryout restaurant that sold her most popular dishes. To them, success was defined by continuity and expansion. But these scenarios left Annie feeling flat. Having figured out what to her were the hardest parts of the business (logistics, staffing, menu planning, and so on), she felt, well, done. The last thing she wanted was more of the same! What Annie craved now was the fresh adventure of travel, so she happily left the catering field to work internationally as a representative for a major dictionary publisher.

Not everyone will understand your desire to move on to new challenges. You can always remind these people of Leonardo da Vinci.


Excerpted from The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Here's one self-help book that is exactly as advertised, well thought out and offering sage advice..."

Boston Sunday Globe

“Can’t decide which life or career path is right for you? Maybe you don’t have to! In The Renaissance Soul, Margaret Lobenstine offers inspiration, advice, and practical tips for people with more than one burning passion.”

—Laurence Boldt, author of Zen and the Art of Making a Living

“I’m so grateful this book has finally been written! I need, my clients need, the world needs this incredibly helpful, practical, life-changing guidebook for those of us with a multitude of passions and aptitudes.  Please, get this book into the hands of every person you know who is a Renaissance Soul.  You could change their lives!”
—Jennifer Louden, author of Comfort Secrets for Busy Women and other books in the bestselling Comfort Book series

The Renaissance Soul will help highly innovative and creative people find ways to make their many dreams come true. I’ve already begun using its wonderful ideas and practices with clients.”
—M. J. Ryan, executive coach and author of The Happiness Makeover

“An intelligent and refreshingly innovative book that offers a multi-dimensional vision of vocation. It will help many on the road to creative career transformation.”
—E. H. Rick Jarow, author of Creating the Work You Love and Alchemy of Abundance

“Wow! Where was The Renaissance Soul when I needed it during my five career changes?  This is a fabulous guide for people who find themselves constantly tap dancing from job to job. Benjamin Franklin would be proud!”
–Julie Jansen, author of I Don’t  Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This 

“Sure to speak to Boomers and older people who have done many things well yet feel sidelined by a culture that rewards consistency and focus. Margaret Lobenstine makes the world safer for the multi-gifted of any age who are well-served by her wit and wisdom. Bravo!” 

–Marika and Howard Stone, co-authors of Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life

The Renaissance Soul is welcome news for individuals who just can't make up their mind 'what they want to be when they grow up!'  Career coach Margaret Lobenstine shows how you can have it all and create a structure for yourself that blends your many talents, abilities, and intelligences into one vital and satisfying lifestyle.”
–Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.  author of 7 Kinds of Smart:  Identifying and Discovering Your Multiple Intelligences
“Finally the multi-gifted have a champion. But anyone feeling that they only need a little sunshine in order to blossom will find this book bursting with light—it has all the creative and practical ideas they need for getting life on towards its purpose.”

 –Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child

 “With this long-overdue book, Margaret finally reveals that the constantly evolving people among us are actually the ones most equipped to thrive in a world where adaptability, creativity and emotional awareness are the qualities that make all the difference in career/life success. It's about time we acknowledged that the career track has been replaced by the career trampoline. As a career counselor and coach and former director of a career office working with people ages 18 to 80, I know that Lobenstine's message will be welcomed both by Renaissance souls searching for 21st century career advice and the professionals hoping to provide it.”
–Dr. Barbara Reinhold, author of Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free Agent Economy and former director, Smith College Office of Career Development
“For all the people who have a multiple of passions, this book’s for you. The life journey we take to answer to our own Self maybe different from the ‘norm.’ Margaret Lobenstine is a wise guide on that journey, offering help and inspiration as you develop fully into the Renaissance Soul that you are meant to be! This book will be a cherished traveling companion.”
–Marilyn Tam, Former President of Reebok Apparel & Accessories Group and international selling author of How to Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want

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The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally a book that reaches out to a part of socity that has been sadly mis-understood and overlooked! The Renaissance Soul is changing my life! I used think I was CRAZY now I see myself as a GENIUS! Margaret's approach is insightful and can be put into practical use immeadiatly!
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Dilettante¿, ¿disorganized¿, and ¿scattered¿ are just some of the negative labels that well-meaning people can (often accurately) chide us about. Some dub the behavior of those of us who have many talents and interests as a defect. The genius of this book is that it helps us hone this innate trait into a natural strength, rather than a weakness. I appreciated both her specific tips and her apt examples. Her news-you-can-use approach was immediately helpful to me. It¿s clear that the author has been coaching people (and herself) for some while on this life-affirming approach. It is a wise and fun read ¿ and a first-of-a-kind on this topic. As more boomers want to let loose for the next chapter of the adventure story they truly want for their lives, I can see them grabbing onto this book as a blue-print to explore, not the ¿should do¿ and the ¿should be¿ choices but blossoming into exploring some of their talents and interests that have previously lain dormant. Kare Anderson, author of SmartPartnering, LikeABILITY, Resolving Conflict Sooner, Getting What You Want, Walk Your Talk and Beauty Inside Out and publisher of the Say it Better newsletter
Guest More than 1 year ago
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A self-help book exploring the endless need for variety and love of finding new challenges experienced by some people. The book provides good insight into adding focus to the pursuits of a Renaissance soul. I plan to use some of the advice, but much of the advice I am already using as it is common sense. I suppose the best aspect of the book for me is knowing there are others out there like me.
seafarer on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I enjoyed this book because it seemed to describe my son so well. He is talented in so many ways and has so many interests, but can't work out a career. My son read the book and totally dismissed it, so it may just be most useful as a reminder to anxious parents that their children have to find their own paths.
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