Two Views On Life

While sipping my morning coffee, I stumbled upon an interesting article in my local newspaper. (Yes, some of us still read actual newsprint.)

The article was a reprint of an Op-Ed piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks entitled “Mapping Out the Life You Want to Live.”

In it, Mr. Brooks outlines two possible ways of thinking about one’s life:

The Well-Planned Life: find a clear purpose for your life, and make time each day to work towards creating tangible progress in upholding that purpose.  The Well-Planned Life is, well-thought-out, carefully “tweaked” along the way to fit into the overall purpose, and concluded with a feeling of achievement.

The Summoned Life: life isn’t a “project” to be completed but rather an “unknowable landscape” and decisions about what to do are based on the context of the situation. The Summoned Life recognizes that there are many unknown factors (illness, war, and economic factors) that may arise and therefore reshape one’s path.

Mr. Brooks summarizes the two outlooks in this way:

The person leading the Well-Planned Life emphasizes individual agency and asks, “Wh

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at should I do?” The person leading the Summoned Life emphasizes the context and asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do?”

As a woman in business, this essay really spoke to me.  So much of my “business” mindset gravitates toward the Well-Planned Life model: purpose, planning, goal-setting and so on. On the other hand, there were aspects of the Summoned Life model that drew me in as well.  Try as I might, I can’t boil my existence down to just one “purpose.” I wear many hats and fulfill a variety of purposes.

So, I look to my fellow Women of HR readers for discussion.

How is your life unfolding?  Is it flowing in the direction of the Well-Planned Life or the Summoned Life? And, how do the two mindsets influence how you show up at work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Photo credit iStock Photo


About the Author

Jennifer Miller

For 20+ years, Jennifer V. Miller has been helping professionals “master the people equation” to maximize their personal influence. A former HR generalist and training manager, she now advises executives on how to create positive, productive workplace environments. She is the founder and Managing Partner of SkillSource and blogs at The People Equation. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferVMiller.


Jennifer V. Miller


A great observation about the cultural implications of Well-Planned or Summoned! It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled internationally, but I too find that some cultures definitely view time in a different way than we Americans.

Lois Melbourne

I too spend a lot of time in the Well Planned Life. It comes from the need for control and CEO in me. However I find that I continually seek opportunity to create the Summoned Life. I believe that is what draws me to international travel where I am forced to experience new things and allow life to happen.

My mom used to tell me that I could never live next to a pond because the water would be too calm and I would always feel a need to splash rocks into the pond to create my own waves. I think that is the Summoned Life seeker within me.

Of course a child – 9 year old son – it certainly teaches you to lighten up. I think I have learned to plan enough that I can take full advantage of the events and changes that come along.

It works for us.


Jennifer V. Miller

Hello to Royale and Ann!

Royale, it sounds like you might benefit from reading Ann’s queries. . .some additional food for thought. And thanks, Ann for providing an alternative perspective on the word “purpose”.

Ann Farrell

And perhaps we can consider a second view on purpose!

I coach and come from a different view on purpose. What if we view purpose as a verb rather than a noun; a neighborhood versus a specific destination; an intention to create the biggest difference with our lives versus a specific plan to make that happen!

What if we live purposefully committed to truly understanding the unique gits that we have given, the value of the experiences and opportunities that have come our way and our sole purpose is to do the hard work to fully stand in these gifts – committed to doing the daily personal work to get out of our own way – so that we may re-purpose the full accumulation of who we are becoming in full service to others?

What if our single purpose is not to squander a single gift as we remain open to where and how our gifts can make the biggest difference in the world leveraging both our abilities for purposeful pursuit and for being open to the possibilites that we could never even see coming? What if that was your view? How might it impact how you view your great life and your great work?


Royale Scuderi

I subscribe almost exclusively to The Well-Planned Life theory. It serves me well and gives me direction and focus, but I have begun to think as of late that I may be missing out on what else life has to offer. I am at a loss as to what to do with myself when I have time to relax and I think some days my life has turned into one big schedule. I would like to find a way to combine the two a little bit and see how that works for me!

Jennifer V. Miller


What a lovely image– “turning over stones” to find opportunities. I, too, found that turning over the social media stone uncovered unexpected treasures.

Lyn Hoyt

Beautiful post. Why I love this blog. It is a point of meditation. To reflect on what others are doing and see if their ideas influence a “Summoned Life.” While the day-to-day list of tasks to complete are “Well-Planned” something may summon me to reorder the priority, add or take away from the plan. I certainly never imagined my career taking the path it is on now. Working with my husband and making business decisions that affect the growth of our company we often call it “turning over stones.” Some we choose to keep. Some we throw back. Others we treasure like a precious stone. When I turned over the social media stone and found this wonderful HR community; that is a stone I treasure.

When you are working for yourself you must be ready to be summoned. Then make well-planned goals that answer the summon!

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