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Lifestyle: What Should I Do With My Life?

One of the key questions I see being asked in a wide variety of contexts is about lifestyle or, more specifically, "What is the style of life I wish to lead?" And the word style is becoming more closely connected with ideas about purpose, meaning, passion, vocation, integrity and value. The pursuit of this question often invokes the idea of a journey in which our authentic experiences of everyday living are placed under the lens of investigation. It brings us to the well-known metaphorical crossroads that heightens our perception and awareness of our own identity sometimes in stark contrast to the person we wish to be. This heightened sense of perception and awareness may be described, at least in part, as pattern recognition.

I was recently exploring the ideas of Paul Zane Pilzer, Johnnie Moore, Tony Goodson, Danish Ahmed, Michael Crichton, Po Bronson, Sharif Kahn and Rolf Potts and noticed an underlying pattern, at least, in my own imagination. In relation to these writers, I was reminded of Marshall McLuhan, James Burke and William Gibson. Perhaps I am imagining too much, but there seems to be a sense of convergence in their thoughts. This Pattern Recognition is also driven by another underlying sense that my own weblog contains numerous entries that lack connection even though they lie in wait. So I thought I would try a different kind of entry that made an attempt to bring together a sampling of readings in a single entry that forced me to try and identify patterns (whether successful or not)...

Sean Kearney sent me a copy of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition a while ago. Aside from the fact that it is an excellent and thought-provoking book, it also reminded me of Marshall McLuhan's probe in Understanding Media that, "information overload is an opportunity for pattern recognition." I agree with this idea, but it is also not too much to say that information overload is also an opportunity for scattered and incoherent thinking and doing. And as Richard Saul Wurman has described, there is the potential for Information Anxiety as well.

While I don't believe that information overload is a prerequisite (McLuhan spoke to us through probes, not answers and conclusions), pattern recognition is a core capacity in learning. James Burke eloquently demonstrates this style of thought in The Pinball Effect and The Knowledge Web.

  1. In The Wellness Revolution Paul Zane Pilzer describes a now well-known economic shift from the sickness industry (i.e. - an emphasis on health care as providing solutions to diseases) to the wellness industry (i.e. - an emphasis on health care as a means to promote wellness). The idea of wellness is quickly developing associations with other areas such as lifestyle, self-help, spirituality and soul. In other words, the idea of wellness is growing in terms of its reach. We are now seeing wellness companies such as USANA Health Sciences embrace wellness through network marketing and more recently the idea of lifestyle coaching.

    In fact, it is the possibility of lifestyle changes, in addition to potential financial gain, that is beginning to drive much of the network marketing industry. Quality, not of product but of process, remains questionable since there are essentially no generally accepted standards for an idea like lifestyle coaching. However, in an emerging market this is acceptable. So in a sense we've travelled from health to wellness to lifestyle. Unfortunately there still remains a vast ocean of network marketing junk out there vacuously promising easy fortunes, yet this is not different in kind from many traditional corporate approaches.

  2. Tony Goodson on ProposalSpeak [via Johnnie Moore] I related closely to what he was saying and I too have written proposalspeak. There was also a time in my life when I heard words like vision or visionary, empowerment and futurist and and the bogometer (bogometer - a trusted mental tool for recognizing superficial nonsense when you hear it) went off like a siren on a cold night. What Tony challenges is our use, or perhaps the rampant abuse of language. The benefit of language is that we can use words to help shape and communicate meaning with each other; the delusion of language is that we can use words to help shape and communicate meaning with each other.

    In contrast, Danish Ahmed explores word choice and human perception as a means to promote spiritual growth in A Dictionary of Distinctions. So part of the journey is closely tied to our positive use, and perhaps abuse, of language itself. To borrow a cheap metaphor, we have a need to re-wire our minds.

  3. Johnnie Moore quotes Michael Crichton's Travels:
    ""Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am. There is no mystery about why this should be so. Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes -- with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.

    I eventually realized that direct experience is the most valuable experience I can have. Western man is so surrounded by ideas, so bombarded with opinions, concepts, and information structures of all sorts, that is becomes difficult to experience anything without the intervening filter of these structures. And the natural world -- our traditional source of direct insights -- is rapidly disappearing. Modern city-dwellers cannot even see the stars at night. This humbling reminder of man's place in the greater scheme of things, which human beings formerly saw once every twenty-four hours, is denied to them. It's no wonder that people lose their bearings, that they lose track of who they really are, and what their lives are really about."

    The key phrase in the passage is, for me, direct experience. And this experience, as Crichton describes it, involves recapturing who we are and what are lives are really about. Contrast this with the important yet butchered question instilled in our youth, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Sadly, through no fault of their own, youthful answers usually take the form of a desired occupation. This is not surpirising since education maintains an obessive focus on workforce preparation rather than helping people to become fully human.

  4. Po Bronson comments on his book What Should I Do With My Life? at Spirituality.com. In his book and interview we find an interesting collection of stories that reveal authentic narratives about how people journey through life in order to seek out and attain a greater sense of purpose, meaning, passion, vocation, integrity and value in their own life.

  5. In Psychology of the Hero Soul Sharif Kahn has launched a new book that links lifestyle to the hero's journey. His idea is to capture the essential features of heroic lives and communicate them to us in a way that can potentially serve to inform and perhaps alter our own lives. This is an important continuation of the work of Joseph Campbell and is being pursued through the superb work being accomplished at the Joseph Campbell Foundation. It also closely related to What Should I Do With My Life?.

  6. Rolf Potts describes Vagabonding as: "taking time off from your normal life from six weeks, to four months, to two years to discover and experience the world on your own terms." This is quite literally a journey, and it's a wonderful idea. We often hear of students taking time away from their studies in order to "go and find themselves." This, I believe, is a perfectly healthy and intelligent reaction to the systems they find themselves immersed in. I also believe that is a healthy and sensible idea for adults to consider regardless of their own ties to work and career. There is also a sense of connection back to Michael Crichton's Travels.

  7. Recall David Whyte's essential book Crossing the Unknown Sea.

  8. Recall Viktor Frankl and his heroic insights in Man's Search For Meaning

  9. Recall Erik Weihenmayer and his heroic journey in Touch the Top of the World

  10. Recall Dan Eldon's thoughts on The Art of Life and The Journals of Dan Eldon

These patterns have a tendency to converge on questions about how we wish to live and ways of exploring new possibilities for living. Once we tear away the veneer of our education and the cultural systems (if we ever tear them away) we find ourselves in, we might be left standing naked in front of the question of our own identity. This is an wonderful but not entirely comfortable place to be. I have often heard learning referred to as a kind of journey, yet in an educational setting this metaphor is inappropriate since there is little sense of an authentic journey taking place through the mechanistic technologies of curriculum, instruction and assessment. It's more akin to, if I may borrow Tony Goodson's term, proposalspeak.

I wonder how much of our lives are built around proposalspeak? Learning can be inspiring and it can be painful as Dax-Devlon Ross wonderfully describes for us.


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