Saturday, November 07, 2009

Your Personal Renaissance by Diane Dreher

Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to finding your life's true calling / Diane Dreher
Cambridge: Da Capo Press, c2008.
x, 276 p.

During this week of entertaining light reading, I also tried something a little different. I've had this book for a while now (I received it via Dreher's publicist) and have been feeling a bit guilty that I haven't said anything about it yet. I actually quite enjoyed it!

I don't read a lot of self-help but this one seemed unusual, and intriguing. It bases its ideas on elements of a Renaissance life. And I mean, really Renaissance -- Dreher, who has a PhD in Renaissance literature, takes elements from the lives of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and their crowd to illustrate how to improve our modern and more banal existences. As a fan of both Renaissance literature and history, I found that the comparisons to Renaissance life were useful for me. Dreher uses the 12 step template, giving us four steps with which to discern our true calling, and then eight more to put our calling into practice. Each chapter has exercises and quizzes to increase our knowledge of ourselves, and include many examples taken from Renaissance lives.

In brief, these are the Renaissance habits Dreher feels we could all benefit from in our search for our true calling, our desire to create a meaningful life and legacy:

  • Discovery: Realizing your joys and talents
  • Detachment: Clearing the path within
  • Discernment: Embracing your values, living with heart
  • Direction: Turn your ideals into action

Making it work:

  • Faith: Trusting your life and world
  • Daily Examen: Staying on course
  • Renaissance community: Gaining support from mentors and friends
  • Contemplation: Finding your inner oasis of peace
  • Creativity: Making your life a work of art
  • Reading and Reflection: Exploring new worlds within and without
  • Physical Exercise: Building strength and wisdom
  • Discipline and Dedication: Bringing your dreams to life

The organization of the book enhances its usability -- each chapter builds on the previous one to encourage the reader to continue the initial forward movement creating by discerning one's joys and talents. There are also tons of endnotes for each of the chapters, enabling much further research into the articles and websites she references. The index is also well done and very helpful, which isn't always the case with books in this area.

One of the parts I really enjoyed was the chapter on Reading and Reflection. Whew, I thought, at least I am getting one part of this right already! I like what she says about the power of reading to create momentum in life, to open our eyes to opportunity, to assist in our growth both personally and as a society. She says:

Reading can liberate your spirit and support your own personal Renaissance today. It can introduce you to other lives, like the people you're meeting in this book, and help you develop new skills and pathways for moving forward in your calling. Reading can also lead to reflection, revealing new insights about yourself and the patterns of your life.
I was also intrigued by the way Dreher includes physical exercise as part of this program. So often in books about digging out your real desires and longings for a life purpose, the focus is on a person's mental and emotional, and sometimes spiritual, aspects. But the physical is a part of the whole person, and to my chagrin I know that when I am not moving and feeling connected to my physical body, every area suffers. I appreciated her focus on all parts of a person's life, and on our interconnection with everyone around us, our responsibility to look outward as well as to our interior landscape. It was a balanced read, free of the easy solutions and clichés of some books in this field. The only difficulty I had was that quite a few of the questions in the early chapters focused on recalling the hopes and dreams you had in childhood, seemingly a common approach in books such as this. My problem is that I really don't remember much about childhood at all, no matter how much I think about it, so I never find these exercises very helpful. But that's just me; or does anyone else have only vague recollections of this era of their lives?

This book caught my attention more than I had anticipated, and I am going to reread it and try a few of the exercises. I think it would be useful for anyone interested in exploring what it is they really want to do, or those at the beginning of their work lives who might need a little inspiration about which direction to take. I enjoyed her approach and her obvious knowledge of the subjects of this book, both the Renaissance and positive psychology.

You can read an excerpt at her website if you'd like to get a taste of her writing style.


  1. This actually sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review. :)

  2. Kailana - yay, glad it appeals to you. It's readily available (in my library, anyhow!) and is worth looking through.

  3. This does sound like a very lovely and enriching book. I'm always interested in creativity, and incorporating more art into my life. I like the idea of becoming a Renaissance Woman.

    My problem is that I'm such a different person now than when I was a child. I have childhood memories of course, but I live very much in the present day.


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