Book Review: Diane Dreher's Your Personal Renaissance:
12 Steps to Finding Your Life's True Calling

Gloria De Gaetano

by Gloria DeGaetano, Founder, The Parent Coaching Institute and author of Parenting Well in a Media Age, winner of the 2007 Best Products i-Parenting Award.

Your Personal Renaissance supports an integral process of finding or refining clarity about what we want to do with our unique talents. Diane Dreher, the author of bestsellers such as The Tao of Personal Leadership and Inner Gardening has a knack for revealing her supportive heart in every word—encouragement and inspiration jump off the pages. Based on a combination of leading-edge research, practical steps for self-growth, and engaging stories about human creative capacity, the book provides guidance for culling out what really matters. It's perfect for recent college graduates and those of any age who wish to re-think their careers or dive more deeply into new creative ventures.

Dreher supports each of the Renaissance practices she discusses with current research from neuroscience, positive psychology, and vocation development. The reader moves through the practices in this order: Faith, Examen, Community, Contemplation, Creativity, Reading and Reflection, Exercise, Discipline and Dedication, always with an eye on what motivates and fulfills.

Dreher's love (and extensive research of over one hundred artists, scientists, scholars, etc. from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment) of interesting, creative people captivates the reader with the engaging narratives sprinkled about in each chapter. Who knew John Locke studied medicine, tried diplomacy, and was urged by friends to become a minister? If Locke had chosen any one of these paths, the Enlightenment may not have been so enlightening. But following "his calling to help people gain greater understanding," Locke became a philosopher—not the expected choice, and probably the most unpopular choice, but the one he wanted—lucky for anyone interested in democracy. Most of Dreher's stories about multi-talented people of the past contain surprising facts—so the book serves as an interesting history lesson, as well as an intelligent self-help guide.

Because it can be a scary revelation to find out just what Spirit calls us to do, it's comforting to have a kind companion such as Diane Dreher with us on this journey. Her personal stories are mini-pep talks of encouragement and affirmation.

About her friends: "My friend Carol Flinders wrote her book Enduring Lives about four contemporary women of faith: Etty Hillesum, Jane Goodall, Sr. Helen Prejean, and Tenzin Palmo, all of whom posses what she calls a 'very powerful interior life,' making them compelling spiritual models for our time."

About her with her friends: "My latest friendship circle came together at our local high school track…I go there for regular workouts…. Combining our workouts with insights from neuroscience, psychology, art, and music, we support each other in everything from life's mountains and valleys to our current creative projects, always energized by our time together."

About her husband: "Great accomplishments always begin with small steps. My husband, Bob, began running two or three miles around the neighborhood, gradually building up to four miles. Then he ran six miles with his friend Milo, and longer distances with new friends Terry, Dave, Patti, and Sandy, increasing his workouts to eight or ten miles. He read books on marathon training, developing stamina by running six-to ten miles four days a week…In 1987 he ran his first marathon…"

About her and her husband: "Last summer, as Bob and I enjoyed a picnic dinner before the performance, we decided to make an annual donation to this festival that brings such joy to our community."

About herself: Dreher shares several events in her life, including a precious story about how she came to study Renaissance literature, ending the tale with, "Books, libraries, journeys, discoveries—these are some of my personal themes. Now it's time to look for yours."

Personalizing the book in this way makes it inviting to read. You really feel like you are sitting down and talking with an old friend who knows you well and wants the best for you. Why, even the notes/references pages are written to the reader, giving little-known Web sites to look up and additional articles or books for further reading.

Dreher shows us how our personal choices contribute to the greater good. Here again, she uses interesting examples to highlight the importance of deeply listening to our inner nudges no matter where they may lead us, not only for our own gain, but for the world's benefit, as well. A central message of the book is: Contribution to the greater whole magnifies the meaning of our lives. Perhaps that's key to understanding the purpose of one's life purpose? Dreher tell us St. Teresa of Avila "reminded people 'to take care that they do not hide their talent; for it may be that God has chosen them to be the edification of many others, especially in these days.' " "Being the edification to many others" usually isn't the central thought most of wake up with in the morning. This book allows us to take time to contemplate, recognize, and act upon our central part within the larger scheme of things.

At the end of each chapter, the reader finds several appropriate do-able activities for practicing the chapter concepts. As the reader makes progress, Dreher is there along the way with congratulations and affirmations. She applauds each step, because right up front in the Introduction she lets us know "one powerful secret:" "Small actions over time produce monumental results." She knows and practices this "secret" well.

Throughout Your Personal Renaissance mentor extraordinaire, Diane Dreher shows us that it's our day to day choices, those seemingly "little things", that over time combine to bring about important positive changes—whether putting together a plan for improved personal health or launching a new career—taking our next necessary step is what a dynamic self-growth process is all about—the surest way to a personal Renaissance. And a most hopeful guidepost for society, as well.

Copyright © 2008, Gloria DeGaetano, all rights reserved.