Ken Carter: Single-minded people are unhappy

A new book about Peter Drucker shows we live best when we avidly pursue multiple interests.

“How’s your daughter doing in college?”

We passed each other, her coming and I going, at the local YMCA.

“She is doing well,” I responded. “She is playing for the volleyball team, and loves that, but of course she won’t make a living playing volleyball.”

“That’s fine. Most of us are more than what we do in our work. We are many things. It’s great that she is playing a sport.”

Her response was wise. It reminded me of a statement by Ron Heifetz in a lecture given at Duke Divinity School. Heifetz, a professor at Harvard and author of “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” was talking about resilience and evolution, thriving and adaptability. People who are most adaptive to change possess diverse traits. It’s like a diversified fund that can withstand an economic shock to the system. This is true too with identity. Think of the pastor who retires, but whose identity rests solely in his work. What does he do now? Or the mother whose child leaves for college. How does she live in the empty nest?

My friend had been right. Most of us are many things. I am a Christian, a pastor, a husband, a father. I love reading and music, travel and hiking, writing and exercise. I am at my most resilient when all of these factors are present in my life.

I recently came across Bruce Rosenstein’s wonderful book, "Living In More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life" (Berrett-Koehler). Drucker once said in an interview, “The -- I wouldn’t say happy people but satisfied, contented -- people I knew were more people that lived in more than one world. Those single minded people -- you meet them most in politics -- in the end are very unhappy people.” Living in more than one world allows us to meet a variety of people who enrich our lives. It prevents us from obsession with any one thing. We discover opportunities for development and learning in parallel pursuits than can then shape our professional leadership. We may discover that we are contributing to the world in ways that may not be possible in our employment (and here Drucker focused on voluntarism). If we live in more than one world, we are better able to withstand the inevitable setbacks and disappointments that occur in our lives.

I have long been fascinated with Drucker. He embodied the wisdom: he consulted with corporations and non-profits. He was a teacher and a writer. He collected Japanese Art and was an avid student of intellectual history and classical music.

In the fall of 2008 my wife and I were leading a retreat for a large adult class in our congregation. This weekend followed the turbulent week in which the stock market lost a significant portion of its value. Our city was the home of two of the major banks at the center of the financial storm. Class members had leadership roles in these banks. The angst in the gathering was palpable. Yet almost everyone showed up for the retreat. In hindsight, the community shared by that group helped sustain them as they adapted to the new circumstances. Over time that group played, served, studied and sacrificed together. They were bankers, attorneys and accountants, but they were also husbands and wives, lay leaders and volunteer board members, Sunday School teachers and golfers, friends and men and women of faith.

We are many things. When I live in worlds that have nothing to do with my vocation, I am a more interesting preacher. I notice the connection between, say, Rosanne Cash’s “The List” and a service in baptismal renewal service; a detour around a rock slide and through the Appalachian mountains represents the journey through Lent. But beyond the inevitable experiences that find their way into sermons, there is a deeper meaning.

To deny the multiple worlds in which we live is to turn in upon ourselves. To appreciate the diversity of life is to contemplate the gifts of God that surround and sustain us.

Ken Carter is senior pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.