Minnesota Lawyer
February 8, 2016

Living a Franchised Life

From time to time, all of us grow weary of trying to figure out who we are, and what we best do with our lives.  Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Summer Day, pointedly asks:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Of course, we can flee from such a question and dismiss it as merely poetic.

We can easily busy ourselves with the mundane tasks of everyday and the drama all around us.  We can focus on what others expect of us and do our best to meet and exceed the expectations of the workplace, our clients and colleagues.  In the meanwhile, the expectations of family and friends complicate matters even more.

The ironic truth is that the more we meet the expectations of others, the more is asked.  We are less ourselves, and more of what is expected of us.  We find ourselves living a franchised life. That is, it is as though we live our lives subject to a license which only permits us to show up in certain specific ways.  Our choices are few.  It is the distinction between owning a Burger King franchise and owning your own restaurant.  If we live our lives as though a franchisee, we don’t live a life of our own, by our own design.

Living a franchised life seems to have certain advantages.  In some sense, we are pack animals and there is a comfort in moving in that way.  With few choices to make, we can easily avoid responsibility for what we say or do.  We know what is expected of us and we are rewarded for doing things the “right” way.  Sometimes we see ourselves as a cog in a well-oiled machine.

Living in such a way, we often think that we’d be happier if only “they” were more considerate, better organized, or more talented.  All too easily we see ourselves as victims.  Others may see us as grumpy, resentful or too critical.  Compassion for others (and for us) is often in short supply.

In the meanwhile, life inevitably disrupts.  Individually, we may experience an illness, an auto accident, or a death.  On the national level, there may be a recession or the threat of a terrorist attack.  Other disruptions can be positive – a birth, a promotion, a major win or new client.  In such a moment, we often revisit the big questions that we haven’t thought much about, such as Mary Oliver’s query: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

From where I stand, the challenge and opportunity is to take the provocation of the disruption and step into the heat of the questions too seldom considered.  Identify wise people you know and seek their counsel.  Entertain the possibility of caring for self and others in ways that are generative and less depleting. Ask someone to be your companion along the way, to be your committed listener, guide and goad.  Day to day, you can and will fashion a life of your own, sustained by who and what you value.  You will contribute more and accomplish more, leveraging your individual skills and talents.  Time and again, I’ve seen client do just that.

As you go, remember the words of the psychologist, C. G. Jung:  “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”  That privilege will never belong to those for whom life is merely a franchise.