Book Review: Let Your Life Speak


If you want to read a short, powerful book which leads to a bunch of different emotions, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer may be for you.  However, if your reaction is like mine, many of the emotions may not be positive. I wanted to like this book.  People I admire and respect LOVE this book and many times I can see why.  However, I'm sad to say, I'm just not a fan.

Still, there were some great nuggets and it's worth gleaning those insights.

Let's start with..

The good:

Palmer makes countless bold pronouncements and has some insights and tells some stories which are flat-out, show-stopping ideas which may rattle your cage.

For instance, he talks about his experience of trying to decide about taking a job as a University President and being conflicted about what to do.  He decides to go to a Quaker "clearness committee" where a group of people spend three hours asking "honest, open questions to help you discover your own inner truth."

What?  THREE hours?  Yikes.  This idea is both wildly intriguing and difficult to imagine. Still, I enjoyed the story and was intrigued by the ideas.  However, is "inner truth" really the best wisdom available to us?

I found myself questioning many of his statements.

I agreed with the idea, “Each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up.” 


I was similarly captivated by this concept:

Vocation at its deepest level is, 'This is something I can't not do, for reasons I'm unable to explain to anyone else and don't fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.'"

I think this is an ideal, but I could pick the thought apart as well.

See what I mean?  Even the "good" is only so-so for me.  The "meh" is also prevalent, for example:

“Our strongest gifts are usually those we are barely aware of possessing. They are a part of our God-given nature, with us from the moment we drew first breath, and we are no more conscious of having them them than we are of breathing.”

Maybe this is true for some, but I could argue the opposite.  Then there's this quote:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

What does this mean?  It's a shiny sound-bite, but when you parse the thought out, the reasoning seems circular.

Then there's the bad:

Why I didn't enjoy this read?  The list extends beyond what I've mentioned above.

Maybe I was thrown off because of the expectation of this book's greatness (people LOVE this book!), the arguments I didn't quite buy (he says we shouldn't use life is a "battle" as a metaphor because it makes us competitive), or the word pictures which didn't quite work for me (shadows and spirituality); those disconnects were real.

But what put me off more was Palmer's tone which made me cringe. Time and again he comes off as a snob. Wasn't there an editor around to check his tone?  If he's advocating a career enlightened by community, he should be careful to use words which honor people (who make up community).

For instance, he tells a story about a man who makes a comment from the audience at a conference.  The man ultimately agrees with Palmer's point, but discussion is introduced this way:

"...following my talk, a man stood in the audience, introduced himself as occupant of the 'Distinguished Such-and-Such Chair of Biology," and began what I thought - given his rather pompous self-introduction - would surely be an attack.  Instead, he said simply..."

There are other examples, but I think you get the idea of what bugged me.

People who are wiser and more intelligent than I enjoy this book, so you can decide for yourself if you want to check it out.