Book Review: An Angel Inside

Posted on November 25, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , |

The Angel InsideTold as a parable (think The One Minute Manager), this self-discovery book is a light treatment for a very weighty topic about finding one’s calling. The full title of the book by Chris Widener published in April 2007 is An Angel Inside: Michelangelo’s Secrets For Following Your Passion and Finding the Work You Love.

While the topic is of particular relevance to me — thinking about an encore career, I’ve got several of these books on my reading list — the treatment was a little too simplistic for my tastes. There were interesting morsels for sure, but the overall effect was merely diversionary.

Quickly, the parable starts with a young man on vacation in Europe for two weeks to find refuge from his Wall Street job and recently failed love relationship. He is seeking answers and hoping to find them in the museums of Europe. While sitting at a cafe in Florence, Italy an older man introduces himself and offers a tour of his hometown. The younger man tags along as the older man provides a series of eight lessons.

  1. There is an angel in each of us. As Michelangelo said while studying a block of marble prior to starting to cut for his ultimate masterpiece, “There is a masterpiece in here, I simply need to release it from the stone.
  2. Follow your passion. When we feel stuck in our jobs that is a clue that we have not yet found our calling.
  3. Act with confidence. It sometimes takes a bold and risky step to discover our passions. Like quitting a highly paying job because it doesn’t feed our passion. (Hmmm, sounds familiar!)
  4. Beauty is in the details. As the young man is studying il gigante, he discovers that what makes this carving a masterpiece is not just its lifelike appearance from afar, but the incredible attention to detail Michelangelo provided in its closeup relief. Similarly, if we cannot find joy in every aspect of what we are doing, we must be in the wrong job.
  5. Connect the heart with the hand. Not only must we have a vision for our masterpiece (heart) we must translate that into action (hand). Vision without action remains unborn. Action without vision lives without a soul.
  6. Plan your work. Move fast enough to get where you want, but slow enough to get it right the first time. Some masterpieces take years to complete, so don’t worry about a schedule. On the other hand, waiting for it to land in your lap will not produce results either.
  7. Action is the beginning of accomplishment. Every successful endeavor begins with a single, swift action. In the story, the young man observes an artisan who has spent weeks preparing a piece of marble before he takes sledge hammer to the rock. Sculptors move from big, heavy chisels to smaller and more delicate ones to sanding and finally polishing. In our careers, we should expect a similar progression of action.
  8. People and books shape who we become. The wise elder instructs the young man to be selective with whom he socializes and what literature he puts in his head. He advises (and this was my biggest pearl of wisdom from the book) we should avoid people who keep us stuck in our comfortable patterns and read old autobiographies. There are too many obstacles to discovering the angel within without having friends who help us avoid it. Similarly, books written a long time ago and still in print contain messages that are enduring and worth reading.

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