What is a Good Life? #22
Good day to you all,
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections).
The key theme this week is Balance. The interviewee speaks about seeking balance and enhancing balance with presence, while I reflect on my process of trying to develop more balance and harmony in my life.
1. This week’s interview
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Meryl*. Meryl is a Leader in People Development. At the time of the interview she was on maternity leave and leaving a senior position at a global tech company. She speaks about seeking balance and cultivating presence within her life.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
The answer is always evolving, but right now, balance is a good life for me. Balance and contentment. I don't mean contentment in terms of not wanting anything. I mean contentment in a way that I feel at ease with things that are happening in my life. That's this new chapter I'm on, it’s just understanding how to find that really nice balance between the different parts of my life.
If I were to become a full-time mom, I don't think it would be the right balance and if I were to do what I was doing at this company, which was working all the time, I don't think it would be the right balance for me either. So, really figuring out what that looks like, and how to build a life around that.
When you think of balance, what other components of life are important to you?
I think of being happy with the physical space you're in, while travel and adventure are a big part of our family life. It’s also being a wife, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister and a sister-in-law - all those types of relationships and friendships.
There's this group of things that you can dial up and dial back and have different levels that you're working towards. I’m trying to understand what it looks like to be balanced across them and to feel really good about the way I’m spending my time, while also having time for myself.
Can you talk to me about the significance of spending your time well in the context of a good life?
You only get so many hours in a day. It doesn't have to be, “oh, I'm learning a new thing, I'm taking a course, I'm doing work, etc.” For me wasted time is about things that are stressful (not the good challenging stress), time worrying about things that are out of your control.
Social media is a crippling time suck. I’m not a person that posts a lot on social media, but I scroll through things for absolutely no reason other than I know my brain is addicted to it. When I'm talking about using time well, this past weekend for example, I spent time with friends and family and enjoyed it. I didn’t have my phone on me because I was so engrossed in what I was doing.
The problem, for me, is switching gears between the different parts of my life - turning off one thing and then turning on the next thing. That’s why I felt like I had to leave my job as it was consuming my world.
Even when we had dinner as a family, I could not switch my brain off. My phone was on the table and I was peeking at it as I'm getting pings. I love working hard and I love my job, but if I can't turn it off, one part of my life consumes the others.
So, in a good life for you, it’s not one particular thing dominating the rest?
Correct. I listened to a TED talk by Randi Zuckerberg, and she mentioned that if you’re doing five things, you can only do three of them well at any given point. I sort of believe and don't believe that, it just depends on your definition of “well”.
We’re fixated on being overachievers in this world and time that we live in. “Well” is relative. We need to take a step back and ask what doing things well looks like? Can I shut my computer off at 5:30pm and not open it up again until the next morning?
I'm sort of fighting an uphill battle against societal expectations. But for me, I don't think I need to be an A+ student in every part of my life to feel like I'm doing well. In terms of American society, there's this focus on what success looks like. What it looks like is not what it feels like.
What else are you learning about balance as your focus changes?
Part of it is that balance is a work in progress that isn't always going to look perfect. It's a constant evolution and it’s knowing that I’m on a journey which has no destination. Balance doesn't have to mean that everything is equal, that's what people misinterpret about balance. For me, it’s this contentment that I’m spending my time well.
This constant yearning, of what's bigger, what's better, just drives a toxic feeling. This good life is feeling good about your day to day, and even if you don't have a good day, it’s finding forgiveness and being like, “okay, I'm going to do that better tomorrow. I'm going to move on from that.”
“Life is balance of holding on and letting go.” - Rumi
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Balance was mentioned by approximately 20% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life.
The most common context for balance was with regards to work-life balance. The last 1.5 years caused many participants to reflect on their priorities in life. Prior to this, it feels like we were playing a game of musical chairs, with the music never stopping.
Balance was brought up in numerous other contexts: between spirituality and material things; adventure and security; time alone and time with others; striving and self-acceptance; taking care of yourself and others.
Some participants suggested slowing down, having more presence and spending more time in nature as means to cultivate more balance in their lives.
“The key to finding a happy balance in modern life is simplicity.” - Sogyal Rinpoche
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3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
Attaining more balance in my life is a process that started with a desire to bring the various internal parts of myself into some sort of harmony.
This initially required me to develop an awareness of who I am and what I want, and a recognition that there are conflicting needs within me that all need attention.
There are parts of me that crave exploration and adventure, while other parts of me want consistency and security. I have a need for creativity and spontaneity, but I also enjoy routine and discipline.
Having intentionally considered things from the inside out, I then set about building a life and career that aligned with that. This equipped me to respond to the external demands of life by relating them back to an overall sense of balance.
Accepting that this life I am building is still a work in progress, it’s important for me to realise that between changing careers, moving countries, learning a new language, and pursuing multiple projects, there’s only a certain amount of external balance or harmony that I can expect to experience in the short-term.
It’s helpful to consider that balance is not a static target. As we continue to evolve and change, so will our idea of balance. While perfect harmony may be a goal, it’s something that we are more moving towards rather than ever fully arriving at.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” - Albert Einstein
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
Name the four most important pillars of your life. How are you presently doing with balancing them?
What part of your life do you find the most challenging to bring into balance? What gets in the way?
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.