For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life. – Oliver Wendell Holmes
Many of us struggle to find balance in our lives. We are parents wanting to spend more time with our kids. We are managers trying to carve out time for ourselves. We are professionals struggling to find the time to do professional work.
As always…there are simple, tempting, solutions lying on this side of complexity.
You could favor focus over balance. In recognizing that time spent on one thing necessarily means you’re not spending time on something else, eliminate the something else and voilà, problem solved.
You could embrace mediocrity. Doing good work takes a lot of time. Reduce your standards and suddenly you’ll have more time for the things that you’re feeling guilty about not paying attention to.
You could be selfish. The co-worker that needs help? Forget about him. Your kid’s soccer team has a signup list for after-game snacks? Let someone else take care of it. Your spouse wants to take vacation? Combine your vacation with a triathlon event, this way, even the vacation can be all about you.
I leave it to you to decide if any of these choices are a path for you. For me, I am continually searching for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity because it’s here I believe I’ll find true happiness.
The Good and Bad of Singular Focus
I’ve met many of seemingly happy people who, by giving their energy to only one thing, achieve all levels of success. Professionals who quickly rise to the top of their organizations; stay at home parents who make June Cleaver look like Cersei Lannister; and plenty of athletes with families and jobs who manage to squeeze in 20 hours per week to train for the next big event.
While I continue to benefit tremendously from being around people like this, I’ve come to recognize the risks one assumes in living a life focused on only one thing.
The most obvious risk is that if or when that one thing is gone for whatever reason, it can be gut wrenchingly difficult to find purpose moving forward. Think of the businessman who no longer has a business to go to; the stay at home parent who is suddenly without a spouse or kids; the athlete who can no longer train because of an injury.
A little more diversity can provide the buffer to stay grounded.
The less obvious risk in a focused purpose is that it is much more difficult to slow down and be grateful for what you have. Why is that important? Because like Benedictine monk and interfaith scholar David Steindl-Rast, I believe happiness is borne from gratitude.
Don’t believe a monk? Consider what Melody Beattie, a survivor of abandonment, kidnapping, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, divorce, and the death of a child has to say about gratitude:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.
As a time-challenged person, I’ve discovered over time if I allow myself to be aware, I become most grateful, and in turn, the happiest, in the transitions. It’s on the flight to a business meeting that I’m grateful for my family; it’s on the drive to pick up my son from school that I’m grateful for the people I work with; it’s while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store that I’m grateful for the workout I managed to squeeze in before leaving work.
That’s not to say one cannot be grateful while living in the moment, it’s just that it’s harder to do. So, the next time you’re rushing from one place to the next, slow down, take a deep breath, and be grateful for what you have. If you do, you’ll find yourself to be much happier and better fortified for the next time life tries to shoot you down.
Speaking of…I’m reminded of the song Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) which was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill. That version was sung by Nancy Sinatra…the version I’m leaving you with today is sung by the San Francisco based alt funk/soul band Monophonics (hat tip NPR’s World Cafe).
Until next week…in your service…xian
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