Security is kind of death, I think. – Tennessee Williams
Last week, we talked about the danger of limiting your life’s energy to one thing. Whether you’re an entrepreneur focused on your business; a stay-at-home parent focused on your family; or an athlete focused on your sport, there are risks to living a monolithic life.
This begs the question, if happiness is the goal, what is the right number of things to focus on? Although clearly a matter of opinion, I’ve found power in the number “three.”
Since learning the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum I’ve been keenly aware of the power of three:
- Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
- Three branches of government (judicial, legislative, executive)
- Company financials (income, balance, cash flows)
The “rule of three” has long been used as a tool in all forms of communication. Steve Jobs famously used it in nearly all his presentations and product roll-outs. It serves as the basis for many books (e.g., Three Little Pigs), infographics (e.g., stop, drop, and roll), and jokes:
I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead. – Laura Kightlinger
In reflecting on my own life and thinking about the things I’ve focused on, it’s clear that every time I add a third dimension, I’m thrown off-balance. That is, while I’m able to focus on two things reasonably well, the very moment I add a third it becomes impossible to do any of them as well as I’d like and I forever feel like I’m struggling to stand on my two feet.
While I accept that this is clearly an indication of my own personal limitations and failings, I’ve met plenty of successful people who, upon adding a third element to their lives, literally and figuratively come apart at the seams. Many are like the corporate warriors described by Nigel Marsh who “work long hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” Some are like the 38-year old man described in this video, who in deciding to train for an endurance event, forsakes his personal relationships. Others are former skinny jean wearing hipsters who, after having children, find themselves shopping for juicing equipment and pants with expandable waistband technology.
A digression and a confession: I included links to the pants and juicer because, let’s face it, unless you live in the USA you’re going to have a hard time believing technology once reserved for pregnant women has become a mainstay in men’s clothing and that Americans will shell out $400 for a blender. In linking to the pants, however, I couldn’t help but notice they are now the number one selling men’s dress pants on Amazon. So, after leaving a cheeky response to one customer’s question, reading over some glowing reviews and learning the waistband gives up to three of added comfort (the power of three!), I feel compelled to confess I bought a pair. Please forgive me. Well, at least I didn’t buy the juicer…ok, I think we all know I’m going to buy the juicer. Dammit.
So why not avoid the struggle for balance, drop the third thing, and focus only on two?
I understand more than most that there are times when we need to stand still or walk in a straight line; however, consider for one moment what happens when you’re thrown off balance.
You wake up. Your body tenses up. You become aware. You make choices.
And what happens when you regain your balance?
You feel gratitude. You’re grateful for being alive. You’re grateful for what you have. You’re grateful for having made it.
And what happens when you experience gratitude?
You feel happy.
So what about all those people who say the road to happiness can only be found by finding ‘balance in your life’?
Regretfully, I think it’s mostly horse shit.
Life will forever be messy. Eventually, even if you’re standing still, the ground you’re on is going to throw you off balance. Accepting this doesn’t necessarily guarantee bliss although not accepting this guarantees wretchedness.
Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia and the author of the best selling book When things Fall Apart, stated that:
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
If you have three areas of focus in your life I suspect, like me, you’re continually being thrown out of the nest. Indeed, I start every day with a plan for each of the three areas of focus in my life and rarely does a day go by when something in at least one of those areas doesn’t fall apart. But every day I come back home to the nest, reflect on my day, and look forward to waking up tomorrow to give it another go. And when I wake up, I’m grateful and happy…to be alive.
On that note, I think it’s time to wrap this one up and pour myself another glass of wine. Up to three of added comfort!
By the way, the wine I’m drinking is really fantastic. Several years back I met Sam and Jessica Bilbro who had just started their winery Idlewild Wines. I bought some of their wine and continue to do so every year because they and their wines are awesome. They are made with lots of love from uncommon grapes such as Arneis, Cortese, Carignan, and Grenache Gris using unconventional winemaking techniques and I highly recommend them.
Before I close this blog out for the day let me introduce you to the Austin musician (and actor) Alejandro Rose-Garcia whose song Dearly Departed is playing in the background. Singing under the moniker Shakey Graves, here Rose-Garcia teams up with Esmé Patterson (a former member of the Denver based group Paper Bird) to produce a catchy tune about love.
Music, wine, and wonderful evening in the desert. How could it possibly get any better friends?
Oh wait…forgot about that juicer. Dammit.
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