Recently, I read an article on CNN.com that asked the question, “How rich is rich?”
This started to make me think about the question of “How much is enough?” If you recall, my very first post on this blog was about how we define success. In America, it seems to me that success is defined by material wealth. We place a great value on “what we do” (our job), where we live, what car we drive, and how “healthy” our 401k is. Many Americans are proud of the fact that we work 50, 60, or even more hours per week. Those who don’t work long hours are often perceived as unambitious, or even lazy.
In short, our work, and the material wealth it brings to us, becomes our identity. Don’t believe me? Try this: ask ten people to tell you who they are, and I’ll wager that at least eight of those ten people will tell you what they do; e.g. – I am Chris, and I am a lawyer; I am Lauren and I am in marketing, etc. etc.
Instead of talking about their family, hobbies, spirituality, or any of the things that truly define who a person really is, most of those you ask this question will focus on their job. I have conducted this experiment hundreds of times in seminars, social gatherings, and even at bars, and the trend is the same; people describe who they are in terms of their jobs.
What’s wrong with this?
I am not here to say that there is anything wrong with basing one’s identity on their job. We should take pride in our work, and when we truly enjoy what we do our work can bring joy and purpose to our lives.
My question is whether America’s work ethic is a result of the pure joy and purpose our jobs bring to our lives, or a matter of seeking to fulfill these needs with more toys. If you are working 50+ hours per week in a job you truly love, and one that brings meaning and fulfillment to your life, then perhaps you have found your path. On the other hand, if you are working simply to accumulate “more,” then maybe its time to take a step back and assess your life’s work.
Is the sacrifice worth “more?”
Part of this assessment is understanding what you may be sacrificing to gain “more.” When I speak of “more,” I mean more stuff; e.g. – more status, more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, a bigger TV… in other words, more material wealth. How much is it all worth?
Is it worth chronic stress, and the resulting mental and physical health problems? Is having “more” worth sacrificing a deeper relationship with family and friends? Is it worth not having the time to work on personal growth and development; e.g – reading a good book, meditating, exercising, learning?
Finally, is it worth never learning who you truly are? Is dedication to “the job,” and earning “more” worth surrendering your personal identity to the profession?
Only you can answer these questions.
So, how much is enough?
I’ll be honest. I like “stuff” as much as anybody. I understand the appeal of having “more.” I drive a BMW, have a pretty nice house, a purebred beagle, and like having money to go out to dinner occasionally. But, the question I regularly have to ask myself is how much is enough?
As with most things, I think the answer to this question (for me) is finding a balance between having a comfortable lifestyle while still maintaining the ability to continue on my path of learning and personal growth.
This is a balance that is sometimes very difficult to achieve. My wife will be the first to tell me that I try to do too much all at once. She provides some of the balance I need by being demanding when necessary. And for that I am grateful… even if not at the precise time she is being demanding!
Striking the balance
Here are some of my recommendations for striking a healthy balance:
Develop a plan. Understanding what is most important in your life is an essential first step in finding balance. You can’t get to balance if you don’t know what you want it to look like.
Developing a plan for a balanced life must start with some serious introspection. Meditation, therapy, talking with a mentor, or just sitting in quite contemplation of what it is that you want out of life for yourself and your family are ways to begin to clarify what is most important, and what balance looks like for you.
Develop a good support network. Having family and friends who value living a balanced lifestyle, and have shared goals and ideas, is a necessary part of keeping an even keel. As I mentioned, my wife is a great aid to me as I am one of those people who simply must achieve (aka, Type A personality).
Another great way to develop support networks is to subscribe to blogs (like this one!), or other local groups that promote healthy and balanced living. One of my favorite sites is Balance in Me, but there are dozens of others out there as well.
Start by taking small steps. For most people the move towards balance can seem daunting. After all, most employers would not understand your desire to work 10 fewer hours per week. And, the strain of simply quitting your day job may be too much for you, or your family, to handle. After all, the life you have built for yourself should not necessarily be simply tossed aside.
However, you can start making a transition to the balanced life you seek by working 1 or 2 fewer hours per week, designating a night each week for quality family time, or 20 minutes each day for personal development or exercise, etc. By building on these small steps you may be surprised how quickly your life can be transformed.
Revisit your plan and progress often. Let’s face it. Most people do not start out life seeking to become dissatisfied and imbalanced. Typically, imbalance results from ideas that are placed into our heads during school, like “Being an artist is a waste of time, choose a career you can make a lot of money at.” The next thing you know, you are climbing the corporate ladder, and before you know it you look down and wonder… “would I be happier as an artist?” Then the mid life crisis sets in…
So, the moral of the story here is to pay attention to your life. It is not a dress rehearsal. Periodically reflect on where you are at, and where you are going. A regular meditation schedule and an active support network can keep you on track.