I recently caught up with a few friends who expressed some dissatisfaction with the current state of their life without a clear sense of why they felt it. I asked them questions about how they viewed their current professional role, the state of their personal life, what they did for fun, and what gave them a sense of purpose. I always want to provide helpful advice. Well if I am perfectly honest, what I really want to do is fix it for them. But I have come to understand that isn’t often possible or even wanted.
After having a similar conversation a couple of times, I came to a self-realization which is what frequently happens as I try to sort through an issue with someone else. For me to have life feel balanced, I need to keep three pieces in rough equivalent proportion. I have always had ambitions to do something that mattered and put my talents to work in a professional environment. I also need creative outlets that give me joy whether it be cooking, gardening, writing, music or painting. And I find the "creating" process often helps me break down complex challenges I am wrestling with. Finally, I want to know my life has some larger purpose outside myself – that at the end I left the world a little better place than I found it – or at least I tried. When I invest in each of those areas in some equal measure it gives me peace. This picture of my daughter sleeping in my arms as we are boucing along dirt roads in her native Ethiopia is the epitome for me.
I envy my husband. He found all three very early in life. He always loved basketball. He started as a player, then moved into coaching and teaching, and finally into running a basketball program and helping our boys. He is a gifted teacher of math and basketball and through his efforts he changed many young lives who often come back to share how he helped them on their path. His vocation, his joy and his purpose were all wrapped in a neat package. He knew what he wanted to do and has enjoyed how the natural progression of life revealed the next iteration.
I was never sure of what I wanted to be. I liked to do so many things. I won awards growing up for poetry, dog training, short stories, a crime poster, fundraising for MS, piano, art and academics. Notably lacking were any prizes for sporting achievement which were never my strong suit. After a failed attempt to become a doctor, I pursued being a lawyer. But I will admit, not for some great love of the law. I looked at what I was good at and enjoyed – writing, speaking, philosophy and psychology -- and it seems like a good choice. Over the years, my career evolved from being a litigator at a large firm, to going in house, to becoming a commercial lawyer, a marketing lawyer and then moving into a business role.
I gardened throughout my life as much for the therapeutic aspects as the beauty that were the results. I experimented with cooking which led to writing a cookbook with my son. A few years back, I also started writing again, dabbling in painting and getting involved in not for profits, both sitting on a board and actively fundraising.
But I found when I feel most at peace and in balance, and also when I have the most success, is when I have activities in three buckets. I titled them vocation, bliss and purpose. When talking to my friends, I often found they neglected a bucket. For one, it was the purpose bucket and for another it was bliss.
I gained a powerful reminder too. This balancing effort is a dynamic process. It requires focus and dedication. Only in checking in with myself and being willing to adjust and evolve as my life changes, can I maintain my preferred state of being.