this topic has been on my mind, but i finally sat down to write it today after having a pretty long conversation with my good friend pat about starting business school at columbia. we were in lock-step all through business honors/marketing undergrad and have since gone in very different directions, so it was a treat to catch up but also extremely interesting to compare/contrast our current lives.
reflecting over the past year, i feel that my lifestyle has changed notably through acts like deepening my yoga practice, getting in touch with my spirituality, changing my diet (trying pescetarian!), etc. a lot of people ask me what the secret is, and while i can talk about each of these individual pieces at great length, i think it all stemmed from a book called total leadership. now this is a seminar taught at wharton and not a super easy read. i barely skimmed through it for highlights when we received a free copy and met the author at work. however, the most important concepts discussed from the beginning really stuck with me, and i began to build them in to my life, consciously assessing if i’m happy and how i can adjust.two takeaways:
- maximize the four domains of your life – self, family, community, and work
- understand expectations of your key stakeholders in life and share your expectations with them in return
maximizing your life. one of the first lessons is that life isn’t about balance and trade-offs (ie. “work/life balance”). it’s really about assessing the big picture and making conscious priorities to maximize each of the following areas: self, family, community, and work.
through a simple and quick exercise i learned that i was over-spending my time and focus on work and under-spending in self and community. i think normally people would assess this and maybe adjust their week to make it to the gym 3 times or leave early one day for happy hour – short term fixes but not scalable solutions. i realized that i need the way i work to fundamentally change to allow me to focus on other areas in my life. i worked hard and consciously to be more efficient while at work, set boundaries to not bring work home, and ruthlessly prioritize to be able to leave completely done for that day. the other part was learning that will world will continue if you have to leave at 5. this may sound methodical and even simple, but it took a lot of soul-searching and ruthless prioritization to get to a comfortable place for me. the main goal was that when i left work, work left my mind, and i was wholly present in whatever else i was doing.
this arduous practice enabled me to key in on two areas (self and community) over the past year – yoga, traveling, and Room to Read.
someone once described me through the oxygen mask analogy – you must help yourself first before you can help others. that’s why these two areas of community and self go hand in hand for me. i had to learn to be honest with myself and not take on too much and also know when and if i can take on more. this is a constant and very conscious assessment daily, even hourly. as an a-type personality, i had to learn to delegate to others, forcing me to trust, let go, and say no. this is extremely hard, and i’m not great at it to this day, but i’m aware and adapting. and this leads in to the second topic.
setting and communicating expectations. it’s extremely important through this process to make the critical people in your life (your key stakeholders) aware of what you’re going through because it ultimately affects your relationships. a very clear example of this for me is telling my boyfriend that i’m going to a coffee shop tonight because i want to be alone to think and blog. he understands what i need to do for me, and it’s fine, we won’t make other plans. on the flip side, if tonight is an important family function for him, i know not to break that commitment because he’s told me up front how much this means to him. i’ve spent a lot of my life looking out for others’ interests and assuming people have higher expectations of me than they do in reality. it was almost a sigh of relief to learn that sometimes people really don’t expect that much, but i could never know this unless i asked.
so what has this done for me? i’ve gotten unsolicited feedback from multiple close friends over the past few months that i’ve really changed, which is great validation, but i feel it intrinsically too. i’m more relaxed, less high strung, and more introspective to what’s important for me in my life at this moment. it hasn’t been an easy or short process, but it’s remarkable to see how minor changes can have snowball effects on your life. taking the time to explore myself has been life-changing and has allowed me to discover new things that i believe will stick with me long term. and focusing on me, here, right now has ultimately taught me how to be happy :]
“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh