Archive for the ‘Life balance’ Category

Death of a son

July 23, 2015
Some things in life are very important

Some things in life are very important

Nick Cave’s son Arthur took smiling photo metres from cliff where he died’.

I read that headline and heard on the news that a 15-year-old boy had fallen to his death from a cliff. No foul play, no suicide, just a childish misadventure that cost a young man his life. It didn’t matter that his parents were famous. It didn’t matter why it happened. It just happened.

As a father of a boy not much older than Arthur, hearing the news made my blood run cold. I imagined if it had been my son. I want to protect him and nurture him and if he died like this I’d want to go with him. Otherwise, every day would be white pain; complete, unrelenting, devastating pain.

But as children grow we must let them go, release the parental embrace and allow them to take their own steps in the world. We watch as they leave us and disappear into the night. And we wonder. And we worry.

Accidents, king hits by unprovoked strangers, spiked drinks, idiots in cars, drunks looking for a fight – all out there on a possible collision course with a person that I value in this world more than myself.

From the day your child is born these possibilities are a permanent spectre, lying in wait for happenstance. We have a rule in our family that no one can die before me. Selfish I know, but I value their lives ahead of mine and couldn’t bear an existence without them.

I can’t imagine how Rosie Batty gets through a single day. There can be no peace. She has found a greater good to make sense of losing her son. She is a most worthy Australian of the Year.

I want to keep my kids safe. I advise them as best I can about being sensible, when at their age I wasn’t. I want them to be happy. Most of all they know they’re loved and I enjoy every moment I have with each of them. No one knows what tomorrow brings but we can influence our actions today.


The cynical self

May 13, 2015
I want to break free ...

I want to break free …

Yesterday we had a full day business meeting with international visitors. The meeting started at 9.00am, and we had a working lunch and concluded at 5.00pm, at which time we left for an upmarket city restaurant for dinner.

Our distributers were trying to impress us. They’d brought their CEO and Chairman. Our management team was trying to appear superior to the distributors, while also trying to impress our boss and scoring points on each other in the process. And our boss was trying to impress the guys from head office, who were constantly looking at their watches. As best I could make out, no one wanted to be here.

About 3.00pm I wanted the music to stop. I wanted to scream ‘Why are we doing this?’, but resorted to injecting a few thought-terminating clichés to wind it up. Didn’t work. The show rolled on.

After a day of platitudes and thinly veiled assurances of improved support and performance, which remain the emotional capital of the business world, with little to no action until the next quarterly meeting where we do this dance again, it was difficult to look forward to the impending meal.

At dinner, everyone was toasting everyone else; too many times to be comfortable. Big smiles, forced conversation, more platitudes. The Chairman made another speech reaffirming his commitment to us and the greater cause. As if it matters. So that led me to wonder: do we? Do we matter?

In our daily lives, questions of personal worth are recurrent, if rarely articulated. We’re so defined by work that our identities without it are in question. Unless we have something else to anchor us, we’re in danger of becoming what we do, not who we are.

We find that ultimately unsatisfying. Because as we get older, time spent at work consumes a proportion of our lives we can rarely afford. We go home tired, eat, sleep and do it all again. Holidays come rarely and when they do we wonder why life can’t always be like this.

I want to rebel. Just a minor revolt. I want to grow my hair long, become a hippy and follow the sun surfing. My wife says I can, for one week in the second half of each year. I can’t do more because of ‘commitments’. Commitments that will get me committed.

Deprived of a clear sense of purpose, apprehensive about the significance of our lives, we’re desperate for reassurance that there is a reason behind what we feel we must do. Are we working for the weekend or living in the now?

I don’t know. I’d rather have it all, and now. So I keep working while I search for the answer. I’ll let you know if I find it.

No regrets. Well, perhaps just a few …

November 26, 2014
Living your life

Living your life

My last post discussed regrets and how we process them. It got me thinking about how we handle them and what we can do differently.

I read an article about a hospice nurse who recorded the common regrets of the dying patients with whom she worked. The two top regrets are interesting and relatable. First, people generally wished they’d had the courage to live a more authentic life. They looked back on life and realised the many occasions in which they had capitulated to external pressure. They wished they’d taken more opportunities to follow their hearts.

The second regret was wishing that they hadn’t worked so hard. In a world where success is often measured by what we do and how well we do it, the correlation between job and identity appears not to be fulfilling in the long run. If deathbed wisdom is any guide then people would prefer to have taken off more days and spent more time with friends and family or to pursue their passion and purpose.

In this regard, life really can get in the way of living. Most of us can’t simply ‘chuck it in’ and live a life to our own rules and pursuing our passions, regardless of how inspiring that sounds. But imagine we made space for some of that now, rather than doing nothing or putting it off until retirement or when we have time? Plan some time to make a start. Even a few hours a week will make you feel better, provide more balance and allow you to deal better with the not-so-inspiring requirements of life.

When you think about your regrets, consider what you might do to avoid them in the first place. Are you willing to take a day off occasionally to spend time with those you care about? Are you willing to take it a little easier at work and leave a little earlier? What would happen if you left work at lunchtime and turned up at your child’s sports day?

A man walks into a bar …

August 18, 2014
The Zen of doing what you want ...

The Zen of doing what you want …

A man walks into a bar …

and strikes up a conversation with a Zen monk drinking tea.

The monk asks him what he wants more than anything else in the world.

The man says, ‘I’d like to have a million dollars’.

‘What would you do tomorrow if you had a million dollars’, the monk asks.

The man thinks about it for a moment, and says, ‘I’d go surfing.’

The monk replies: ‘You don’t need a million dollars to go surfing. Just go.’

What do you really want to do? Are you satisfied with the number of hours you work? Are you doing what you really want? How much money do you need? Why aren’t you doing it now?

If you could change your job to 4 days a week and drop 20% of your wage would you do it?

Strangely, it’s often lower income earners who jump at a chance like this, and higher income earners are more uncertain. Perhaps that says a lot about how we create our lives, what’s important to us and our perception of what, or how much, we need to live.

What would you do tomorrow if you had several million dollars today? Do you really need millions of dollars to do it?

Or would you give up a portion of your income for more time to do what you want?

Even if you wouldn’t or couldn’t, can you make some changes to your life to make more room for what you really want to do?

Is the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything in it 42?

July 14, 2014
Is the answer on the road?

Is the answer on the road?

Recently, after returning from an overseas trip, I found myself standing at a taxi rank on a sleet driven, cold Melbourne night. It was past midnight and the usual gaggle of yellow cabs was off in the city awaiting the club crowd. The 20-minute wait was bracing after 30 hours in a stuffy plane.

Finally the taxis started to flow, to the relief of the 60 or so people in the queue. My driver, when he arrived, was annoyed. He’d been looking for a fare for more than an hour and couldn’t understand why the controller hadn’t called through. He was on his way to McDonald’s for a coffee when he decided to tour the airport to see what was what.

He was a talker too. Wanted to know where I’d been and whether for business or pleasure. I gave him brief answers, not wishing to evoke conversation. He decided instead to tell me about the depressed market, working 7 days a week and how much he missed his family in India.

He questioned the worth of it all, or perhaps the futility, before asking ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ His pause suggested this was a real rather than rhetorical question. Having already told me he was a practicing Sikh, I thought he’d be in a better position to answer than me.

‘What do the 10 gurus have to say about it?’, I asked. ‘Would not a belief in a life of perpetual optimism be accompanied by a belief that life did, indeed, have meaning? Perhaps living for equality between all people is the purpose.’

Maybe he just enjoyed complaining about his life, maybe he was making conversation, or possibly it was a rhetorical question after all – because he changed tack and started to play with his radio.

We think of the quest for life’s meaning as a journey along a road, or through time, which leads us to the Oracle, a mysterious source with all the answers. But, like the Cheshire cat said to Alice, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going then it doesn’t really matter which way you go.’

Are we willing to take the chance and live a life without direction, hoping to find answers at the end, or does finding our purpose require more work, thought, trial and error? To put it differently, is there meaning to be found along the road?

If the meaning of life isn’t some esoteric piece of wisdom that, once discovered, unlocks the secrets of the universe and ends our quest for understanding, then what is it? And if it’s not, then how do we answer the similar question, ‘Why am I here?’ Are they the same thing? Is the meaning of life about where we came from or where we’re going? And how does what we do today influence our destination and how quickly we get there?

Big questions for a weary midnight taxi ride with a suddenly silent Sikh.

Let’s not over think it. Perhaps the answer is nothing more (or less) than 42 – as good an answer as any (from a clever but lighthearted book).

Did you know that 42 is also the number of illustrations in Alice in Wonderland?

The other side of enough

May 16, 2014
Do you want it all?

Do you want it all?

The more we have, the more we want, right?

Let’s face it, seeing our life as ‘good enough’ doesn’t cut it anymore. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t.

But, paradoxically, we live in a culture where we’re expected to stifle our desire for more: money, things, achievement, success. Why is wanting more bad?

My mother was fond of saying ‘Enough is enough.’

What is enough? Who defines it? How do we know when we have it? If we have it, can we still want more? Do we really need it, or simply want it? If it’s a want, should we reject it as unnecessary? Or get it anyway?

A key to living with contentment is to realise the difference between needs and wants. If we allow our wants to take over our motivation, we begin to believe that they are indispensible needs. Then we may feel that we ‘need’ to acquire them at any cost: health, family, working crazy hours, dishonesty.

Such ‘needs’ are empty. Unfulfilling. A poison chalice.

If we come to see that wants can be wants and not needs, we can alter our perspective to one that offers more satisfaction with life. We can have what we need, and aspire to what we want, but in a balanced way that makes us happy.

To have something we want without the need to compromise on other important areas of our lives, free to enjoy it for what it is, without the need for self justification.

Perhaps that’s what the other side of ‘enough’ looks like?

Winner winner chicken dinner

April 23, 2014
Winners are grinners!

Winners are grinners!

Have you noticed how much more money is on offer these days from the various lotteries? When I was young it was several thousand, then hundred thousand and now millions. In the US the numbers are staggering, topping the hundreds of millions.

Most of us daydream about what we would do if we won ‘the big one’. What we would buy, where we would go, if we would give up work and what the good life would feel like. It’s a great fantasy, but whether you buy a ticket or not, it’s worth asking yourself what you actually would do if you had those resources.

Forget about all that money ruining your life, (yeah, sure) or the fact that you’re more likely to be crushed to death by a vending machine, struck by lightning or have a hit record than you are of winning the lottery. What if you did win? What if someone handed you that cheque? What would you do?

Even if you succumb to the temptation to travel first class around the world and buy a bunch of extremely expensive things, you’ll still be faced with the question, eventually, of what to do with the rest. You’ll have to decide whether you merely want to do well for yourself, or whether you actually want to make a difference in the world.

If you want to make a difference in the world, doing so isn’t lottery dependent. In fact, whatever your life’s purpose, it’s not lottery dependent. Whatever difference you can decisively make with $100 million, you can incrementally make with just a hundred dollars, or a thousand.

Unless you’re seriously worried about being crushed by a vending machine, then you shouldn’t fantasise too much over winning the lottery.

Instead, think about the resources you do have, and the real difference you can make today.

Fixing life

January 13, 2014
Change what can be changed.

Change what can be changed.

Life’s full of things we can’t fix.

Things happen, to us and others, that aren’t fair, aren’t of our making and sometimes happen for no apparent reason.

Sometimes mistakes we make have unexpected consequences; they can change lives forever and we would give anything to take them back. Often, small examples of our own limitations drive us insane. We know the consequences but we do them anyway.

Worrying about things we can’t change can be like being eaten from the inside out. A broken romance, a job loss, dealing with aging parents, our own mortality –circumstances that we can’t change and that weigh us down.

We can’t just, in delusional positivity, pretend they don’t exist. But we can look at things optimistically, with reality and clarity, and assess likely outcomes. If it’s a small mistake that caused embarrassment or hurt feelings perhaps time will take care of it.

If it’s a significant matter, such as a serious illness or marriage breakdown, we can learn to cope with the reality as best we can and not absorb ourselves in ‘what ifs’.

The optimist chooses to believe they can make all things better, sometimes in the face of reason itself.

The pessimist chooses to see the worst in every situation, so they won’t be hurt by disappointment, living by the maxim of the worst-case scenario, absorbed by self-pity.

Life is what we make it. Perhaps this works best when we accept reality but look optimistically towards what our future can hold.

Whichever way we choose to look at life, there’s a fundamental truth: life is full of things we can’t fix. But every day we’re faced with many things that we can.

Those are the things we should focus on.

The paradox of life

December 9, 2013
What's coming over your horizon?

What’s coming over your horizon?

We’ve created a society that offers so much comfort and security. And an endless variety of things to make us feel good, look good and save time. We should be happy.

But we’re not. Working hours and depression rates are increasing.

As we strive to know more, have more and do more, we become less. In defining our worth through possessions and achievements we neglect to consider who we really are.

Our mind space for soul searching is limited. We fill every moment with stimulus so we can’t hear what’s inside. We keep our minds busy flitting from one task to another, 24/7 electronic access, no down time, no time to think, stand still or take a breath.

There’s always the next thing to strive for.

Few people see the big picture; most only see the next week. The grand plan keeps us busy, heads down; we’re shaped by what’s around us and not by possibility. Fear makes us play safe and stick to the rules of the game; forget your dreams, settle for safety and security.

We’re told to live large, live our best life. To change, to get better, to find out who we really are. Yes, but how? What’s the currency of conversion? Is belief enough?

What are you after? Do you believe life has a greater purpose? What’s your purpose?

And do you want to change?

The solace of certainty

November 11, 2013
Certainty brings confidence

Certainty brings confidence

To live a successful life, challenge yourself and reach out to try new things. Yes, that means change. And setting goals and having the courage to go after them.

Many people aren’t prepared to do that.

They prefer the comfortable, the predictable and the repetitive. This explains the overwhelming sense of despair that defines many people’s lives. They seek fulfilment through escapism – television, gaming, gambling, alcohol, drugs and self-help seminars.

This is mindless stimulation devoid of meaning, offering a respite from reality, a momentary high, an excuse to ignore the question, ‘Why?’

Achieving, and winning, means doing more than others are prepared to do. The question is, ‘How bad do you want it?’ Beginning is always difficult. It requires action, then momentum.

While most people float along allowing life to happen to them, swim against the current, take control and make life serve you.

Success and happiness are not distant goals to capture and hold; they’re the cumulative result of everything you do. Are you prepared to have a go?