Recently I wrote an article about creating a sustained lifestyle. In the article I introduced a concept which contrasts achievement (doing something meaningful that accomplishes a desired result which gives you joy) and stress (the degree of mental, physical, or emotional strain undertaken to achieve a desired result). In the model I define four different lifestyles driven by achievements and stress, as follows:
In 2004, I left Microsoft so Patty and I could homeschool our son Trevor. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age five, and we decided as he was entering seventh grade that he would need more help than what his public school could offer. I was his math and science teacher for two years until he re-entered public school in ninth grade. After my homeschooling stint, I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I starting a publishing business. From that point until now, I have regularly been asked if I’m “retired.” At first, I would respond with a strong “no” due to my opinion that retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. Over time, though, I recognized I had to come up with a better description of what I do as a profession. It’s not a choice of either the golf course or the 8-to-5 grind. For me, it’s something I call sustained lifestyle.
So, what’s sustained lifestyle? Here’s the definition, then we’ll unpack it:
This one is a bit of a departure from my typical article topics.
Recently I wrote a book about what I call “good-enough contentment.” It’s an allegory about a forty-something man who is unhappy with his life. After a magical train ride, he learns to define what contentment means in nine areas of his life: career, family, health, friendships, finances, leisure, spirituality, giving, and legacy. Writing the story caused me to look back at my own life--the things I did well and the many mistakes I made. It inspired me to write about nine nuggets that I wish I could go back in time to tell my younger self. Some I would have done the same all over again, others radically different. All, however, are worth putting down in writing to spur your thinking about things you need to start, stop, or continue.
Here they are:
In 2004, my wife Patty and I decided to team homeschool our autistic son because we knew he would need more help as he entered middle school. I had spent 20 years in corporate America, working for both Accenture and Microsoft, but in the Fall of 2004, I became his part-time math and science teacher, spending the remainder of my time doing business consulting and writing books.
Up to that time I always had either a client or office to go to. With the change to homeschool teacher/author/consultant, I now had no place to go each day. My office was either our playroom where we homeschooled, our home office, or local coffee shops. It was definitely an adjustment and I learned a lot about how to be effective without going to a workplace. Now I can’t imagine it any other way.
In Behind Gold Doors-Nine Crucial Elements to Achieve Good-Enough Contentment I discuss how to achieve what I term "good-enough" contentment in your life. The book is a story about Ty, who seemed to have it all, then one day it all changed. At the end of his rope, Ty had a chance encounter with a quirky old woman who brought him on a journey to discover the nine crucial elements of good-enough contentment and helped him put a plan in place to fill his contentment gaps. His outlook on life changed forever as a result of him thinking through each of the contentment areas, re-aligning his expectations to think in terms of good-enough, and creating a prioritized plan to work towards good-enough contentment. If you haven't read the book yet I recommend you pick it up :-).
Typically, career choices are made based upon responsibilities, compensation, or prestige where a businessperson makes a change to get a higher salary, more responsibility, or greater prestige. What about the situation, though, where the driver behind a career choice isn’t any of these; where it’s the needs of a child that drive the change? My choice was precisely that.
Trevor was a happy, normal, active baby. He was able to laugh, coo, cry, and do all of the other normal things that his big sister, Briana did at that age. To my wife Patty and me, everything seemed to be just fine. At about age two, we noticed that Trevor was hardly saying any words and was very into his own world with puzzles, coloring, and videos.
With the vacation season in the rear-view mirror, many of us are going to get back to the grind of working too much, not getting enough sleep, eating poorly and not getting enough exercise. The concept of work life balance to most is just a bunch of theoretical baloney espoused by a bunch of talking-head motivational speakers and organizational leaders. There’s simply no way out of the imbalance, right?
Several years back I got into a conversation with a colleague about our kids. He told me of how he took his daughters to the circus. He wasn't able to afford it, but decided to go anyway. While they were at the circus, he looked over at his oldest daughter. The look on her face was one of utter contentment and delight. Seeing his daughter's face caused my colleague to get all choked up. The price of admission was redeemed through a priceless moment that my colleague shared with his daughter.
Recently Patty and I met up with our financial advisor to walk through our long-term finances. A key component of that discussion was about our net worth, defined as assets minus liabilities. While we had a very fruitful discussion that resulted in some great take-aways, it got me to thinking about how easy it is to focus on a single aspect of one's life and derive how good (or bad) one might be doing based on that aspect. Don't get me wrong; one's net worth is certainly an important measure that needs to be tended to. My point is that there is more to life than net worth when looking at your overall contentment. This hit home for me with the suicides of famous figures Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and others. These are people who appeared to have it all but to them something was so missing that it caused them to commit a horribly sad act. Lives ended too early; my prayers go to their loved ones.
In thinking about contentment, I looked hard at what, to me, are the most important driving factors behind contentment. Keep in mind my analysis is not from a point of scientific expertise; rather it is from a point of practicality as to what I think are the most important drivers. I've honed my list to 8:
Now I completely realize that some of these above drivers are extremely important to some or not at all important. My point is not to second guess your importance level; what I do believe necessary is to decide how important each of the above drivers are to you. If something is not at all important to you then that is certainly your choice. Just be mindful of avoiding something that could adversely impact you later. As example, if you say financial contentment is not at all important and you decide not to financially plan for the future then you might be creating a problem for yourself later in life.
So what now? I put together a simple excel spreadsheet which allows you to assess, for each of the contentment drivers, how important it is to you, what makes you content, and how you could be more content. I think it's important to articulate both what makes you content and how you could be more content for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to celebrate things you are already happy with. Second, it enables you to improve on some things which you may already be doing well.
If you find this helpful, you can download the excel template to help you self-assess yourself based on the 8 drivers. Download it here.
As always, would love to hear what you think. let me know your thoughts in below comments.
Keynote Speaker | Board Director | Autism Advocate | Author | Project Management Expert | Microsoft/Accenture Veteran
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