Many of us are reaching for balance in this crazy world, seemingly speeding up ever so fast. In coaching a client with such an issue recently, I found myself reaching back in time to quote a lesser known book written by Richard Bolles of What Color is Your Parachute? fame. As long ago as 1978, Bolles wrote The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them. In spite of the fact that Amazon.com sells used copies of this book for as little as one cent, the concept he advances has relevance today.
Bolles took something that was quite obvious if we stood back and looked at it, and turned it on its ear. As my client and I looked together at his concept and how it could help her find balance in her work life, we also refined his idea to suit her needs.
For most of the 20th Century, we arranged our lives from a fairly rigid perspective. We would enter life and at the ripe old age of five for most people, we’d enter school, which he calls the education box. There we would stay for as many years as it took to graduate, which early in the century meant most people matriculated in high school, while after World War II became increasingly more college and post graduate study.
During that time, we were kept in an extend limbo of childhood, which allowed us to focus primarily on our studies and prevented an influx of too many younger people into the workforce.
Upon graduation, we’d become employed and thereby enter the work box. Here we would stay perpetually for 40 odd years until we collected our gold watches and were given permission to enter the next box, that of retirement.
If we were good citizens and had done our duty in the education and work boxes, we would be rewarded the luxury of entering the final box, retirement or play for the remainder of our lives until our bodies gave out.
As far back as the late ’70’s, Bolles predicted that this approach to life had to stop and that it was giving way to what he called life long learning, life long working and life long play.
In the United States, at least, we’ve manifested an agreement in our culture about the life long learning being important, the life long working for most being necessary, but we have not been as generous with our notion of adding life long play to the equation. Unless we find a way to balance ourselves, however, we’re going to burn ourselves out. Human beings need the golden thread of play; it’s simply part of our make up.
As my client and I revised Bolles’ ideas to suit her needs, we saw the balance being life long learning, life long work, life long rest and life long play. Play is the golden thread that runs through the entire fabric of life.
If we see the value of weaving these aspects throughout our whole lives, new options open up to us – a whole new world is available – and we approach this world with a lot more enthusiasm and a lot less stress.
How do we achieve a life with life long elements of learning, work, rest and play?
First of all, such a life is more achievable if we see how these elements are intrinsically related to each other. In some ways, we are rather arbitrary when we separate the elements out. It would be like unraveling a coat of woven fabric – the coat would mean more to us and be more useful to us than the individual threads.
To achieve such a life, we also have to change our perspective about each one of the threads. We’ve managed to create arbitrary distinctions about these elements that color our perception of them. These need to be changed.
When we think of learning, many of us think of cracking books and consider learning hard. We remember the times when we were tested and had to pull all nighters to regurgitate what we learned to pass an exam and a class – verifying that we had the knowledge.
This is not learning – this is stuffing our brains with information. In the 21st century, brain stuffing is obsolete. After all, if we need a fact or figure, we can Google it!
Life long learning is about stretching our minds and imaginations, getting outside our comfort zones and getting more and more curious about those ideas that interest us and the world around us.
And there are numerous platforms available to expand our horizons without signing up for courses and without leaving home. I have become particularly attached to my ipod lately and finding numerous learning opportunities through a free service called itunes university. Just go to itunes.com, download the free software and get started listening. You can take your learning with you if you have an ipod (ipod shuffles sell for as little as $50.00) or if you don’t need the portability, you can simply listen through your computer. This is just one of numerous new learning opportunities available to you.
We also need a new perspective about work. We need to see work as a means of expression – a way in which we can extend our strengths and talents into the community around us. Even if the work we do is boring and competitive, we can either find a way of making it more interesting, or find work that is more aligned to our passions and interests. If you’re not involved with work worthy of life long pursuit, it’s high time for you to find an advocate to help you find the place for you to activate that for yourself.
Rest is also important to us. We’re learning through current research that if we don’t have enough sleep, we are more apt to gain weight, become diabetic and pretty much not have a good quality of life. Rest can also be obtained through meditation, yoga and deep breathing. There are many ways to nurture the body and give ourselves recuperative experiences – and we need to take advantage of them. We can’t afford to see our regular, on-going rest as a luxury. We need to demand the time it takes to care for ourselves.
Finally, it’s time to talk about the golden thread – play. Above all we need to reframe our perspective about play. Instead of seeing it as frivolous and something children engage in, not worthy of adults with serious lives, we need to see the value of having the golden thread of play extend throughout our entire lifetimes.
What constitutes play may vary from person to person, but real play has some important elements – it stretches us, is aligned to our strengths and essence of personality and brings us real joy. While we may get pleasure out of playing a computer game, real play generally requires more creativity. Play offers us a means to express our true natures. We may play with art materials, photography, cooking, inventing, music and many different channels. Whatever expression brings us the most joy is the channel we must pursue.
By consciously balancing our lives through life long learning, work, rest and play, we truly upgrade the quality of our lives. Are you willing to experiment with these threads in your life and weave the golden thread through them all?