Life and How to Live It

I finished my MBA work this week. Grades won’t post until next week, which means my completion won’t be finalized until next month sometime, but I am done. Approximately 18 months of graduate level work done all online, mostly during a pandemic, has come to an end. I have learned a lot that I will put to use in the next chapter of my life and career.

Life has a way of keeping things interesting and it has put everything in play right now – joy, accomplishment, pain, fear, hopefulness, trepidation. The two best pieces of advice I’ve received recently are 1) to take it all one day at a time and 2) to let the joy lead. I am lucky to have a strong wife, supportive family, and great friends. There is a lot of joy to lead with so I’ll let each day start with that.

Borrowing a database analogy, I have often said that life is a forward-only cursor. There is no standing still and there is no going back. There is only onward from today.

A while back, I wrote that I don’t subscribe to the concept of work-life balance as I see it as a false dichotomy. Everything is life, and life demands our full participation every day. If we are living fully into being three-dimensional people, we are constantly balancing everything and bringing appropriate skills and context at the appropriate time.

I think of it like a trip to the gym where we do a full-body workout every day. Some muscle groups will occasionally get fatigued and need a little rest. To do that, you compensate by working others.

I thought about this in context of a work trip I took to Colombia last month. It was pretty exhausting as work trips can be. The days were long – full of work and bonding with colleagues – and the trip was departure from my normal routine. Despite all of that, I came back feeling somewhat refreshed.

I realized that I had been fairly burnt out from my MBA course work. It was a lot of time in my office chair, working into the evenings. At the time of the Colombia trip, my final course had just begun, but the previous one had been hand-to-hand combat. As a result, I was off of my exercise regimen and feeling sluggish. I’m not sure I was giving my best to anything at that moment.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the trip served as a kind of total-immersion therapy, in which I was surrounded by people who only knew me from work and only interacted with me through that context. (I have developed good friendships there as a result of our work, but most of them know me through a specific lens.) For a few days, I was able rest the other muscle groups and just push all-in on work. I came back a lot clearer and energized.

There is a current trend to vilify work, to see it as draining, an imposition on life, to reduce it and put it in a box. The problem with vilifying one part of life in favor of others is that it makes balance impossible. There is no balance without a counterweight and balance is rarely a static state. It is a constant motion in which the scale is always leaning more one way than the other.

I was once the living, breathing definition of “always on” and know with certainty that work can be, and often is, overdone. Last month, I got a glimpse of possibility – of what can be possible when, rather than passively sitting on the scale and seeing where it swings, we lean in the direction we need to go for a little while until it pulls us back to equilibrium.