“The dream of my life / Is to lie down by a slow river,” wrote Mary Oliver, poet and unfaltering guide to the natural world.
Oliver is described by one equally enduring presence in American poetry, Maxine Kumin, as someone who stands quite comfortably on the margins of things, on the line between earth and sky, the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal.
In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Zen Master deftly articulates the same kind of grounding, translucent experience of utter simplicity that magnifies the miracle of life—showing that often the sublime and ethereal reveals itself in the pockets of the mundane. Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
We live in a world that is constantly shifting at a rate never been seen before. This is the fastest humanity has ever gone in terms of innovation and change and the slowest we will ever go.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that we are standing on the crest of unprecedented opportunities. And like most things in life, they come at a price.
A twelve-hour-a-day, six-day work week seems to be the norm in China, and while the pandemic introduced workplace flexibility, the lines separating people from their jobs are becoming hazy.
We drink from the cup of life and hurry to chase it down with thoughts of the next gulp, forgetting and unable to relish the single drop for what it is—a sheer miracle, something to be grateful for in itself.
But the struggle to make ends meet and build a living can often dampen our ability to see life, with piercing clarity, through the eyes of gratitude.
Which leads me to the question, what is the cost of our dreaming?
Pushing for Balance
Nothing teaches you more about balance than learning to ride a bicycle. But for something that seems so mechanical, there’s little on the mathematics that quantifies what actually makes a good or bad biker.
I, for one, am terrible at it (ask my best friend about that time I almost slammed into a car).
It seems that 237 years later, the best strategy for balancing a bicycle is that of Karl von Drais, inventor of the Draisine; that riding a bike is simply learning how to ‘steer into the undesired fall.’
As in bike riding and life, we sometimes have to decide to lean in and steer into the undesired fall—that space between ourselves and the unexpected things life throws our way.
Instead of ignoring the areas in our lives that need addressing, we choose to take some control and responsibility as to where the flow takes us.
Balance is not achieved without effort, and our influence over our lives starts and ends with the things that are within our reach.
Which Areas of Your Life Need Addressing?
According to author and speaker Braden Douglas, making an impact—a lasting change to the lives of people—has ‘more to do with who you are than what you do.’
And to Douglas, ‘who you are’ is made up of six key areas or what we call your spheres of influence.
By understanding and refining these spheres, we gain a purpose-driven view. Confidence in a cause larger than yourself will drive you to show up in a more meaningful way.
The Six Key Areas
#1: Spiritual Life. Your spiritual life describes the beliefs you hold. These are the values and morals that underpin your decision-making and have a tremendous influence on your professional and personal life outcomes. This area drives and determines your motives and definitions for success and for impact.
Every leader chooses a belief system to follow, whether they consciously know it or not. This was a journey for me like it is for many others. When I understood who God is and why a real relationship with Him matters, I was finally able to see past myself to the needs of others.
As you grow as a person and your impact grows, too, keep in mind that impact is not about you. You can know that at a head-knowledge level, but that idea has to be felt in the depth of your soul to be lived out every day. Impact is about using your influence to elevate and influence others.
#2: Professional Life. Your professional life is your career. On average, you will spend ninety thousand hours or roughly one-third of your life at work. With that much time invested in your career, you can see why and how your identity can become what you do.
Don’t let your current career standing hold you back from pursuing your goals. Always be learning and honing your skills and knowledge so that you can have a bigger impact in the world.
#3: Personal Life. The next area, your personal life, is characterized by your relationships. It starts with knowing yourself and how you behave, think and take care of your well-being.
Your personal life then moves to your relationships with others—from colleagues to friends, to family and beyond. Mastering yourself and being intentional with the relationships in your life is the starting point for impact.
If you can’t have an impact on those closest to you, you won’t have an impact on the masses. In other words, your impact on the world starts small and cascades out.
#4: External Self (Image). The intersection of your professional and personal lives forms your image. This is your external self, and it determines how people see, understand and engage with you.
It’s a collection of interactions and information that forms an opinion of your reputation or identity.
To have a positive impact on the world, focus on building an authentic identity and image. If you instead build an image for personal gain and accolades, it will leave you anxious, depressed, and desperate—not a headspace from which to make an impact.
#5: Internal Self (Character). Next, the area where your personal and spiritual lives come together forms your character. If your external self is about what you do, your character, your internal self, determines why you do it.
Your desires, motives, thoughts, and ambitions are all directed by your values, beliefs and spiritual worldview. Who are you when no one is around? What do you think about? Why do you really want to have more?
If your motives to make an impact are not coming from a deep place of care for others and a sense of purpose, you will never have lasting impact.
#6: Giving of Yourself (Contribution). Lastly, when your spiritual life engages your skills, knowledge and experience from your professional life, you find your sense of generosity. This is when you choose to give of yourself, and people benefit from the gift of your leadership. Your generosity is your contribution to the world.
Giving of yourself forms how you are doing things and living out a life of impact. This doesn’t mean you need to be working in a nonprofit organization or can’t be focused on profit and results as a business.
Every cause must have resources to succeed. Throughout history, leaders have provided connections and large sums of money to propel great causes forward. It’s an amazing privilege but requires great sacrifice to give of yourself in great quantity.
When you understand and accept your purpose, your motivation and drive balances with a compassionate mindset. You find empathy for people and the environment and a desire to use profit and influence for impact.