I am a big believer in ‘life pillars.’ The idea is simple – you want your life to be based on multiple ‘pillars’ which fulfill you and make you happy in the long term. For most people, these will be (broader) family, romantic relationship/spouse, children, friends, career, hobbies/interests, and health/fitness (with different order and different significance for different people!).
There are two (connected) reasons behind the ‘pillars’ idea – (i) you are more likely to get closer to true happiness / personal fulfillment (which, in my view, is more of an aspirational target/journey, rather than an end-state – more on that in another blog), and (ii) you ‘hedge your bets.’ Sooner or later in life, one of the life pillars will not go as well as planned – your career may hit a roadblock; romantic relationship may end; family member may die; you move city and lose regular touch with your friends. In those instances, having other pillars to lean onto will help you keep your life in balance and help alleviate the loss.
Lets talk briefly about each. No need to go in a great detail, as most of the other blogs touch on these pillars in one way or another.
Family. I start with family (parents, siblings, grandparents, broader family), because that’s the one group of people you cannot choose for yourselfJ. Putting dysfunctional families aside, family will be always there for you, regardless of what happens to the other areas of our life. As we grow older, move out of our parents’ house, start building our careers and/or our own families, we spend less time and maybe even neglect those who have brought us to this place. Make an effort to be there for those who have always been there for you – for theirs as well as your benefit.
Romantic relationship/spouse. Your romantic partner (whether you are in a dating, engagement, or marriage stage) is the partner-in-crime for the rest of your life (fingers crossed..). The initial stage of being ‘crazy-in-love’ will eventually be replaced by a deeper connection, built on love, friendship, and mutual trust. It is important to avoid falling into the mere co-habiting state when you discuss only the logistical aspects of your life (from shopping, paying bills, to who is taking care of the baby). Find time for yourselves – weekly dates for just the two of you are a good place to start.
Children. When you get children, your life turns upside down – not only from logistical and time-planning point of view; also your priorities and motivations change significantly. You start having feelings you have never felt before. It is not only about ultimate love, but also outmost responsibility as the baby is fully dependent on you (at least until teenage…). In a surprising way, my work motivation actually increased (some people report the opposite) – I suddenly felt the need to provide for my daughter and for my family, and also wanted them to be proud of any success that may come. I also started feeling much more fulfilled in my life – even if something were to happen to me, I knew there is someone left behind who will hopefully keep some of the love and upbringing I tried to give.
Friends. Friends keep a healthy counterbalance to your family and significant others – they are there when you need to complain about the other two…:) When I moved to London and later to the US, I recognized how hard it is to make new friends. It takes time, and the older you are, the more difficult it becomes (as people start getting families; go out less; stick to their existing friends, etc). I try to remain open-minded when I meet someone new and give them (and me!) the chance to develop a true friendship. At the same time, I try to maintain my friendships from earlier days – even when I live abroad, I make an effort to keep in touch and see my friends every time I am in their city. Earlier on, when at school, I have always preferred a smaller circle of friends but spending more time with them, and thus getting to know each other better – these friendships then tend to last for a lifetime.
Career. Your job represents a big part of your life – you are likely spending half or more of your wake time at work. It is not only a way to provide for you and your family, but it also fulfills important self-actualization role (going back to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). In some instances, job becomes merely a way to earn money, which is a big opportunity loss in my view. It does not mean you need to have a turbo-charged high-profile career – we have a shop assistant in our local store here in California who is so devoted to his job that it gives you a motivation kick every time you see him.
Hobbies. From the list of pillars, this is the one that starts high on your priority list when you are younger, but gradually starts falling down on importance as you get busy with work and/or start a family. I am guilty as charged – when someone asks me what my hobbies are, I have to pause before answering. I like to spend time with my family, go out to the countryside, do running (probably more for health/stress-management reasons rather than pure joy), and read books. I have recently returned back to drawing which I used to like as a kid, and which gives me some personal me-time, away from the daily hustle and bustle.
Health/fitness. This pillar is separate from the others; I would even claim it is the base on which all the pillars stand. If you have (serious) health problems, all the other pillars may suffer, or even fall. I have never been a big sports person, ate everything that came my way, worked long hours, and slept little, but over time, I started to be more conscious about my health choices. I have known a couple (very busy/career-driven/’successful’) people who died in their 40’s; and one of the interns (~21y old) at one of my previous jobs had serious heart issues and had to end the internship prematurely – it is always tough to determine the exact cause-and-effect between high stress, lack of sleep, and health issues (as opposed to potential in-born predispositions), but the science knows enough that there is a strong link. I do not feel like taking the risk, and you should not either.