Wheel of Life: A Holistic Approach To a Meaningful Life

Wheel of Life: A Holistic Approach To a Meaningful Life

I recently spent a weekend in Chicago for my 20th college reunion.  I did a lot of emotional time traveling as I walked across my former campus, and caught up with old friends.  The places and faces triggered powerful memories.

These were people who knew me after high school but before my adult life of marriage, a house, children, and a career. They knew me when I was too old to be a kid anymore but too young to really be a grown-up. Both childhood and adulthood have constraints, but this was a time with none of either. Perhaps that is why life felt so simple then. I had little money and few possessions, and felt incredibly free.

The feeling I remember most from that part of my life is community.  During college, it was so easy to walk down the hall to hang out with friends, to be spontaneous, to dream about the future.  We might not have had material wealth but we had one another, with the time and proximity to give those bonds plenty of attention. Those friendships, the joy, drama and the challenges we shared, helped create the person I’ve become.

As I reflected on my college years , I realized how much I have drifted from those days.

I’ve spent the last 20 years living the dream in the conventional sense, but I’ve grown this feeling that something is missing. The reunion reinforced that feeling. Missing from my life is a sense of connection. I had it that weekend, and it left me longing for more.  Twenty years later, I feel more isolated and less connected. I suspect some of it has to do with how complicated and unbalanced my life has become.

Some of those complications are meaningful , like having a family and taking on professional challenges, but some are empty, such as buying too much stuff,  overemphasizing career, and getting caught up in what our popular culture values.  Even meaningful pursuits like family can become corrupted with misplaced values, for instance trying to create a perfect childhood for our kids at the expense of other fulfilling and important experiences.

I recently did a “wheel of life” exercise that really opened my eyes.  The wheel is divided into eight sections corresponding to the components of a meaningful life. In this exercise, you are asked to rate your level of satisfaction in each section from 0 to 10 and chart the results. Here’s how I fared:

Career: 9

Family & friends: 7 and 3 respectively

Romance: 3

Fun and recreation: 5

Health: 2

Money: 9

Personal Growth: 2

Physical Environment: 8

When your sections rate evenly, the chart of your results looks like a wheel. My wheel is uneven. It doesn’t roll like it used to and I suspect that’s why I feel a bit empty.

I’ve spent a lot of energy on my career, earning money, and creating a comfortable physical environment. My wheel shows I’m highly satisfied there. Unfortunately, directing all that energy at just a few areas comes at a cost, namely relationships, health, and personal growth.

Part of the reason I got here has to do with the Protestant work ethic and the individualism that are very much part of American culture.  I took these values to heart and lived them, reducing my dependence on others as I built my barn.

Now that I’m turning 42, I’m determined to make some changes.  I want to reduce my focus on money and material comfort while emphasizing relationships, romance, health, and personal growth.  I’ve never been happier in my career but I’m sure I can find better balance by doing more of what creates meaning for me (counseling clients, mentoring our team) and less of the non-fulfilling activities.  It also means taking down walls I’ve built, some of them emotional, some financial. That means I’ll be more vulnerable. The tradeoff, hopefully, is that I’ll feel much more alive.  I’m not aiming for all 10s in my wheel of life as that isn’t realistic, but I suspect all 5s will be an improvement.

What does your wheel look like?

Ben Johnson
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