I’ve been reflecting lately on the need for balance. It often seems to me that the pace of life, especially as technology has connected us, makes finding balance a real challenge. As a wealth manager, I’ve seen first-hand how balance produces great results for my clients. I developed balanced investment portfolios for certain clients several decades ago. These portfolios have helped them live the life of their dreams. I find great satisfaction in serving these clients well.
However, it’s not primarily investments that I want to focus on in this thought piece. Balance in life is a lot like balance in an investment portfolio. But life is so much more important. I’ve tried to live my life with balance among four key areas: work, play, love and faith. I believe that finding balance in these four areas produces a richness of soul that protects us from meaninglessness. Here are my lessons learned.
HOW A BALANCED LIFE AND BALANCED PORTFOLIO ARE SIMILAR
I’m sure you’ve heard the dire warnings that are handed out by some advisors to clients who take on the wrong kinds of risk. They say things like – don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. This advice is for clients who put too much emphasis on a certain type of investment.
But you might also hear us talk about the need for risk. My colleague, David Peckenpaugh, has written a fine article about this called Risk – Friend Or Enemy? There is inherent risk in investing and if you are not willing to take on the right kinds of risk, you probably won’t see the types of rewards you desire.
The key to designing a great investment portfolio is taking on the right kinds of risks while avoiding the wrong kinds of risks. I believe the same thing is true in finding balance in life.
In life, we are given a few precious resources and we get to choose what we do with them. I believe the two greatest resources in life are time and energy. Time is about the 24 hours a day we are each granted. But energy is much more elusive and hard to describe.
Energy is about how we apply our hearts and minds to what matters most to us. Energy is about being fully present in the moment, especially the big moments in life that you’ll never get back. Maybe you’ve spent time at birthday parties or backyard picnics or even faith gatherings where your mind was elsewhere.
In the same way that a balanced portfolio protects our wealth, life-balance protects our time and energy and helps us avoid feelings of meaninglessness. This allows us to focus, to really apply ourselves to what deeply matters to us and makes our lives wonderful.
A balanced portfolio may protect your wealth over time. But a balanced life will help you to feel rich, no matter how your portfolio performs. Let’s explore how to find balance between work, play, love and faith.
When my children were young, we used to read a book called What Do You Do All Day Daddy? Reading this book gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I described work to my children and what I actually did that day. I encourage you to reflect on what work means to you.
I believe the big risk, as it relates to work, is that we expect too much from it and commit too much to it. Most Americans work too many hours and are too willing to sacrifice time with loved ones and friends to work instead. My sense is that the best remedy to protect us from becoming unbalanced with work is to get clarity about what work is and what place it should occupy in our lives.
I believe work, in its truest essence, is about using our talents to help other people. We work to bring out the best in others. We work to make products and services that produce client delight and satisfaction. Of course, we also work to earn a living.
But I think there is a big difference between working for a paycheck and working in a vocation. Having a sense of vocation is, I believe, a great way to think about work. Vocation to me means that I’m using my talents, time and energy to help other people achieve their goals and live their dreams.
When you view work this way, it helps you think about how to have the greatest positive impact on the 3 C’s: clients, colleagues and company. This is the best way I’ve discovered to make work meaningful, but not the center of your life. So I have to ask you. Is work the center of your life?
Most Americans under-value play, in my opinion. The big risk, as it relates to play, is that we won’t do it properly. Play is often last on our priority list, if time even permits it. This has all sorts of consequences for the other three areas of our life.
I don’t think play comes naturally to many of us. Babies have to learn to play. We need to learn to play. This is integral to healthy development. To play, we must prioritize it and carve out time from our busy schedules to do it. Play matters.
I think play is just as important as work. But the problem is that we think of play the wrong way. What is play? We often think of this as playing golf or tennis or soccer. But we too often don’t think of this as building community and connections. Play bonds you to people.
I’ve played golf for the last forty years frequently with the same group of people. I often end up with the same foursome out of this group. We share ideas and talk about life and just enjoy each other’s company. We relish hearing each other’s stories and watching our development as parents and professionals.
Play should produce friendships – not competitors. When my children were young, I kept a magnet on the refrigerator that said: “to have friends you have to be one.” There is no better way that I know of to build friendships with someone than to play with them.
But play does more than build friendships. It also refreshes us and changes our mindset. When we play well, we stop thinking about work and those situations that stress us out. Some of the best play experiences I’ve ever had are where I’ve lost all sense of time. I’m enjoying myself so much, I forget about the clock.
I have no scientific studies to back this up, but here is my experience. When I play deeply and regularly, I feel good most of the time. I can’t explain it, but play helps the other three areas of my life stay in balance. So I have to ask. How much time do you commit to play? How do you prioritize play?
I think of love as caring for people who are close to us: friends, family, colleagues and people in our communities. There is an old saying that I think is wise. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Love is preeminent in life, but like most precious things, it must be nurtured.
The big risk, as it relates to love, is that we won’t commit the energy that is necessary to be fully present with the ones we love. We might spend time with them, but we might not give them our undivided attention and sole focus. Love requires energy. Let me give you a couple of examples.
At Whitnell, we talk about our “Whitnell family.” This is not just speech. We live it by being intentional in sharing our lives. This is a reminder to people that we care about them and their lives matter to us, not just their ability to do work here.
My neighbor is also my doctor. I’ll sometimes call him at the office to talk and he’ll say, “Bob I’m kind of tied up right now, why don’t I come over after work and we’ll talk.” Later that day, he’ll stop by my house and give me his undivided attention. Now that’s caring. I feel his energy and focus solely on me.
When you find the right balance in life, your energy and focus, while you are away from work, is directed toward the ones you love. So I have to ask. When you are not working, how much energy do you have left for the people you care about most?
Faith is a more difficult concept for most people. For some of our clients, faith means belief and trust in a higher power to guide and direct their lives and even to protect their loved ones. For other clients, faith is about belief in a system that rewards hard work and fair play.
Here’s why I think faith is important. It gives us something to believe in. Faith should lead you to your better angels, to your best self. Faith should inspire you to take bold action even when you might not be certain of the outcomes, when the future is not clear.
As Americans, we are people of faith – faith in our way of life, our economic model and in the belief that hard work pays off. People who lack faith have little confidence and often accomplish little in life. Great faith can lead to great outcomes. Faith inspires you to take the right risks. This is one important reason that faith matters.
The big risk, when it comes to faith, is that we’ll become jaded, lose confidence, stop trying and just give up. Whether it’s faith in Divinity, faith in the system or even faith in ourselves – the most important thing is to have faith, to keep trying and never give up.
Whitnell’s Chief Investment officer wrote a great article called The American Dream Is Not Dead. This article is ultimately about faith – a belief that this country, and that we as a people, can achieve our dreams. So I have to ask, how strong is your faith?
Work, play, love and faith. These four lead to balance in our lives and give us a richness in our soul that no amount of money could ever buy. If you are struggling to find balance in your personal life, or even in your investment portfolio, we should have a conversation.
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