This article is a part of a series called "Life", where I revisit The Good Life Book, and unpublished drafts, and offer an up-to-date commentary as at February 2021. Here, I look back at the original original (unpublished until now) preface and introduction to the book.
The photo was taken at Tanah Lot temple in Bali, while I was on a scuba diving trip there (a few months before meeting my wife to be). I'd originally wanted the photo on the cover of the book, since it seemed to have the same sunny, pure, magical, energy of life that I'd experience years later in Sydney when I wrote the poem Whale Beach (audio LINK), and penned the original preface to the book.
- Brett Cowell Dallas Feb 2021.
Preface – Sydney, Australia February 2015
I’m looking down the hill at groups of surfers in the ocean at Whale Beach. The golden sun is setting behind. This vantage point opens up my consciousness, revealing a secret in plain sight.
The surfers who come out here day after day in all sorts of conditions are not doing it to pursue happiness, but to pursue life.
People surf for: challenge, self-expression, being at one with nature, adrenaline, euphoria, being alone and with mates, travel, fitness and even as an identity. Asking if surfing makes a surfer happy seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding of what the thing is.
Nevertheless we can spend our whole lives chasing happiness like it is a rare gem to be captured and put in a display cabinet. Happiness, balance and meaning are not things or single-shot goals, but outcomes of an ongoing process, philosophy and practice of living.
We all seem to be looking for a good life.
This guide is being released at a time when there are many changes and challenges in the world.
We are working longer and harder and the amount of information we have and decisions we have to make can be overwhelming.
If you are serious about wanting to sustainably improve the level of happiness, balance and meaning in your life then there is no shortcut, but there is a way to start moving in the right direction quickly.
I began to write this guide out of personal necessity to make sense of the world. I finished with the understanding that there are thousands or potentially millions of professionals that want to do better for themselves and better for the world.
I hope that this guide can play a small part in making that happen.
Introduction (unpublished 2016)
Professionals are a fairly unique group. You are ambitious and intelligent people that can get things done and many of you are truly successful by traditional measures already.
Yet from the now thousands and thousands of people I’ve encountered in my career I also know that many of you want more from life. Some of you are dealing with extreme pressures from work and as a result the rest of life is suffering. Others are struggling to translate their success into happiness, balance and meaning in a consistent way. Others of you simply want to find an edge or to make a bigger contribution to society.
The pace and complexity of professional life seems to be increasing at an increasing rate. As a result I no longer believe that it’s possible to get a consistently good outcome from your life by going with the flow or winging it. Even an approach of separately planning work and the rest of your life fails to be effective as progress in one area can be offset by slipping back in others. Meaning often falls between the cracks.
If we look externally - the world continues to change with factors like globalisation, connectivity / digital and outsourcing, affecting society and professional jobs. Any approach to improving our lives has to work in the real world that we live in today, and take account of likely changes in the near future.
I started to think about these issues when faced with solving the problem of life for myself. Having been through a number of major life moments in a short amount of time I needed to make some real decisions, real quick.
The search for materials online and in self-help books came up short pretty quickly. Most of the material was about how to be successful in terms of money or material possessions but didn’t get at how to live a happy, balanced and meaningful life overall.
The solution was to create an integrated approach similar to ideas that I’d seen work again and again in my day job as a management consultant for nearly two decades. The approach is to move from a current state to a future state by:
- Defining a vision
- Breaking this down into key components and measures, then
- Aligning your direction and effort behind each component
If this sounds like a simple idea then it is, but there many pitfalls along the way to putting it into practice!
There is an almost magical element in every successful change that connects the logical, emotional and spiritual sides of those involved.
I’ve tried to distil this magic and to make your journey through this guide three-dimensional by tapping into each of these sides at various times by using different types of interactivity and content. I aim to be your coach and to make the process useful and fun…but I can’t do the work for you.
The desired outcomes from following The Good Life approach are:
- Increased authenticity and meaning in life, by setting a tailored personal direction based on your core values and beliefs and what is important to you
- An improved experience of life by defining success and happiness on your terms and holistically
- Your personal system to achieve balance in life, by managing energy, your personal mind-game and time in a more effective way
The disclaimer here is that you can only hope to get the value from this guide if you follow the sequence of chapters in order and do the exercises as you go along. It’s easy to become a veteran of self-help (not necessarily a good thing) if you read book after book looking for an answer.
There is no all-encompassing answer that you can read in a book, but there is a process to get you a new perspective that will allow you to see and connect to the answer for you, and have the courage to follow it.
The material should provide specific food for thought but change comes from your action and interaction with others.
The guide has three parts, each relating to one of the three disciplines of The Good Life:
- Part A Energy
- Part B Potential
- Part C Growth
An overview of each part and brief chapter summary is below.
Part A – Energy
Overview: Part A is about understanding how best to apply your energy to The Good Life as defined by you.
- Develop personal insights supporting change
- Create a future vision for your life
- Understand how you currently allocate energy and time
- Use The Good Life model to sketch out future goals and focus areas
Chapter 1 gives an overview of The Good Life model and the main concepts underpinning it. You do a self-assessment of how you rate the different elements of your life today, and the rationale behind that. Chapters 2-4 contain a series of exercises to help you to further build a baseline of self-insight, and to begin to define elements of your future vision and direction.
Chapters 5-9 describe each of the pillars of The Good Life model: Vocation, People, Health, Spirit and Mode in more detail, with exercises to define your goals in each area. Chapter 10 contains a discussion of the importance of Place in enabling what you can achieve and how you feel.
Chapter 11 contains several exercises to pull together all of the work you’ve done in Part A so far into a provisional plan, and helps you to identify key life principles to help with decision making.
Part B – Potential
Overview: Part B is about helping you to make a breakthrough in reaching a new “full potential” outlook on life, using the ideas of perspective, connection and courage.
- Build insights around the logical, emotional and spiritual aspects of The Good Life
- Refine your vision and key life principles
- Begin to take initial actions
Chapters 12 – 21 aim to simulate and stimulate your logical, emotional and spiritual journey by offering different perspectives on topics relevant to The Good Life. The topics each use a different lens to identify opportunities and blockers to potential relevant to professionals and how to overcome them.
Part C – Growth
Overview: Part C is about enabling you to grow by successfully executing larger personal projects using a structured approach. By this stage you should be ready to start taking a wider spectrum of actions, and this Part provides a structured approach that helps you to avoid common pitfalls.
You will be a different version of yourself when you finish this guide, and again as you progress through the challenges that you set yourself. Often we plan to wait until we’re successful before helping others – but this logic is backwards: helping others is a way to help ourselves to be successful.
Identify common pitfalls in personal change
- Describe The Good Life structured approach to making change
- Apply The Good Life structured approach to your specific example and kickoff your project
Chapter 22 describes the rational, emotional and spiritual elements of change, as well as common pitfalls, and introduces The Good Life structured approach and tools. Chapters 23-26 help you to apply each of the four stages to your personal change project / objectives. Chapter 27 concludes with ideas for making a larger contribution to the world.
Let’s get started!
"This guide is being released at a time when there are many changes and challenges in the world."
That statement was true in 2015, and it is even more true now. By the time the book was published in 2017 it had already become virtually a cliché to say that "change is the only constant". But the fact that we should realistically expect change, is cold comfort to those whose lives have not only been disrupted, but completely turned upside down in the past year.
At the same time, there is always something that is deeply affecting someone, and if that someone is you it can feel like the whole world is crumbling.
It is probably not an overstatement to say that the writing of The Good Life book was accompanied by several personal and family crises. But, for the Star Wars fans among you, in the midst of these crises was a strange calm, like when Luke used the force to blow up the Death Star. I recognized that crises push you to connect with the world more directly, to sense that there is more to life than our routines and short term priorities. At the same time crises force you to consider what is really important and what is not.
The introduction above reveals two related paradoxes. Or perhaps simply two truths. The first is that it is possible (and perhaps probable) to be materially successful without automatically being happy as a result. I'd lived that situation myself, and in a sense I wanted to "get the word out" to people like I was i.e hard-working and successful professionals all around the world, who were looking for more from life.
The second paradox is that life isn't always self-correcting (unless you call changing your life as a result of a crisis a self correction). You can't "go with the flow" your way to a new life. Climbing further up the ladder won't get you to a new life. Digging further into the old measures of success, and the old ways to get there, won't get you to where your heart says you need to go. What still seemed revolutionary in 2015/16 was the suggestion that we should develop our own measures of success and try to live by them as best we can.
I'd been involved in helping organizations to do transformational change for almost two decades when I began thinking about the book. My "angle" for the book was that because life seemed like the kind of unstructured complex problem I'd faced at work, then a structured consulting approach might be effective in dealing with it. I'd later find that, broadly, the type gap-closure part of the approach I'd proposed in the book, was already well established in personal change e.g. as part of the GROW personal coaching framework. And gap closure was also being used to drive performance improvement of all types across sport and industry (i.e. work out where you want to be, work out where you are, then take the steps to get from here to there).
I recognized, while writing the book, that life gets in the way of living a good life. We let the urgent take over the important. We find ourselves fighting for things (at work) that we don't even believe in. We look back and wonder if all the sacrifices were worth it.
To try to avoid getting off track, we need an anchor, and that anchor begins with our core values, and what I called the "Five Pillars" in the book (although the started as "spokes" rather than pillars but more of that later). While drafting the book, I'd often thought about a balance technique in dancing. While spinning around you keep (anchor) a single point in focus on each turn so that you don't get dizzy and disoriented. Taking the time to define a good life for yourself was that single point, that anchor, albeit a forward looking one.
"There is an almost magical element in every successful change that connects the logical, emotional and spiritual sides of those involved."
This statement is still true, and true in additional ways than I could even see at the time (e.g. through the magic of creativity and imagination). Change takes on a life of its own, and generates outcomes and possibilities that you can't always anticipate at the start. I've felt magic, something perceptibly special and out of the ordinary, in corporate seminars I've run, with creative collaboration and in groups of all kinds, as examples. For now, I think that the point I was trying to make, is that there is another level (many levels) of possibility and reality, different from the one you're in right now. Things can change. Things can be different.
You have to find your magic.
The next article will likely be looking at the first published introduction for the book (that intro was replaced a couple of months after publication by the current one). In that article I'll have a chance to discuss the structure of the book, which remains largely the same as what was outlined above, hence I won't go through it here. Until next time!