Most of us put Work at the center of our lives. Our life revolves around it—so much so that we define ourselves by it. We make decisions, both big and small, about the other aspects of our lives based on the Work we do. (More on that in a bit.)
But what happens when the work we do ceases to exist? It’s possible we may lose our sense of identity and feel as if our life has no meaning.
When we keep our Self at the center of our life, we are only concerned about what we want. We become selfish and narcissistic. We stop caring about others. Everything we do is basically a result of thinking about ourselves. The things we do in every other area of our life gets filtered through this lens—i.e. only seeing what’s best for us.
When we are pleasure-focused, we are constantly seeking gratification. While there is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure in moderation, anything in excess doesn’t offer any lasting satisfaction or sense of fulfillment. Those who pursue pleasure endlessly crave for more. With each “high” being satisfied, they need something bigger and better. It is a never-ending trap to becoming increasingly narcissistic.
For instance, when the lockdown started during the pandemic, I suspect many of us thought about using it as a mini vacation and overindulging ourselves in pleasures such as watching movies, playing video games, or what have you. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize it gets old fast. It’s only a matter of time before you start aching to do something of value.
At the end of the day, we are wired to be useful to others. Play without Work is meaningless. This is why we start getting antsy after a week-long vacation of doing nothing—although, a vacation isn’t truly about doing nothing.
The other downside to being focused on pleasure is that we are forever at the behest of those who are outside our purview. The minute they leave us, we become emotionally handicapped. We are enslaved to them.
If you are possession-centered, you are forever at the mercy of protecting things you have for fear of them being taken. You feel inferior to those who have more stuff (or fame/status) than you, and superior to those who have less. Your sense of self-worth constantly fluctuates. There is no constancy whatsoever.
Similarly, it’s not uncommon to keep our “foes” at the center of our lives. It could be that someone said something to you long ago, and you are unable to leave it behind. You keep running that tape in your head, thinking about the things you’ll say or do in the future whenever that person is involved, and you end up making decisions in your daily life with that in mind. At this point, you have become a slave to that person in your head.
This is not unlike when someone doesn’t do right by you, so you are inclined to do the same in return—but where is the integrity in that? Not only that, doing things solely with others in mind is crazy-making. It’s no different than letting that other person drive your life. It starts to affect your work (along with your interactions with colleagues), your friends and family, and even your faith. Those who are friend/enemy-centered seem to lack a sense of security.
This is what happens when we make others the center of our lives. We are basically viewing the world through that lens. The decisions we make flow out of that, and it affects how we look at every other aspect of our lives. Similarly, we act out of other “centers” in our lives such as money, possessions, spouses, friends, and religion, all of which determine how we think about the remaining areas of our lives.
I learned about this idea of finding your center from Stephen Covey. He suggests there are four things to keep in mind when thinking through these centers: security, guidance, wisdom, and power. These four factors are interdependent.
Security is about where we get our sense of identity—our self-worth or self-esteem. Guidance is about having an internal frame of reference that makes sense of things based on implicit criteria, which is how we make decisions. Wisdom is our perspective on life, or our sense of balance. It’s about understanding the relationship between different things and seeing them as a gestalt. Power is our capacity to act, make decisions, and exercise choices that drive our life forward.
Let’s go back to our earlier example of keeping Work at the center of our lives. Those who are work-centered are prone to becoming workaholics at the cost of their own self and their relationships. In terms of security, they define themselves by the work they do. They only find comfort in working. Their decisions are guided by the needs/expectations of the work. As far as wisdom goes, work is their life. In terms of power, their actions are limited by the work opportunities, constraints at work, and their inability to do the work in the later years.
When we keep Work at the center of our lives, we see it as our highest ideal—the very source of our fulfillment and satisfaction. This is how it affects the other areas of our lives. We define our Self by the work we do. We see our Spouse as either a help or hindrance to our Work. The same goes for Family.
We see Money as evidence of hard work, while still being of secondary importance. We see Stuff we own as the result of our Work. Apart from that, these things serve as tools for improving work effectiveness. When we are focused on Work, we see Pleasure as something that not only interferes with our work, but is also a waste of time. We see our Friendships as unnecessary, or we only make friends from work. We think of our Foes as an obstacle to our work. We see Church/Temple as a way to network with others. We might even think of it as an impostion on our time.
Similarly, we act out of other centers in our lives by keeping them at the center of our lives, which in turn, determines how we act in the other areas of our lives. Every “center” is its own way of viewing the world.
One thing to note is that it’s easy to find others’ center than to identify our own. Usually, a person’s center is some combination of the ones we’ve talked about thus far.
Our center is the lens through which we look at the world. It governs everything in our lives. Unless we wear the right lens, our view of the world—and the decisions we make in our everyday lives—can be skewed. Most people live their entire lives without questioning their center(s).
Most people keep Work at the center of their life; their whole world revolves around it. Whatever yours is, the goal is to operate from a clear center through which we can derive a high degree of security, guidance, wisdom, and power. I’ll talk more about that in the next draft.
I hope that this draft—the first in what will be a three-part series—gives you an idea about taking steps to identify your center. To learn more, I encourage you to read Stephen’s book, in which he goes into much more detail. I am sharing this idea here because it’s too important to not share it.