On a few occasions during my career, I’ve been fortunate to find myself working on projects that ignited my passion, with teammates who became lifelong friends. Once each month or so, I get together with two of those friends for what is always a meaningful conversation.
Bruce was my first boss post-university. Incredibly creative, with a limitless energy that I find charming, amusing, and infectious, he was the second real mentor I’d had to that point in my life. Soon after I started working for Bruce, he brought Jenn on to our team. She was as smart and energetic as Bruce and arrived with her razor wit and a healthy quotient of mischief in her eyes.
We did some incredible work together and have kept in touch (along with a lot of other great colleagues from that time). Since then, each of us has done a couple of decades of amazing work, while raising beautiful families with incredible partners. In our monthly ‘SSMG Meetups’ (the acronym will remain our goofy little secret, for now!), we take turns setting the agenda…. Perhaps we’re talking about moments in the history of advertising in which we’d have loved to play a part. Maybe we’re comparing the results of our Kolbe Index scores. Or maybe we’re delving into questions of personal philosophy. This was my ask for our last get-together:
What does it mean to live a good life?
Aristotle, arguably ‘the father of western civilization,’ said, “The good for man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, or if there are more kinds of virtue than one, in accordance with the best and most perfect kind.” So for him, it was all about morality—the underpinnings of community.
Confucius, the revered Chinese philosopher, said, “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” So for him, it was all about learning—internal work.
Buddha, the great Indian teacher, said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle cannot be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” For him, it was about good and generous relationships.
What do you believe it means to live a good life?
All three wrote and spoke extensively about the spiritual life, learning and wisdom, community, challenges in life, and many other common themes….
So my ask to Bruce and Jenn was simply this: What do you believe it means to live a good life? When we got together later that week, each of us shared three ‘rules to live by,’ as a way of responding to a question that can really take a lifetime to answer—or more.
“To live an interesting and unusual life.”
Bruce began, sharing that it has always been his goal “to live an interesting and unusual life.” Why settle for the ordinary, when fate and circumstance afford us opportunities to take a different path? Bruce has surely lived up to this goal, sailing the vast Indian Ocean, adopting two wonderful children from overseas, and starting who knows how many businesses.
His second point was equally inspiring: “Add value and support to people who want it.” We all want to be helpful, I’m sure—to add value and lend support. But I love his qualification: “to people who want it” is at once respectful of others’ privacy (don’t put your nose in where it’s not wanted!) and his own time. Perhaps his mentorship of me worked precisely because I was keen to learn from his experience at a time when I was wondering how my career might unfold.
Third, “be frictionless.” Written so succinctly, this maxim could be interpreted as taking the easy path, but that would be to sell Bruce short. No, his point here was to allow the path to unfold, even though it sometimes will be difficult. There’s a wisdom in this that is somehow both simple and incredibly complex.
“We live in a world of connection.”
Jenn shared her thoughts next, bringing a smile to my face with her first: “We live in a world of connection.” While ‘six degrees of separation’ has become cliché, it’s also true: each of us is profoundly interconnected with what surrounds us. The artifice of western ‘individualism’ has always been a myth. None of us succeeds alone. And together, we’re all better. For Jenn, respecting this connection to everyone, everything, and everywhere is essential to ‘the good life.’
Live in the fast lane, but pull over regularly for check-ins with loved ones.
So too is balance—not the simplistic (and equally mythical) daily ‘work life balance,’ but the extended view that life can be lived in the fast lane if we pull over for regular check-ins with those we love. Balance is not a day-to-day thing, but a thing to be considered over longer spans of time—weeks, perhaps, but more likely months, or even years. I see her passion in this—her commitment to the pursuit of big, bold dreams and to enjoying each day as it comes.
Third for Jenn: “Eliminate inauthentic fear.” It’s normal and natural to be scared of some things, and nervous of others. For Jenn, though, noticing when fear isn’t grounded in real danger, and stepping into and through it is essential to ‘the life well lived.’
“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”
Finally, it was my turn. I began by sharing the story of a stack of dusty 45s I had as a kid—perhaps forty or fifty singles from the 60s that my dad had kept in storage. Among them was an old Perry Como recording of Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, the opening line of which is a personal mantra for me to this day. “Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.” When the going gets tough, I try to lean on this. Attitude really can be everything.
Attitude really can be everything.
Second, ‘stay curious.’ The moment we stop seeking to learn, believing we have all the answers, is the instant we tip into arrogance and decline. To stay curious is to lead a life of learning. To stay curious is to “seek first to understand,” which itself builds the bridges between us. To stay curious is, for me, to live well.
Third, like Jenn, the older I get, the more I believe we really are all connected. In another post, I’ll share a recent experience that reinforced this for me—an intimate connection with nature that would be impossible to believe, except that it happened. For now, though, I’ll simply say that every spiritual, religious and faith tradition has some reference to the interconnection of people, nature, and the cosmos. I’ve learned from one of our clients, Reconciliation Canada, that here in Coast Salish territory, this has a name: ‘Namwayut. ‘We are all one.’ How might this affect the way you live—and lead?
What are the principles that define ‘the good life’ for you? What are the values that guide your decisions on the important questions you face? Have you taken the time to write them down? To share them with family and friends? Can I encourage you to do so
After all, the life well lived is surely the one that’s shared aloud….
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO of Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance. This is one of a series of letters he’s writing as he seeks to embrace transparency, step in to courageous conversations, and be in service to a new era. You can reach him via [email protected].