Let’s face it: glamorous as it may sound, most of us are neither likely nor willing to espouse the “live fast, die young” ethos, and sign off in a blaze of glory at the brink of 30. About an equally unlikely number are destined to spend those post-30s years speeding along the California freeway in a Porsche while a harried personal assistant fields an unending barrage of calls from besotted underwear models. In the comparatively privileged society that we enjoy, the better part of the population is destined to chase the same humdrum trappings of comfort and success: school, job, marriage, house, children, RRSP.
And so — perhaps inevitably — most of us are also destined to arrive at a point when we consider our accumulated trappings and ask ourselves: “What next?”
Alberta natives, brothers and co-authors of the recently published self-help manual Lifeworth: Finding Fulfillment Beyond Networth, Dana (an educator, life coach and consultant) and Hal (a financial advisor) Couillard found themselves asking precisely that question. What happens once you’ve achieved the goals of a conventionally good life? What comes after the successful career, the family, the guarantee of a comfortable retirement? Lifeworth grew at once out of this very intimate process of self-analysis, coupled with the recognition that many of their peers shared the same quandaries.
“It initially started off trying to get people to think about their legacy,” says Hal. “People get to a point in their lives when they ask themselves, ‘Is this all there is? This isn’t what I expected.’ And then they ask themselves questions like ‘Is this what I was meant to do? I kind of stumbled into this career... is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life? How will I be remembered?’”
Lifeworth uses the analogy of a bag of marbles to establish the fundamental premise of the Couillard’s philosophy. There are three types of marble: Time (red), Talent (blue), and Treasure (green). We are all born with an indeterminate number of Time marbles, and varying quantities of Talent marbles; we collect Treasure marbles as we journey through life (by developing skills or acquiring wealth). The actual number of marbles at our disposal is on some level immaterial. What matters is recognizing that we have them, and knowing how to use them to the best advantage.
“We all have our share of marbles,” says Dana. “It’s our choice how we use them. Everybody has a talent. Sometimes it’s hidden. Sometimes it hasn’t come out, so that’s a challenge. And everybody has treasure of some kind, whether that’s an abundance of time, or an abundance of talent, or a little bit of money to give to somebody. Whatever. Everybody has that seed someplace.”
Lifeworth, then, becomes a lesson in how to use your marbles. Everybody inhabits a comfort zone, which is simultaneously cozy and confining. In order to break out of the comfort zone and achieve a peak experience — whether literally climbing Mount Everest, or maybe just finally doing that karaoke piece you’ve always dreamed you could — you need to do a little free-reining. What’s your wildest dream? Why aren’t you there yet? What’s holding you back?
In developing the book, the Couillard brothers decided to give over most of the narrative to people they feel define the concept of “lifeworth”: those rare individuals who have not only pushed past their own limits, but in so doing have managed to enrich the world around them. John Davidson, whose young son Jesse was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, raised $1.5 million for research by pushing Jesse in his wheelchair 3,300 kilometres across Ontario. Katy Hutchinson channelled her grief at the brutal murder of her husband into a bestselling book and film. The famous Mount Everest climber Alan Hobson conquered the even greater challenge of cancer, a story he tells in the inspirational Climb Back from Cancer.
“Lifeworth,” says Dana “is being in a zone where you have a sense of meaning in your life, a sense of purpose, a sense of challenge outside of your comfort zone. And also, I think, being able to help others. That really is the tip of the iceberg. We can do things for ourselves that are peak experiences. That’s out of our comfort zone, so that’s lifeworth. We can do things that help other people, and that may be out of our comfort zone, because maybe we don’t do enough of that. If the two can come together — if we can have a peak experience that allows us to reach out and help others, then that’s the peak of the triangle for us.’
Ultimately, the Couillard brothers’ message is not “What next?” but “What now?” We don’t have to wait until retirement to ask ourselves whether we’ve lived well. Whatever age you may find yourself at — now — take a moment to root through that bag; climb that karaoke stage — and belt it out at the top of your lungs.