• Christine Lithgow Smith

What is a life well lived and how do you get one?

"Smile doesn't get old" by Ilya Nodia, Irina Muravyova is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 courtesy of Be

To be or not to be, that is the question on my mind this rainy Wednesday morning. No, I haven’t gone back to my thespian roots, although sometimes I’d like to. I have been pondering what I mean by having a “life well lived” and this popped into my head. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always known how great Shakespeare was, but this is the first time this line has popped up whilst contemplating my desire for both myself and others to have a “life well lived”.

It’s the be that struck me. I’d always taken it to mean ‘exist’, which of course it can. Today I took that one line out of context and I felt excited. Like he was daring us to ‘be’. To live. To really live. Not to survive or exist but to have an exciting and fulfilling life. One where, when we get to the end of our journey, we look back without regret. I say “without regret” because at the grand old age of 40 I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes, but I can see how they are part of who I am. How they brought me to the place I am in now.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘be’ is also “used to show the position of a person or thing in space or time” or to “to say something about a person, thing, or state, to show a permanent or temporary quality, state, job”. No wonder there are so many interpretations available to a single line of Shakespeare! In the coaching world we often focus on the ‘be’ of the here and now. By that now we mean the state of a person or “a condition or way of being that exists at a particular time”. We even talk about a “coaching way of being” to describe what it’s like to be a great coach. That’s one of the things I’ve been grappling with personally. I’ve coached people for over 15 years but it’s only the last 12 months or so that I have taken it up as a profession. To be ‘a professional’ involves a lot of reflection so I have to slow down. A lot. That reflection is on your work as a coach, rather than the coachees, and I have found it really interesting. What I’ve noticed is that I can feel my state change when I am coaching others. Somehow the combination of giving your undivided attention, without judgement and truly listening alters your state. In that place you feel a deep sense of peace and connection to the world. And you create a space for the person you are coaching to be more than they would be by themselves. It doesn’t happen every time but when it does it is so powerful. The insights people come up with are remarkable; it’s like they unfold right in front of you. They light up as the answers appear. And they always appear, from within. Those answers have been there, somewhere, all along.

Often the insights are quite a revelation. They unveil something that has been blocking the way and, by shining a light on them, it becomes obvious what the answers are. Whether the coachee acts on them or not depends on a number of things but, mainly, whether they are ready to or not. You can’t force change in someone, not if you want it to last. If you do it can have a long-lasting impact not only on their behaviour at work but on them and the quality of their life outside of work. So, you have to let them be.

Yes, we’re back to ‘be’ again. My dilemma is the same as many of the leaders I work with . If I ‘be’ myself and get into that zone I am undoubtedly at my best, I do my best work and I love it. I’m in flow, answers come easily to me and time flies. When I get busy and I am constantly in action mode – winning new work, delivering on projects, facilitating workshops, it becomes much harder to ‘be’. My attention is more on what I ‘do’ rather than how I, or others, are feeling. I might be performing a task, solving problems, producing something, studying whatever but the aim is always the same: to finish. When I finish, I deliver; when I deliver, I achieve. And wow! What a buzz we get from achieving. It can actually be addictive. The next promotion, the next target, the next bonus. All of them release into our system the chemical dopamine which, if you research addiction, is one of the main culprits. When addicted our brain couples ‘liking’ with ‘wanting’ and drives us to go after the addictive substance or behaviour. Now, I am not saying all leaders are addicted to behaviours that enable them to achieve personally, but I am stating the fact that achieving goals gives us a hormonal buzz and that is why we do it. It feels good.

The trouble is it short-lived and by itself won’t help me or my clients have a “life well lived”.

Which takes me back to my conclusion on what that is for me. I am not sure I can define what it is for anyone else. For me, there is this piece about looking back without regret. At the end of my life well lived I see a smile on my face, my eyes creasing in amusement as I look back at my failures as foibles or lessons I needed to learn, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that I am full. Full of life. My life. There is no room for anything else. My life is complete. I am fulfilled and ready for whatever comes next. That’s how I want to feel when I am about die. Wow! There it is. We all avoid talking about it but like many of you, I have loved and lost. It’s torn me apart and it terrified me. It also woke me up to the world again. To the beauty I see around me in nature and the people I meet every day. Right now, I need to ‘be’ rather than do. I want to find out what I am made of. Oddly, being involves doing things. There is a slight but important nuance between which one you lead with: being or doing.

I’ll end with the question I started with but this time it is for you.

To be or not to be, that is the question.

If you want to be or make some changes to help yourself or others have a life well lived but can’t see how to get there give us a call.

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