The other day, I was having lunch at work with a few friends. Two were in their 30s with young children, demanding jobs and seemingly impossible schedules. One was single, childless and in her 40s. And I'm in my 50s with an eclectic work and family life that involves a blend of 9-to-5, travel and chunks of time spent in the solitary netherworld of writing.
"I have a question," I said to my colleagues. "When I say, 'How much is enough?' what comes to mind?"
"Enough of what?" one of my younger friends asked.
"Enough of anything. What's enough success? Enough good deeds? Enough parenting? Enough creativity? Enough sex? Enough apps? Enough emails, tweets, texts? Vacations, clothes, shoes? In a world of unlimited possibilities, how do you know when to stop? How much is enough? Do you know what I mean?"
Everyone nodded vigorously. Regardless of age or lifestyle or to-do lists, we all got the point. A sigh arose from our lunch table. If it weren't for the plates of food, I think we would have cradled our heads in our arms and taken a long nap. It seems as if humankind made a group decision just a few years ago to pick up our collective pace. You know those long, moving walkways in airports? Where you step on and suddenly you and everyone else are going a little faster? That's what things feel like to me these days—like we jumped on the fast track and now we can't get off.
But we can, actually.
We can break out of our group trance; we can turn ourselves around, walk against the current and step off the moving platform—at least long enough to ask some important questions. I call them the 5 W's: the What, the Why, the Where, the Who and the When. It helps to have a real-life concern in mind when considering the 5 W's. So think of one "how-much-is-enough" issue you are wrestling with. Maybe you're wondering if you should enroll your daughter in gymnastics on the one free afternoon of the week; maybe you're thinking of working overtime or taking a second job; perhaps you don't feel you're making a big enough difference in our hurting world; or it could be a smaller matter, like you're not sure if you really need the newest iPhone. Pick one issue (just one!) to ponder, and then apply the 5 W's:
1. WHAT matters most?
What brings you joy, peace and a sense of purpose? You may need to quiet down for a few minutes before you can tap into that answer. It may take more than a few minutes; you may need to sift through many layers of social and family conditioning to discover what's really important. It's worth the digging. The key to knowing how much is enough is to give voice to your deeper values.
2. WHERE is the hidden cost?
You pay a price when you accumulate too much, push yourself too hard or multitask too furiously. Beyond the obvious stress of debt or exhaustion, constant striving can exact other tolls: the loss of community, family tension and diminished relationships, as well as compromised health and frayed nerves. There is a direct correlation between the speed and excess of our current lives and the amount of pills popped for body and soul. When do we stop striving for success and start living