Lead the Life You Want: A Big Think Mentor Workshop, with Stewart D. Friedman

Stewart D. Friedman: The problem with the phrase work-life balance is that it connotes tradeoff, right. So in the world of work/life balance it’s zero sum. Your work and the rest of your life. So you could be doing really great in your work – you’re getting more money, more power, more responsibility, more challenge and what’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with this picture is what’s happening here? The rest of your life is not doing too well. So the idea with balance is that when you think in terms of an equilibrium you’re always thinking about how you can trade one for the other. And I prefer to think instead about the idea of harmony or integration and the pursuit of what I call Four-Way Wins. So that means for you to think about where is it possible? Where do I have a degree of control to be able to make things a little bit better for me personally – my mind, body and spirit. Also for my family, however you define that. For your community and for your work and your career.

So it’s about looking for opportunities to make things better at work, at home, in the community and for yourself – a Four-Way win rather than assuming that you’ve got to trade one for the other. And I find that when you take that point of view – when you put on a set of lenses that, you know, allows you to look for where is there a possibility in my world to make a positive impact in all the different parts of my life. Well then you’re much more likely to find them, aren’t you, then if you would just assume that they don’t exist.

So what we found from research in the field with real people in all different kinds of organizations and at every different stage of life is that what it takes to lead the life you want, to pursue these Four-Way Wins there are three principles that are critical. The first is to be real which is to act with authenticity by clarifying what matters most to you, your vision and values. To be whole which means to act with integrity as one, right. The Latin root of the word integrity is one. So respecting the whole, the different parts of your life - your work as well as your community, your family and your personal life. And then to be innovative, to act with creativity by continually experimenting with how you get things done. Constantly learning through trial and error. Challenging the status quo and looking for better ways to get things done that work for you and for the world around you. So those three principles are critical – to be real, to be whole and to be innovative.

Most of us are striving to create a greater sense of harmony. And it is indeed in the pursuit of doing something meaningful with the gifts, the talents, the passions that you’ve got and converting whatever it is that you’ve been born with and continually learning how to bring it to the world in a more productive and fruitful way. That is what I discovered in my most recent book, the key to leading the life you want. It’s kind of a paradox. By taking what you have and finding ways of making it useful in the service of other people, that’s how we end up leading the lives that we want.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton

 

In this 4-part Big Think Mentor workshop Stewart D. Friedman teaches us the skills we need to harmoniously integrate work and life. In this lesson Friedman introduces us to the three areas one needs to polish to ensure four-way wins. Friedman is a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program. He is the author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

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Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.