As many of us plod along through a certain sequence of events – school, job, wife, house, family, annual vacation – we are searching and wondering: is this all there is to life? I need to find something that will nourish me and make me realize why I’m here, but I don’t know exactly what that is.
Fellow Toastmasters, I’d like to share with you what I’ve found. Those of you who know me know that I’m an independent thinker who rarely follows the crowd. That’s why I have developed a philosophy that I call The 50/50 Split – A Balanced Approach To Life. I’m not suggesting that you should adopt this philosophy, because there is no correct way, or even preferred way to live one’s life. I’m just going tell you about my own path.
My way of living life is to strike a balance between giving and taking. 50% of your life (or free time) should be spent giving, and the other 50% can be spent taking. Now let’s define these terms in my balanced life context, so that you don’t suddenly decide to become criminals. Giving means creating something to leave behind on this planet for others. Taking means enjoying what nature or other people have left behind for you.
Taking means enjoying the fruits of the labours of others. That could include: reading a book in the middle of a field, watching a play or movie, taking an adult education course, travelling around the world and marvelling at natural or Man-made wonders, enjoying a walk through the woods on a crisp autumn day, attending museums or art galleries… There are so many things here on this planet for you to enjoy: some created by Nature, and others created by people.
This quote from an old gravestone in Cumberland England, sums up this “taking” philosophy nicely: “The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colors, lights and shade. These I saw. Look ye also while life lasts”.
Once you have absorbed what others have left behind for you, it’s now your turn to leave something behind on this planet for others to appreciate. That could mean any number of things: teaching or mentoring someone, being a good behavioural example for others, setting up a scholarship to help students, donating blood, donating to a food bank, donating your old clothes to Goodwill, donating your old books to the public library, volunteering, helping your kids with their homework.
If you have the talent, then create some art – write a book, a short story or a magazine article, paint or draw a picture, sculpt something, write some poetry or the lyrics to a song, write a computer program, design a new board game, compose some music, play an instrument. While you may derive pleasure from doing these things, you should also look outward as well as inward: create your art for others to enjoy; don’t adopt the attitude of Canadian Idol contestants who merely sing for fame, admiration, recording contracts, money or any other selfish motives.
One of my favourite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that I learn of him”. While this helps to keep us grounded and humble, it also means that you possess something – a talent, skill or ability – that other people do not, and that’s what you can share and leave behind for the benefit of others. I’m sure that you can recall a school teacher who gave you good advice or who had a significant effect on you because of the knowledge they passed on to you. That person may not have even realized the extent to which s/he helped you, but s/he still made an impact on your life.
In my view, there are two reasons why I was dropped off on this planet. I am here to fill myself with awe and inspiration at the wondrous achievements of others, those who have come before me. Secondly, and I am also obligated to create, build or design something myself and leave something behind for others to enjoy.
While many of us are searching for something meaningful and fulfilling in life, I don’t believe that it’s something tangible, or even a particular social status or income level. I believe that what we’re really after is a philosophy, and mine is the 50/50 split – the well-balanced give and take approach to life.