In the year after I graduated college, I was completely overwhelmed by all of the new challenges of adulthood that were rapidly hurled at me without so much as a syllabus to guide the way. I felt like every time I gained control of one area of my life (paid the bills! bought groceries!) other areas of my life lapsed into disarray and neglect (what? I have to go to the gym every month now?) It seemed like a very high stakes game with lots of rules and no playbook. I identified five different areas that I considered critical to a happy and healthy adulthood and started calling it the Life Olympics – partly inspired by the five Olympic rings, partly inspired by the seemingly Herculean effort involved in mastering any one of these areas day-in and day-out, let alone all five of them.
The Life Olympics started out as a way for me to get my head around the different parts of who I am, but it has evolved during the past six years into a system for reflection and a framework for goal-setting and self-improvement. Below, I outline my Life Olympics categories and what they mean to me, but I encourage you to modify the categories based on who you are and what’s important to you.
This is a big one for me, and usually dominates my time and energy. This category is pretty self-explanatory: this is your professional/work-life. What are my professional goals? How do I perform as a member of my team or company? Am I fulfilled by the work I do? If not, what am I doing about it? Also: has work been consuming my life in an unhealthy way?
In this category, I include everything related to my physical health: exercise, nutrition, weight control, sleep patterns, and general health maintenance like going to the doctor and dentist for annual check-ups. This is a weird one for me. I’m a generally healthy person. I don’t smoke. I’m active. I eat pretty healthful food. I regularly go to yoga. I’m also lucky enough to have good genes that help me maintain a decent weight and good teeth. I could be healthier, but I’m also learning to come to peace with the fact that I’m never going to be super skinny, because I love pizza too much. And ice cream. And butter. And pasta. And wine. And just generally rich, delicious, food-as-entertainment dining experiences. Sometimes, the Life Olympics is about accepting yourself as you actually are, rather than constantly striving for some idealized version.
Family, friends, and romantic partners. Am I making time for loved ones in my life? Do I call my parents regularly and keep in touch with friends from college? Am I making a genuine effort to not die alone? Do I generally make time to spend with people so that I don’t fall into an all-consuming abyss of work?
House & Home
Bills paid? Fresh sheets? Clean underwear? Taxes filed? Basics. This one used to really be a bare minimum for me (will Mom have a stroke if she visits?) but I’m starting to take this category to the next level now. I hired a cleaning lady this year with extra rental income from my house, so now I have more time to focus on decorating my house and making it a warm and inviting place to live and visit, surrounding myself with pieces of furniture and art that I love. Next year, I might try to keep a plant alive. Baby steps. As you reach an income threshold somewhere above hand-to-mouth, this can also be an area where you start thinking about savings, investment, and general financial planning.
This is my most-neglected category, so this year I’m being especially thoughtful about this area of my life. This category is different for everyone, but it’s basically anything that makes you smile on the inside – things that feed your soul and help you find peace in the most chaotic corners of your mind. For me, this category is about indulging my creativity and insatiable wanderlust, as well as making time for quiet and meditation. My love of theatre, music, reading, writing, travel, and yoga fall into this category: all the things that make me the fullest version of myself, yet the same things that I ruthlessly abandon as soon as (work) life gets hectic. This year, I’m working to observe the impact that nurturing this part of me has on other areas of my life, to prove its importance to myself.
Reflection and Goal-Setting
For the past few years, I’ve reflected on these categories and assigned a medal award for each: gold, silver, bronze, or “did not place” if it was a super rough year in that area of my life. Consistently, Career has trumped everything else in my life, which did not make me happy. I love running Allovue, and I love my team, and I’m obsessed with our product, mission, and customers. But it can’t be my whole life. It can’t be all of me. This year, I decided to try something different to fix this.
This year, I started treating the goal-setting process in the other four categories of my life with as much time and thoughtfulness as I do for work. At the beginning of the year, I created five annual goals for each category – 25 goals in all. Some of them are things I could do in one weekend, and some of them are more long-term builds. Every quarter, I revisit my annual goals and set quarterly goals, and each month, I revisit my quarterly goals to set monthly goals.
This may sound like a lot of goal-setting, but it can be done over a quiet cup of coffee or tea on a weekend, and it helps keep me mindful of what I’m working towards. I also find that chunking things out by quarters and months make bigger goals much more manageable. For example, one of my Spirit goals this year is to read 30 books. That’s about 2.5 books each month, which is totally manageable, but if I don’t keep track, all of a sudden it’s December and I have 12 more books to read (which is what happened last year, and I did nothing but devour eight books over Christmas vacation). This year, I’m exactly on track, and I can think about which books I want to enjoy each month.
And that is pretty much how to rock the Life Olympics.
There are no winners and losers in the Life Olympics – it’s all about how you play the game. Of course, I’m going for gold.