How to Live a Balanced Life: Part TwoMarch 06, 2019
A while back, I shared the first of my five secrets to living a balanced life. I talked about seeking adventure and challenging yourself as a means to feeling alive. But I also acknowledged that while climbing mountains and jumping out of planes carry their own valuable rewards, they are not the most important of the five secrets. They are pursuits best complemented by family and friends, and it’s those relationships that are essentially the bedrock of a good and balanced life.
Family reigns supreme
I grew up in an Italian immigrant family and if you have watched any Italian-themed movies, you will know that family reigns supreme in our culture. This is not unique to Italians. It’s an attitude and way of life shared by many cultures around the world – with the exception of North America. Here, we tend not to prioritize regular family gatherings and social visits, instead preferring to lead more insular lives. In Latin America and Italy, for example, people go for walks and visit neighbours after dinner. In North America, if we eat at home, we tend to watch TV or read a book afterwards.
We also tend to put our careers before family. I recall visiting my cousins in Rome when I was in my early twenties and when I told them how busy and excited I was running around doing deals, one of them looked at me and shook her head: “Why don’t you just relax and enjoy life?” she asked. I realized we were looking at the world and our roles in it from very different perspectives. Her comment has stuck with me for decades.
When I was growing up, our family gatherings were boisterous affairs with lots of laughter and great food. Showing up for Sunday dinner at my parents’ house was expected – even after we had moved to our own homes, had families of our own and, in my case, lived in Europe for many years. It was not unusual for me to schedule flights around those Sunday night dinners. In later years, I took over the hosting responsibilities for our family meals. Now, Sunday lunch means 15 to 18 people around my dining room table with the same banter and laughter we experienced growing up.
Nurture your friendships
More recently, I’ve extended the tradition to include dinners for my friends. Cooking is a passion, and there are few things I love more than having friends over for informal dinners. They gather in the kitchen and drink wine as I cook, waiting for me to shout an order at them when I need something chopped or stirred. Those gatherings are just as loud as my family dinners, which is how I like it. And, judging by the notes of thanks I usually receive the next day, I know my friends enjoy it, too.
Family and friends are everything to me. Having them around is what I live for, and I have worked hard to keep them close. I have a group of eight buddies I have known since high school. We get together at least once a year, usually for a fishing trip, and it’s something I always look forward to. I can be a different person around them because they knew me when I was, well, not very accomplished, to say the least. The stories of our teenage escapades – stories that evolved as the exaggerations got wilder and our memories got murkier – induce a lot of laughter. We have promised each other we will meet up regularly as long as our health permits.
I also have a great group of newer friends who join me on adventures (sometimes only after a bit of coaxing and convincing). Those adventures and our regular meals together are important for all of us. They are experiences we will never regret taking the time to do, and they created memories that serve as shared highlights in our lives.
'Nothing else matters'
Love for those close to you is the only real thing to pursue in life. I love my kids and always try to put them first, sacrificing a business meeting or trip if something comes up that I need to attend or witness them doing. I love my brother and sisters, and all my extended family, including the mother of my children. And I love my close friends, who I see as my family, too. I often ask myself: Who do I want by my side, holding my hand at the end of life? For me, love is the most important ingredient for a balanced life. At the end of the day, it’s all you really have that is of any importance.
Over the past few years, I have had a few friends fall ill and pass away. In the conversations I had with them in their final months and days, consistent themes arose about the things they felt were most important. I can assure you those things were not about wealth, material things or careers. It was always about relationships with others, whether it was something they were proud of or had regrets about. Love for family and friends was always paramount.
In the final days of his life, one of those friends said to me: “Frank, all you take with you is love, nothing else matters.” Amen, my friend, amen.