Chapter 1 of my Book “Always Improving: Lessons from the samurai”

Always Improving: Lessons from the samurai

Chapter 1:The Importance of Work:Life Harmony

I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years, and one of the things that has been on my mind in the recent past is, how to work so that I can truly live. For me, working cannot just be a means to an end. If it is, then it becomes fragmented from who I am. I much prefer to be able to say that the work I am doing is an extension of my whole self. Work:Life Harmony is the label I use to describe this. It is about fitting my work into my life rather than trying to fit my life into my work. Some people’s lives are constructed so that they live to work. I’ve constructed my life to work so that I am able to truly live. To do this, my work absolutely needs to be an extension and expression of who I am, otherwise there is no path to experience inner harmony.

There is a Japanese proverb that states, “One who chases after two rabbits will not even catch one”. I used to believe that you had to have two different lives that you were leading. One you’d lead while you were at work, and one you’d lead while you were away from work. What I have found over the years is that trying to live this way will leave you feeling very disconnected. It doesn’t give you what you truly want.

Eight years ago I found myself thinking about my life in a different manner. I explored the idea that perhaps rather than trying to balance these two lives, instead I could have one life that was in harmony with all of the parts. Since I began living this way and thinking about my life in this manner, I’ve developed Work:Life Harmony. I’m certainly not the one who coined this phrase, but it’s an accurate description of how I like to move through the world.

Back in my 20s and 30s I used to work really long hours, like 55+ every week. This was neither sustainable, nor was it helping me feel like the life I was leading was one that I truly could be proud of. This was the problem: The work that I was doing was not at all connected to the life that I truly wanted to lead. It felt like I was trying to find this perfect balance between building my career and taking time away from work. But it wasn’t working out well for me, and I was often left feeling like I was cheating either my professional or personal life.

What is Work:Life Harmony?

So let’s talk about the definition of Work:Life Harmony. For me, this is about being able to lead one life. It’s not about feeling like you have to have two completely disconnected lives that you trade between, and try to find the perfect balancing act. It’s about allowing yourself to find a job and/or a role that feels very much a part of you. You don’t feel like you are a different person when you’re at work than you are when you’re away from work. It allows you to find more peace in the activities that you’re choosing to do. Whether the activities are ones that you get paid for, or don’t get paid for, you find such a sense of peace from choosing to do those things, that it absolutely helps build more harmony in your life.

Definition of Wa

There is a word in the Japanese language for harmony: wa (和). This character appears on the front cover of the book. What I love about this word is that it also means peace and acceptance of what is happening around you. This is the type of composure that I am referring to when I say Work:Life Harmony. It simply means that the work I am choosing to do will be able to find peace with the life I am leading. There is no conflict between the two. 

There is another word closely related to wa that I’d like to introduce as well: chōwa (調和), natural balance and harmony. In her book, The Power of Chōwa, Akemi Tanaka states: “Chōwa offers problem solving methods that help us to balance the opposing forces life so often throws at us: at home, at work, in our education, and in our personal relationships.” For project managers and leaders, you could think of this as learning to accept the current state conditions you see in a process, the reality of the management’s involvement, and the culture of the organization you work in.

In Figure 1.1, you will see what looks like an eight-petal flower. In the center are the kanji characters for chōwa. In Japan, a logo or crest was used to represent the different clans and daimyo. It is referred to as a kamon. The word kamon (家紋) is interpreted as family crest and was used to describe one’s lineage, bloodline, status, and focus. It is an unspoken rule that you never use the kamon of another clan or family. It carries a sign of disrespect to do this. I have designed my own kamon as a symbol for Work:Life Harmony. Throughout the book you will see me add kanji to a petal for each Bushidō virtue at the beginning of each chapter. It will be completed at the end of the book, and is the Work:Life Harmony kamon. You can use this as a reminder of the way to chōwa is through the 8 virtues.

Work:Life Harmony Kamon

Work:Life Harmony Kamon

How to live life with Work:Life Harmony

So, how do you strive to live with Work:Life Harmony? The first thing that comes to mind for me is the idea that you’re able to live in flow. This allows you to feel like you’re able to seamlessly transition from work to personal life and back again. No matter what activity you’re choosing to do, you feel this sense of energy from the activities that you’re doing. It makes you feel like you could just go on forever. You rarely have a feeling of being mentally exhausted, or just waiting for the weekend to arrive. As the late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University noted, “One of the most frequently mentioned dimensions of the flow experience is that, while it lasts, one is able to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life.”

Sure there are times where you will be mentally tired from pursuing anything; but that doesn’t mean that you should be living in perpetual exhaustion. In an April 2020 article, by Imelda Wong, PhD, and Anna Arlinghaus, PhD they state that “Work experiences can be carried over from an individual to their home life and family members. Fatigue can affect mood and psychological well-being with negative consequences for the family.” In other words, if you think you are able to work in a job that has little to no flow without it having negative effects on your life, you are only fooling yourself.

There’s this idea of acceptance that I strongly resonate with from the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi in The Dokkōdō, namely Principle #1. He talks about the idea of accepting things for the way that they are, and not ignoring the things that are true. It’s much easier for you to embrace acceptance when you are able to experience harmony. Because no matter what is happening around you, if you’re able to accept it, enduring the unpleasant things becomes a little easier.

There’s another interesting byproduct that you get from Work:Life Harmony. It helps you understand which things you should be saying yes to, and those you should be saying no to in your life. This is because when you experience Work:Life Harmony, it becomes quite obvious when you are doing things that aren’t building more harmony for you. And when you get a good sense of the things that are building more harmony in your life, you will naturally gravitate to wanting to do more of them. This will also help you say no to the things that are taking away some of the harmony that you’ve built for yourself. 

“Creating meaning involves bringing order to the contents of the mind by integrating one’s actions into a unified flow experience.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Action Step

Take the following Work:Life Harmony Assessment and see how you score. Each question has a yes/no answer.

  1. When you think about your work and personal lives, you put a percentage on how much time you should spend on each. (yes/no)
  2. Things keep on changing, which makes it feel like you are always out of balance. (yes/no)
  3. You have a feeling like you have to (or need to) do things perfectly. (yes/no)
  4. Work and life tend to create feelings of being overwhelmed or overloaded. (yes/no)
  5. You often feel the need to operate at 100% in everything you do. (yes/no)
  6. It feels really difficult to consistently sustain working or living at 100% speed. (yes/no)
  7. 24 hours in the day is rarely enough to complete everything you have to do. (yes/no)
  8. You often feel you’re stressed and want to feel more in control of your life. (yes/no)
  9. When things don’t go according to plan, you blame yourself and tend to be harsh and critical. (yes/no)
  10. Multi-tasking is common for you, and you often put others first while ignoring your own needs. (yes/no)

How did you score? The Yes’s are each 1 point, and the No’s are 0 points. Add all them up and see how you scored.

If you scored 5-10 you likely experience a lot of constant stress, and could cope better with new strategies to help you feel more at peace. Don’t worry, what you are about to read throughout this book will help you with that.

If you scored 0-4 you likely experience stress, and are coping well, but you are always looking for new strategies and opportunities to feel more at peace. 

Whatever your score was, I can assure that you will find within these pages many valuable ideas on how to live with more harmony by applying the virtues of the Bushidō code. But before we get to that, let’s learn a little more about the samurai history and culture. In order to move forward effectively, I have found it helpful to reflect backwards and learn from those who have gone before us.

Continue reading by grabbing a copy of my book:

Testimonials for Always Improving: Lessons from the samurai Vol 1

Bushidō in a practical and actionable format! (click to read full review)

“The first book I have read that applies the eight virtues of Bushidō in a practical and actionable format. Combining positive psychology and samurai wisdom, Always Improving: Lessons from the samurai, is a humanistic approach to kaizen (change for the better) and living life authentically with the concept of Work:Life Harmony.”

A book worth reading not only for Quality & Project Management professionals, but for anyone wanting to apply samurai wisdom to both their professional and personal life to improve themselves.” – Nicholas Kemp

 Is like having an interactive conversation with a coach (click to read full review)

“This is the first book I have read around continuous improvement that made me reflect on myself, my authentic self. I feel like this life:work harmony is what’s been missing from my career.” – Jo Sosa

“I am reading ‘Always Improving: Lessons from the Samurai’ by Steve Beauchamp. I’m trying to process his thoughts as they might apply to healthcare. How they apply to medicine itself are going to take me some deeper thinking but how it applies to the process of medicine can and does get applied to health care almost daily. ” – Dan Eickmeier

Great book for those looking to excel at work and in life

“Continuous incremental improvements may not sound very exciting, but it is the only way to achieve your goals once you have found your center.” – Zaher Hulays

“Lots of food for thought presented from a different perspective. I have read many similar books over the years related to the topics discussed.  Depending on life experiences at any give time in one’s life;  how a topic is explained and how a person processes information can make a big difference in the number of aha moments. I always found it challenging to tackle all suggestions at the same time so often it would be just one thing to work on.  In your book the first two paragraphs of chapter 6 were my aha moments.  Although I had read about compassion many times, this explanation opened my eyes a bit more…so thank you for that.” – T.P.

 Easily the Best Self-Help Book This Year

“If you’ve been struggling with purpose, balance, or any part of your personal and professional development, you have to get this book. The author lays out a simple program for focusing in on what it is you’re really working for, and achieving that balance through time-honoured principles of action.

The accompanying (free) workbook and journal are an invaluable resource as well. As a coach, trainer, and professional I’m constantly reading and looking for new ideas to both implement in my own life and share with my clients. I can say, without hesitation, this is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of improvement this year.” – Steve Baric

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