Chris Guillebeau over at The Art of Non-Conformity has posted a discussion he recently had regarding the Four Burners Theory. In his post, which you can read here, Chris asks for readers to comment on whether they believe in this theory and what weight it should hold in modern society. This is an issue I have been meditating on for a while now and his post provided an idea opportunity for me to provide my thoughts on the topic.
The Four Burners Theory
The Theory goes like this: One burner represents your family, one your friends, one your health and one your work. In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners; in order to be truly successful you have to cut off two. One reason for writing here at Our World is to demonstrate that you can have it all in life, provided you are prepared to work for it. While I still hold strong to this belief, this theory, combined with recent experience, has resulted in some readjustment.
Can we really have it all?
The answer is that we can. However, difficulties arise when we start defining the words and concepts that we use. What does having it all mean? Does it mean successfully blasting all four burners and, if so, what does success mean? To me, having it all means that you maintain a level of satisfaction in the current balance of your four burners: You have a meaningful job which is challenging yet does not take up all your time; you have a loving family which you provide support to, and receive support from; you have an active social network; and your are in good physical, mental, and spiritual health. The theory goes that in order to be successful you would have to forgo one of those four burners which, for all intents and purposes, is proving successful and providing a healthy and fulfilled life.
That is the inherent inconsistency in the four burners theory – its failure to adequately provide a definition of success. If you accept that the four burners are fundamental to having it all and living a successful, well-balanced life, then the instant you turn off one of those burners you are no longer successful. However, if you believe that your mission in life requires that you turn off one of the burners, either for a short period or indefinitely, then that is what you will do in order for your mission to be a success.
But what if you do not want it all, or cannot have it all because of the circumstances you find yourself in? You might have no family, or you are a stay-at-home parent, be unemployed, suffer from a long term chronic illness, or like Nelson Mandela, be totally immersed in your life’s mission that your family life is lost as a result of the higher cause. Does turning off one of the burners in these instances make you a failure?
As always, it is personal
Nelson Mandela was a man on a mission. Fighting for what he believed in he sacrificed a loving life with his family for the higher cause. It caused him great pain, but it was the price he had to pay to ensure the freedom of millions of black South Africans. Mandela was a great man and a truly successful man, but his success came at a cost. Wherever you look there are stories of great triumph met with great sacrifice. Further, consider the situation of stay-at-home parents: These parents make the selfless choice to remain at home and raise their children. They place their family above all else – often at the expense of their work and, occasionally, social life. You certainly could not argue that such people do not live a meaningful life – in fact, there life often provides more meaning than thousands of those who slave away at a desk their entire adult lives.
What this demonstrates is that the four burners theory is simply that – a theory. And as with most theories, it is not complex enough to deal with the human element. We retain our individuality, and with that our power of choice. Whatever path we chose, we do so for reasons personal to ourselves. Success, therefore, cannot be defined according to a theory. It is a deeply personal assessment, and one which results from the circumstances that we find ourselves creating and responding to.
As for me?
I believe in having it all – and I am constantly striving to achieve this goal. It is never without its challenges, and each burner comes with ever increasing time demands. Advancing my career requires time and effort at the office; likewise maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit requires time spent in the gym, the kitchen and in meditation; friends, thankfully, are always there to enjoy life with and provide support; and as for family, this is always a struggle – I live with my sister but our work means that we see little of each other, my extended family live in a province 400 kilometers away, and my girlfriend has recently moved half way around the world! It is not an ideal situation and there will always be conflicts between various ‘burners’ at various points.
Whatever the case may be, I make a conscious effort not to lose sight of all four. For one reason or another there will be times when one dominates the others – this is unavoidable and only negates the notion of having it all when that domination exists for extended periods of time. The key, as I see it, is to find room in your life for all four. But, as I have said, the choice is solely yours to make!
What do you think? Is the four burners theory an accurate representation of success or is human success more dynamic than that? Let me know in the comments section below.