A Snapshot of Your Life
If you’ve ever worked with a life coach, you’re likely intimately familiar with the “Wheel of Life”. For those of you who are new to this concept, the Wheel of Life is a coaching tool that allows you to take a visual snapshot of your life as it exists in the present moment.
Life is, by it’s very nature, multifaceted. The most powerful and lasting approaches to growth and healing encompass all aspects of your being. Taking stock of your life and acknowledging and accepting where you are right now is a requisite first step to engaging in transformation.
The Wheel of Life includes all major areas of life, typically: career, money, health, friends & family, significant other/romance, personal growth, fun & recreation and physical environment.
The exercise is to assign a rating from one to ten for each of these areas. A score of one indicates that you’re thoroughly unsatisfied in this area and a score of ten indicates that this part of your life is off-the-charts amazing. And, there’s all the scores in between, with five often being expressed as an uninspired “fine”. A common trap is to label lower scores as “bad” and higher score as “good”. I encourage you to approach this exercise from a very neutral place and accept life exactly as it exists in the present. The ancient yogis called this “Santosha” – contentment with the way things are.
“Career” in Modern Times
I frequently remind my coaching clients (and myself) that the labels associated with the Wheel of Life are arbitrary. If a specific term doesn’t fit it can always be substituted with a different, more empowering label. The goal is to create an all-encompassing view of life and not to fit a pre-defined mould.
The one label that has never really worked for me is “career”. I have struggled over the years to define my career, with varying levels of success and plenty of frustration. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who faces this dilemma.
In the past, a common scenario was that you’d receive an education in a given field and then spend the next 25 years or more working in that area, perhaps even for the same company. For better or worst, our modern life doesn’t always work that way. Our world is changing at such a rapid rate that industries that existed twenty, or even ten years ago may already be yesterday’s news. And we’re exposed to a wealth of information and have many opportunities to learn that simply didn’t exist in years past. The result is that it’s common to have several different “careers” over the course of our lives and many of us are in a seemingly constant state of learning and training.
The concept of “career” doesn’t work the way it used to. Perhaps it’s time for a new paradigm.
Introducing the Wheel of Life Work™
Earlier this year I started working with a talented and highly creative coach, Phil Askew. During one of our calls I mentioned my challenges around the word “career”. As an experiment, we substituted career with a term which fit much more naturally – “life work”.
I believe that each of us has a purpose for being here on the planet and that we each have unique gifts to offer. Our level of happiness and fulfillment is proportional to the degree to which we’re able to live this purpose and share these gifts (I’m tempted to insert a mathematical formula and graph at this point, but I’ll resist).
There’s a practical side to life that requires us to earn money in order to support ourselves and our family…and perhaps indulge in some of the finer things in life. Ideally the work that you get paid for is completely in alignment with your life work. This isn’t always the case and, especially in earlier stages of life, your purpose and “life work” may be somewhat (or completely) undefined.
As a minimum, hopefully your paid employment satisfies at least some aspects of your life work. And with a little creativity this is almost possible, regardless of circumstances. Those aspects that aren’t met by a traditional career can still be cultivated in other areas of your life, with or without financial gain. Sometimes rewards for carrying out your life work can exist in the form of fulfillment or as an experience of deep connection with the world around you.
So how does the Wheel of Life Work apply in practical terms? Read on.
My Wheel of Life Work
To further illustrate this concept, here’s my own Wheel of Life Work as it exists today:
In my case, I came up with eight personas and gifts that bring great fulfillment and allow me to make a positive contribution to the world. Some of these exist as part of paid work, while others aren’t attached to a financial income stream, yet bring great joy. In my case, I’ve discovered that the specifics of the work I’m doing is less important than the results that are created. For example, as a public speaker I enjoy engaging a group in a way that leaves them inspired and willing to look at their life in a new, positive light. The specific topic of the speech is less important than the impact that is delivered.
I’ve also noticed that none of the areas of my Wheel of Life Work exist in isolation. For example, as a Technology Consultant I’m motivated to share ways in which technology can be used to bring positive changes to our lives and our communities. I might express this enthusiasm and knowledge as a Writer, Teacher or Workshop Leader and may draw upon my training as a Yoga Teacher to inject some ancient yogic wisdom into the conversation.
I frequently revisit my Wheel of Life Work to ensure that each of these areas is getting “fed”. If an area is being neglected I put a plan in place to shift this area. I also use the Wheel of Life Work when evaluating new employment opportunities. If the opportunity doesn’t satisfy at least a few segments of my Life Work it’s time to look elsewhere.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Enough about me. Now it’s your turn to explore your own Wheel of Life Work.
Set aside some quiet time – 20-30 minutes will likely be sufficient – and define the various facets that make up your own life work. It’s useful to look back on your life and identify moments where you felt particularly fulfilled and content. These could be moments spent in the context of a job or they could be activities you’ve pursued for the sheer enjoyment they bring.
The key here is not to over-think the process. Often the first thought that pops into your head is the most relevant one. It may help to do this exercise with a coach or a friend. Let their curiosity around your life work help you clarify the various activities and roles that light you up and are aligned with your core essence. In some cases, it’s as much about your gift of being as your talents at doing. For example, you may have an enthusiasm that is contagious to everyone around you or your mere presence may instil a sense of calm.
Your labels may exist as personas, as mine did, or they may be more topical in nature. For example, sustainability and the environment may be a key component of your life work. You may come up with eight facets, or you may have more…or fewer. There may be some aspects that are crystal clear, while others may be foggy or even invisible at this stage. Identifying what is clear is a good first step that can allow clarity in the other areas to unfold naturally. It’s also important to keep in mind that none of this is cast in stone. Allow yourself the freedom to evolve your Wheel of Life Work over time.
Once you identify the various facets of your Wheel of Life Work, rate each of them on a scale from one to ten based on your current satisfaction in each area. Imagine what each area would look like if it were a ten – even if the means to achieving this level of satisfaction is unclear.
To help ground this exercise, take three areas from your Wheel of Life Work and commit to the rating you’d like to have in each of these areas three months from now. The key is to come up with measurable indicators. For example, if you currently aren’t putting any significant energy into a key part of your life and rate it at at two – a measurable quality that would make it a five might be that you’re spending two hours a week in this area or have identified jobs that would feed this part of your work life.
Creating accountability is a key aspect of coaching. I encourage you to share your Wheel of Life Work and goals with a friend or coach. And, if you’re feeling particularly brave, share a summary of your discovery in the comments below. Publicly revealing your gifts and ambitions can be a powerful way of setting the stage for a fulfilling life.
Kathryn Greene says
I love this piece and the circle format of the Wheel of Life Work. I would enjoy using this concept in my coaching. It’s important to me to honor intellectual property. So I was wondering how I could go about using? I wouldn’t even need the template, but would just use the idea.
Trixi Menhardt says
wonderful work! will try this for myself first.
Tim Stringer says
Kathryn — You’re welcome to use this concept, I just ask that you include the trademark symbol and identify me as the source. Thanks for asking.
Trixi — Thanks for your feedback…and I’d be curious to hear your impressions once you’ve had the chance to put this through its paces.
Trixi Menhardt says
Tim, I have used it with two clients and for myself (1st to try it out). What it helps most with is to see that I am this one person doing so many things, which shows me that it’s always and not either the “career me” or the “parent me”.
2nd, it shows how many things we do and therefore impossible to do it all, at your best, all the time – time to scale back, assess what’s important.
Yesterday, a very inspiring woman talked about the “vectors” in our life, another way to describe the wheel.
Tim Stringer says
Thanks very much for your feedback, Trixi. I’m happy to hear that The Wheel of Life work has proved useful both for yourself and for your clients!
Air Air says
I am Dr. Air from Bangkok, Thailand. I am interested in this wheel of life matter. May I ask for more clarification please:
What does “significant other romance” mean? How is it different from love of family? Please give sample
How is “personal growth” different from “career” ? Pls give sample.
How Coach help balance all things?
Thanks so much.
Tim Stringer says
Dr. Air — The labels on the Wheel of Life (or Wheel of Work Life) can be anything you want. It’s important to choose labels that are meaningful and positive. The way I define these labels, “Significant Other” refers to a life partner or the closest relationship in your life, whereas “Friends & Family” encompasses other relationships in your life. “Personal Growth” relates to opportunities you have to grow and learn, whereas “Career” refers to a specific career path. One key point is that none of these areas exist in isolation. For example, career could provide a significant opportunity for personal growth, and a positive relationship could support strong health. Working with a coach can help you clarify what’s important to you and can dramatically impact shifts that you’re creating in your life.
Elizabeth Miller says
I am searching for the original source, if it exists, for the Wheel of Life. I have seen some academic publications dating back to 2003, but was wondering if you may know how the concept developed.
Tim Stringer says
I’ve searched for the origin of the Wheel of Life as well, but haven’t found the source. I sense it’s been a concept that’s been around for quite a while.
Thank you very much for this wheel of life, l have always used this for my clients but never used the wheel of life work. Thank you very much for this and l will reference you as the source.
Tim Stringer says
You’re very welcome, Og. Great to hear you’re finding this useful…and thanks for referencing me as the source. p.s. I’m planning to delve more into this topic on my new Holistic Productivity website that is launching later this year.
Have you used the wheel of life with school aged students, say 11 or 12 years old and older? Life work is an interesting label for anyone since most 11-12 year olds have some difficulty wrapping their heads around the term “career”.
Tim Stringer says
Hi Jill. I gave a talk to two groups of high school students who were graduating from a International Baccalaureate program and introduced the Wheel of Life Work as part of this talk. I asked them to share some activities that they consider to be part of their life’s work, which stimulated some lively discussion. I haven’t shared it within anyone younger…if you do I’d be very curious to hear what the response is like!