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A good life is who you are

Just under two years ago, and on a previous visit to Sydney, I had an experience that changed the way that I look at life.

After being tossed roughly by the surf off Sydney I found myself late the next day staring down the hill to surfers at Whale Beach. The golden afternoon sun was setting behind me, giving the scene a magical quality.

The juxtaposition of a feeling that I might drown and then a timeless scene of people and nature as one really got me thinking. A Good Life, or whatever we call that which we seek from life, is not about our successfully asserting control over the universe but having the courage to turn up day after day and play the best game that we can.

Audio of a poem I wrote that day is here (SoundCloud).

The surfers who come out in all sorts of conditions are not doing it to pursue happiness, but to pursue life. People surf for: challenge, self-expression, to be at one with nature. For adrenaline or to feel weightlessness or euphoria. To be alone and with mates. For fitness. And even as a form of identity.

Asking if a surfer surfs to be happy seems to demonstrate a lack of understanding of what the true nature of the thing is.

Nevertheless, it seemed obvious that we can spend our whole lives chasing happiness like it is a rare gem to be captured and put in a display cabinet. Happiness, balance and meaning are not things or single-shot goals, but outcomes of an ongoing process, philosophy and practice of living.

As the afternoon sun continued to set that day, the scene of surfers at sea revealed a secret hidden in plain sight. The good life is not about what we have or even how we feel at any one time. A good life is who we are.

This time, on my first return to Whale Beach, the sky is overcast yet the surfers are still here. So what has changed in this past two years? What more have I learned?

A little over a year after my last visit to Whale Beach I quit my management consulting job to write The Good Life Book. The first promo copies of it are on their way to me as this article is being written.

I’ve seen the same scenes of life expressed in the surfers, instead in commuters braving the chill winters of New York, and in London’s summer park-goers. The good life is not about seeking more, but about removing barriers and hindrances to being and feeling alive.

This beach, the winter in New York, and green spaces of London are all about an honest expression of life. Visit them and position yourself to experience that for yourself. Then work out what barriers are preventing you from being present all the time in your own life.

Six months ago, on a trip back to Australia from the US I saw life in the eyes of my Dad, diagnosed with cancer for the second time, and resolved to fight it.

I saw life at a wine tasting that I hosted in Dallas, Texas. Wine, like life, is something that we can consume, letting it drain away, or we can savour it. Taste it and imprint it in our memories, experiencing it fully for the first time.

I've felt life in the energy of the successful professionals I’ve met, wanting to be more authentic in their lives. To do what they dream of doing, not just what they can do.

I felt the life, fragile, in my newborn daughter, slowly beginning to flourish after a difficult start.

The days and months I’ve spent crafting and honing the words in my book about life are times that I’ve been casting myself into the surf, at the mercy of the elements, but finally feeling alive.

My father recently lost his battle and last week we scattered his ashes at sea. He is the reason that I stand here on this day. Even death is a function of life. A different beach, a different day.

As I stare out to the ocean, Dad says hello to me via a pod of playful dolphins in the surf.

This moment is one that I’ve been preparing for now for some time.

I know what to do next.

Because it is who I am.