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Depth

I remember years ago when interest in lifestyle design was surging. Many people were escaping their 9-5 jobs, becoming digital nomads, traveling extensively, exploring open relationships, embracing wild adventures, and stretching the limits of what they could do with their lifestyles.

Some people thrived in those explorations while others quickly burned out. Many who went this route seemed to get a tremendous amount of value from it initially, but soon they began feeling that something was missing.

The results people shared were all over the place, but few people regretted this type of exploration. They usually learned a lot about themselves, and eventually the path was pointing them in a different direction. Soaking up more lifestyle adventures became less important after a while. That was still present for many people, but it wasn’t the most important aspect of life to them anymore.

Many turned in different directions. Some wanted to explore spirituality more deeply. Others wanted more depth in their relationships. Still others wanted to make a mark on the world in a meaningful way.

I’d say that the common pattern was that these people wanted more depth. Up-leveling your lifestyle can be fun for a while, but it tends to feel shallow and repetitive if that’s your primary focus. Even though it can seem really exciting to soak up lots of experiences, in a way it’s like social media applied to the real world. There’s a tendency to get swept up in consumption. Instead of consuming through devices, you head out into the world and consume in-person experiences. Either way, if you overplay the consumption card, life can feel pretty hollow after a while, and you’re likely to crave more depth. You may even begin to dread the lifestyle experiences you once craved because you’ve learned that those experiences won’t fill you up inside.

The way many people approach lifestyle design is often about breadth rather than depth. Add new experiences. Meet new people. Travel to new places. Rinse and repeat.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Breadth is great. But if that’s all you have, most likely you’ll be craving more depth – in your experiences, in your relationships, and in your work.

And of course you don’t need to go the lifestyle design route first in order to crave more depth in life. Perhaps you’ve intuitively recognized that lifestyle changes are unlikely to sufficiently address the depth problem.

What Gives You the Experience of Depth?

Think like an investor. Depth takes time and patience. It requires consistency and clear decisions. It aligns with many of the same qualities that work for investing.

If you want more depth, think about where you’re willing to invest. Where are you willing to plant some roots? In which ares of life are you willing to nurture investments over a long period of time?

Here are some areas of life where people experience depth:

  • Investing in long-term, growth-oriented relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, team members, neighbors, etc.
  • Investing in a long-term career path, business, or creative outlet
  • Building skills to a high level of competence and regularly applying those skills
  • Contributing to the world in ways that feel important and worthwhile
  • Investing in a long-term spiritual practice
  • Investing in home improvements
  • Investing in community service or volunteering
  • Investing in a long-term fitness program
  • Investing in rewarding habits and behaviors

I encourage you to create your own list, and make it more specific. What gives you the experience of depth?

I experience a lot of depth from my creative work. Writing a new article can give me that experience, especially if it helps me think more deeply about a topic. I know that when I’m craving a deeper experience, writing is one way to get there. Publishing what I write can also be a pathway to connecting with people more deeply when they resonate with the work.

Another way I experience depth is through certain forms of exercise like running. Going for a morning run helps me feel connected to the earth, to nature, and to my body. If I try a new type of exercise, I usually don’t experience the same level of depth. But since I’ve been running for decades, that investment takes me deeper into a feeling of connectedness, including with my own past.

I also experience greater feelings of depth when I invest in connecting with people who care about what I care about. If I spend time with people who have priorities that don’t resonate with me as much, the experience tends to feel less investment-worthy and more like a one-off experience, even if the interactions are pleasant.

Addictions and other unwanted behaviors can serve as substitutes for depth. A long-term addiction is still an investment. Some people invest in substances or habits that may have negative side effects, but this may still provide a sense of connecting to something deeper, especially relative to other areas of life where long-term investments aren’t being made to the same extent.

Incorporating More Depth Into Your Life

If you think like an investor when it comes to depth, you can apply the practice of rebalancing your portfolio to life decisions as well. Notice which investments are giving you good returns and which aren’t. Consider the riskiness of each investment too. Which investments are paying off consistently, and which are hit and miss? Then consider how you’d like to rebalance your investments going forward. Shift time and energy from weak investments to other investments where you see more potential.

Where are you over-investing? Where are you putting in a lot of time and energy, but you aren’t experiencing much depth, fulfillment, and long-term satisfaction in return? Where do you need to withdraw some time and energy and maintain stronger boundaries?

Where are you under-investing? Which areas of life have you been neglecting, denying yourself the long-term, accumulated benefits?

Take a look at your habits, relationships, tech usage, career path, and more. Is the depth where you want it to be? Is the long-term payoff satisfying?

The market shows commercial investors the results of their decisions. Similarly, your inner experience of depth tells you the results of your personal investment decisions. Accept this as valuable feedback. Blaming life for unwanted results is akin to blaming the market – tempting at times although not particularly helpful as part of an intelligent investment strategy. If you want better results, you’ll need to make different decisions. The feedback is always there. It’s up to you to listen to it.

Don’t beat yourself up for past decisions either, again because it’s not helpful. The feedback is there to serve you, not to beat you down. Use the feedback you receive to improve your current decisions. If a certain path isn’t producing the depth you’d like despite a serious investment, try a different path. As with commercial investing, it often takes years to find the right investment vehicles that will work for you.

Among my most growth-oriented friends, one pattern seems pretty clear: Those who invest in depth tend to be a lot happier and more satisfied with their lives as they get older.

When I see friends in their 70s and beyond who are happy and fulfilled, I pay attention to what fuels their sense of depth. In each case they’re getting the payoff from some form of investment. For some it’s engaging in creative work and contribution. For others it’s the decades-long friendships they’ve maintained. For still others it’s their investment in family. Many benefit from multiple investments across these areas, but even one close friendship can create that effect.

Lifestyle design often focuses on quantity – more experiences, more travel, more hacks. But depth tends to come from quality more than quantity, and sometimes it’s easier to create depth with less. A few good friends, a solid creative outlet, a deep relationship – even just one of those can serve as a wellspring of connectedness for decades. Now combine such depth with the breadth of an engaging lifestyle, and you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Where will you invest in creating the long-term experience of depth and connectedness that help you feel truly at home here? How do you need to rebalance your current investments?

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