On the River of Life Roadway

Many coaches use a pie chart to represent the Wheel of Life: a pie divided into eight slices. The client is asked to complete the chart, noting which areas of life feel more prominent and which feel perhaps less important. Or more fulfilling and less fulfilling. There’s no judgment involved here. It’s a self-assessment tool that can give both the client and the coach a quick “look” at which area of life might need attention now.

This is a typical Wheel of Life chart, showing eight of the more commonly used pie portions.

The categories that are commonly used include the following, although many coaches have altered these based on their experience, and others ask the client to come up with eight of their own. I’ve seen people use segments such as Legacy, Creativity, Down Time and others.

Spiritual/personal growth
Life partner

I’ve used this Wheel of Life, both as a coach and as a client. I’ve found it useful. The last time I made this chart, I decided to take some creative license and create what I called the Made from Scratch Pie of Life. In this version, I made larger pie segments based on how important I felt those areas were to my life at that time; less prominent segments were smaller. It looked like this. (Note that the squared numbers inside the segments tied to a legend indicating specific actions to which I was committing.)

I’ve been rethinking this model for myself lately. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with the Wheel of Life but because I’ve had a discovered something about my life in this moment that I believe is better represented by a more fluid and more metaphoric model. I call it the River of Life.

What I realized I wanted was something that would allow me to consider how much of my potential I feel I am bringing to my life. In a pie chart, the pie is the pie. Sure, some segments are larger and some are smaller; but the pie itself, the wheel shape, is assumed to exist as a full circle. Or, as in my Made from Scratch version, a misshapen pie:)

In my new model (which I’m not trying to push onto others or suggest is “better”, by the way!) I am able to see that as I add more sources, the size of the river expands and, as we know about big rivers and lots of water, the flow will increase, as well.

All of this is a way of answering the question, How do I bring more to my life that I will find fulfilling, sustaining, joy-making, meaningful, etc.?

I’m using a total of eight possible sources of flow — — eight inputs, so to speak. And I think of these sources as exactly that: water sources that can be made to flow into a larger body of water. I choose things that are sustaining. But, if I were feeling down or at odds or just off in some way, I would create measures that would speak to that. Those might include: Food, Drink, Sleep, Work, Time with Friends, etc.

The key here: Design what you need.

My categories are:

Creative time
Expression of love
Meaningful work
Health & well being

*Can be faith in anything and does not necessarily mean religious faith, although it can be. Faith may include faith in institutions, faith in others, spirituality, etc. It is belief in something that provides a positive and comforting feeling.

I created my River of Life for myself this afternoon. Look, this isn’t scientific. I am not suggesting this is the answer to serious mental health issues. It isn’t. It’s a different way of looking at my life in the moment and deciding if I’m happy with the flow and the size of my life. I might want to have more, more and more. Or I might feel like, whoa, this is a time in which to slow down and regroup. No right or wrong answers. The things to watch are where there is little to no flow from something important to me, and the effect of dialing it up so that I can see the possibility for expansion and growth.

The Wheel of Life can be incredibly helpful in identifying which area of life in particular isn’t getting enough attention or is being attended to at the expense of something else. As a recovering workaholic, I freely admit that my work segment of the pie was always way larger than all the segments.

I also created a process for drawing the River. I figure out which eight sources I want to use. (And the next time I do this, the sources may be different, although if I keep them the same I can easily compare and contrast.) For each source, I assign a number from 0 to 3. I’ve decided to allow myself to use fractions, as well, so I may have 2.5 or 1.5 or 0.5. Make up your own rules. Once you’ve done this, create a list of the eight sources, starting with the smallest number and working up to the largest.

My list looks like this:

Health & well being1.0
Expression of love 1.5
Positivity 2.0
Meaningful work 2.0
Exploration 2.0
Connection 2.0
Creative time 3.0

Then I draw my River. I use represent the values I have assigned above. Note how Creative Time gets three bands and Health & well being only gets one (a function of Covid, social isolation, etc.).

If my River comprised mostly zeros and ones, it would flow slowly and it would be significantly smaller than if my River comprised mostly twos and threes, as mine does. Maybe it would look like this:

This isn’t to say either is preferable. It’s to say I might be in a period where I need the downtime and the slower pace. Or, I might draw this out and say, I want to push myself more right now, especially in X and Y. Third option: I might look at this and say, No wonder I’m exhausted. I need to slow this all down at the source. Maybe scale back on some things, make fewer plans, get more sleep, spend more time walking in nature, read more, swim.

What the River concept lets me think about is how much of my full potential I am bringing in this moment. The potential is a set of three’s across every source, as I’ve designed it. (We’ll leave aside that a life like that would be exhausting and I am dying inside more than a little bit just thinking about it! But, maybe 1–2 more areas at full force?)

The River model does something else I find incredibly useful. It helps me feel that life is in motion. That it is something that moves along — sometimes on a gentle current and other times with a thunderous roar. This model very specifically does not suggest that either is “the right one”, except that if we allow the river to dry up or slow to such an extent that we can barely move, or if we push it so hard that we’re in a near-permanent state of white water rapids, tweaks are needed.

I loved the photo I found in iStock for the header of this piece because of the way it clearly shows how we can find a road in our River. And we can keep moving. Forward.

If you like this, please feel free to give it a clap. Note that says “a” clap, rather than “the” clap. Language matters.