The Six C’s

Putting Life in Balance

When catching up with a friend over a meal, I often lead with a demand for bullet-pointed updates on the “five pillars” of their life, counted off on their fingers:

Family (how’s your mom?), Friends (what’s the latest gossip on your bff’s weird relationship?), Romance (seeing anyone good lately?), Work (how’s the job search?), and World (can you believe this shit?).

Certainly, there’s more to life than this (for example, religious observance, hobbies, health and fitness), but in the woven tapestry of our lives, these are for many of us the thickest threads. And having a framework like the Five Pillars helps clarify how these threads are shifting and interlacing—or at least helps structure conversation over a meal.

A Total Framework?

But what if we could develop a framework that captures all there is to life? I was thinking about this more lately as I decided to quit social media—I didn’t like the asymmetry in my daily life between consumption of other people’s thoughts and creation of my own work in the world. The dial between (a) taking in what other people were putting out and (b) putting out stuff of my own was turned too far towards consumption.

If consumption consists of taking in other people’s creations—watching a TV show, listening to a podcast, scrolling on social—and creation consists of making things of your own—writing a novel, starting a business, creating social change through activism—what else do we do all day? And what broader balance can we aspire to?

Thinking through it a bit more, I’ve hypothesized that all of life can be broken down into six areas. Thinking about how we balance them—and how we frame our quotidian activities to ourselves—could helpfully alter the ways we shape our days.

Five of the Six C’s

The Six C’s

Both consumption and creation implicate our interactions with the wider world—with people not sitting face-to-face with us. We can take content in from the wider world and work to shape it, but this isn’t the same as direct exchanges that bring us closer not just to folks’ ideas but to their selves.

Once we get closer, we start engaging in connection. A meal with friend, a kind interaction with a stranger on the street, sex—these are moments of connection that sate our need for sociability.

But there is a way to connect even without other people in the room: when we’re connecting with ourselves, or aspiring toward connection with something bigger than us. This communion includes prayer, meditation, or just quiet contemplation—whether in the woods, Walden-style, or on a crowded subway car when the earbuds are off. (I considered separating out “communion” for the upward arrow towards the divine and “contemplation” for purely introspective time, but I think they’re points on the same silent spectrum.)

Creation involves putting something out into the world—investing the world with our ideas—but there is an equally important process of making investments in ourselves: cultivation. Learning a new skill, exercising, even just cooking oneself a meal: these are moments of feeding the self—both creation and consumption for the purpose of personal growth or sustenance.

My sketch only has five C’s—what’s missing? Well, there are, finally, chores: the things we do just to keep the whole thing running. Commuting, buying groceries, paying bills… these are uses of time that in themselves don’t fill our lives with value or spark joy.

I think the other Five C’s are value neutral: creation isn’t “better” than “consuming”—both are essential to a rounded life, if they are in balance. But chores just take away time from the other five C’s.

What’s the point?

Of course, not everything can be put neatly into one of these boxes.

  • Religious services are structured around communion but can include a significant amount of connection with fellow congregants.
  • Reading Middlemarch is a kind of consumption that can become cultivation if its met with the right level of engagement.
  • A day at work might toggle between the creation of putting together an exciting project, the chore of paperwork, connection at the water cooler, and consumption of tweets when the boss isn’t looking.

But that’s why I think this schema matters: it provides a way to understand the values we’re pursuing in the use of our time.

We might go to Facebook intending to connect but realize that looking at baby photos from a college acquaintance is just a form of consumption—better to pick up the phone to make a call.

We might realize that we’ve been treating exercise or cleaning like chores when the right approach would imbue them with the value of cultivation.

Most broadly, we can look at the breakdown of our time each day and reflect on whether our values are being expressed in our actions—and adjust accordingly.