Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life

Joseph C. Maroon with Carrie Kennedy

Pythia Publishing (April 20, 2017)


Available on Amazon.ca

Ever feel like something is missing in your life? Or feel lost but can’t put your finger on how to move forward? Reader Marlene Marcon introduced me to Square One as a simple framework for assessing one’s life. Square One recounts neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon’s fall to despair from his successful medical practice and the climb up to a balanced life. The story is Maroon’s and that of many others, and the framework is from William Danforth’s I Dare You.

The framework is about looking at four elements of life – our bodies (the physical side), our souls (the spiritual side), our brains (our work side or what engages you), and our hearts (the relationship side) – and ensuring fulfilment by including humour, creativity and flow moments in our lives.

Although I Dare You was published in 1931 this framework is far from outdated. For instance, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of the 2016 book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well Lived, Joyful Life recommend a personal assessment with similar parameters. What is old is new again. 

Maroon tells us about his singular focus on his neurosurgical practice leading to the collapse of his marriage, the demise of his physical health and an absence from a spiritual life. To understand the framework, do this — draw a shape that represents the four sides of your life as they are now — physical, work, relationships, and spiritual — with the length of each side proportional to the time and effort you put toward that domain. Maroon’s “square” was a ladle — a long handle devoted to work and short lines representing the other three elements, a square scoop at the end. What does yours look like? And mine? I used Square One to make sense of what was missing from my life while living on a 37’ sailboat. The relationship, physical and spiritual sides of my square were on the short side. As well, I was not living in a manner consistent with my values.

Like the story of Tom, Maroon fell into addressing his physical health by chance yet acknowledges prioritizing his health was the first step in reimagining a different life for himself. Stories of people from different walks of life demonstrate that any side of the square is a starting point for rebalancing. Maroon provides practical ideas for lengthening and strengthening each element of the framework. And addressing any one side of the square may build up other sides as well. Besides being good for our health, physical activity can build social networks and have an impact as described here.

Throughout Square One, leading authorities like Dan Pink, Simon Sinek, Steve Jobs, Sir Ken Robinson and more are quoted with practical advice and thought-provoking reflections on each side of the square or the underpinning elements of humour, creativity and flow.

Whereas living a purposeful life, discovering your why, and uncovering your values are addressed in this book, and elsewhere on this website, you, like Maroon, may not be ready to dive into those heady topics. And therein lies the strength of Square One and its simple framework — it provides an accessible starting point for self-assessment. 

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