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Living Well

We asked our team what it means to "live well". The answer is inspiring.

Living Well at Modern Tribe

We have an expression here at Modern Tribe: “Live Well and Do Good Work.” This is a shared aspiration for us all, designed to keep us focused on ensuring that our professional and personal experiences amplify each other rather than cancel each other out. The idea is that life at work should be rewarding for the individual, for the company, and for the customer. We designed this company to be a flexible platform to support our team in their pursuit of happiness and fulfillment.

The problem with aspirational mantras is that they are inherently vague. Everyone has their own idea about what it means to “live well.” Realizing that we need more clarity and alignment on the idea, we decided to embark upon a quest to better define the phrase.

What do we at Modern Tribe mean when we talk about “living well?”

We produced a survey to investigate what we mean when we utter these stirring yet ambiguous words. While we were at it, we went ahead and attempted to measure how well we’re actually doing at “living well.” The stated goals were:

  1. Get an idea of what Triberians consider “Living Well” to be.
  2. Identify areas where Triberians are struggling to live well and are interested in improving.
  3. Identify actions that we can take to improve lacking areas and focus our efforts on areas with the most interest.

We solicited optional feedback from over 100 people across all our disciplines, contract types, nationalities, and strata at our company, and received 68 responses.

For the purpose of this summary, I’m going to break this into 3 sections. First, we’ll analyze what people say living well means to them. Then we’ll learn how well we scored on the various topics that we guessed would define living well. We’ll finally talk about suggestions and where to go from here.

What Does Living Well Mean for You?

The first question on the survey was an open-ended question:

What does living well mean for you?

The idea behind this question was to solicit unbiased feedback from the team before we started to ask additional questions that might influence their answers.

The most common way of answering the question among 68% of responses was to define “living well” in terms of work/life balance. (Interestingly, only about 50% of the team agreed or strongly agreed that there should be a strong separation of work and life.)

One grand lesson here is an affirmation that one of our greatest values is flexibility, a concept which many of the descriptions of “work/life balance” overlapped strongly with. This exercise highlights that our flexibility in scheduling, attire, work space, an many other aspects of our lives is a major driver for people at this company. We should lean into that.

For example, when debating things like if we should have fixed holidays at Modern Tribe, it is critical that we take care not to impede on flexibility. One solution that we came up with, which is informed by this value, is that instead of articulating fixed company holidays, we will encourage the team to claim days off for the entire year’s calendar in January so that no one ends up getting to the winter holidays only to realize that they are out of PTO.

Living well means feeling a sense of balance and being in the moment. It's working hard and putting effort towards something greater than myself, but not allowing work to define my life or identity. It's mostly about building strong relationships and fostering good will and trust.
Jackie Jackie M Designer

Popular definitions of living well:

  • Being present with family
  • A sense of purpose
  • Financial stability
  • Health
  • Friendships and other interpersonal relationships

More notable mentions:

  • Growth & learning
  • Adventure
  • Security
  • Fitness
  • Mindfulness
  • Community
  • Fun
  • Vacation
  • Sleep
  • Spirituality
  • Making stories/memories

How Well Are We Doing at Living Well?

Once we gave everyone the space to answer in their own words, we posed 27 statements about living well. We pulled these statements from various sources and conversations, with the hope that the responses to them would help us gauge how the team is doing. Each statement was followed by options for Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree, and scored between 1 and -1 respectively.

There are many ways to dissect this data. After staring at the responses a bit, we came up with an idea on how to most efficiently yield some high-level meaning from these multiple-choice answers. The theory is, we want to identify areas where we’re under-performing so that we can improve. What is under-performance? Disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with a positive statement (or the inverse with a negative statement). For example, if we state “I get a healthy amount of exercise,” and you answer anything between “Neutral” and “Strongly Agree”, we consider that a passing score.

Great News!

Let’s start with the good news. There are some topics in here where we scored incredibly high. Among our 68 responses, the following topics had 99%–100% passing scores!

  • I have someone at work that I trust.
  • I do satisfying and productive work.
  • I arrive to work enthusiastic about what the day holds for me.
  • I feel valued at work.
  • I feel safe and comfortable interacting with people at work.
  • I feel like I am constantly learning new things.

These are all statements where nearly everyone said that they are somewhere between neutral and strongly agree. There’s always room for improvement, but that’s pretty fantastic!

Additionally, the following statements scored highly ranging between 84%–94%:

  • I am living well in regards to my relationship with food.
  • I often feel mindful, grateful, and present
    (as opposed to tuned out, frustrated, or apathetic).
  • I have plenty of adventure in my life.
  • I spend plenty of time with my friends and/or family.
  • I feel confident in my personal time and task management process.
  • I am happy with my sense of control over my time.
  • Overall I feel inspired most of the time.
  • I am unclear about what’s expected of me at work.
    (This last one has an inverted score, meaning  most people were between “Neutral” and “Strongly Disagree.”)

Some Places to Improve

There were, of course, some topics where we confirmed that there’s a need to improve. I suspect that none of these will come as a surprise. From the worst-scoring down:

46%Lack a retirement plan
40%Have too many meetings
37%Lack uninterrupted focused work time
35%Feel too stressed
32%Don’t get adequate exercise
32%Struggle with focus
31%Unsatisfied with amount of charity contributions
29%Often feel drained
29%Have no time for hobbies
25%Don’t take enough breaks at work

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we forgot to ask about health insurance. I suspect that would score low for U.S. folks, though I’m not so sure about our international colleagues. One thing I can say is that health and health insurance were explicitly mentioned in the free form question by nearly 30% of the respondents. That’s a strong indication that it’s a hot topic.

The Value of Purpose

One of the more interesting observations that we gleaned from this survey is how purpose factors into wellbeing.

People have a tendency to look at work and life in opposition. Indeed, half the respondents felt that there should be a separation of work and life. On the other hand, while work has the power to consume us, it also has the power to fulfill and inspire us. Feeling a sense of purpose and value can mean the difference between seeing work as an obstacle rather than an inspiration.

Living well means that life is fulfilling and balanced. That there is a validation and growth. Within work and skillsets as well as personal (family & friends). If you are able to live generously, you’re living well.

Speaking candidly as a Partner at Modern Tribe, I’ve been pretty comfortable with the sense that my purpose at work is less about what we’re doing in the world and more about building and savoring our own community. This is why I continue to arrive at work enthusiastically, even when I no longer spend my days solving the design or code puzzles that initially attracted me to this career. Instead, I attend to the health of this organism called Modern Tribe, and find fulfillment and purpose in its growth and well-being.

However, I can now see more clearly how part of the well-being of this body may be predicated on it having a more coherent mission in and impact on the world. We are smart, talented, and hard-working people. This genius craves application. As such, doing good work is integral to living well.

A life well-lived is not a highlight reel, showcasing a few grand events from an otherwise mundane slog. Life is in those packed days, one after another, that make up 98% of my time on Earth. Each day builds the relationships that give life its form. Living well means nurturing those relationships, engaging in life day to day, and knowing that you're traveling down the road that you chose.
Jonathan2 Jonathan Backend Developer

Where Do We Go From Here?

So what have we learned?

For one thing, we learned that producing a survey of this complexity is ridiculously difficult. Moving forward, we’ll be taking more care to acknowledge the cost of these things, or work to simplify them significantly.

More to the point, we learned that we are doing pretty well in terms of people’s job satisfaction, but that we have a ways to go when it comes to competitive benefits – especially in the U.S. While we offer a fairly comprehensive healthcare reimbursement account (HRA), which is in line without our belief in individual flexibility, the rampant escalation of health care costs in the US are a detriment to every single team member. We are currently looking into alternative health insurance and retirement offerings. I can’t promise that anything will come of that, but it’s an active point of effort. It gets tricky with a distributed team such as ours where we traverse international borders so seamlessly. I’ll follow up on that another time.

We also seem to largely agree that we are suffering from noise and struggle to focus. The leadership team is working hard on this. Even as I write this, we have implemented many adjustments to how we work since the survey was first conducted. I am excited to see how people will respond to this the next time we inquire.

“Live well” is not a promise. It is an aspiration – a shared goal between our company and all the people who work here. It is a daily effort that we all make personally and systemically. Every one of us has our own idea of what it means, but there are definitely some common threads.

I have a mantra that I frequently recite to myself: “All my problems are great problems to have.” There is perhaps no better problem to have than to define the idea of living well. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to take a shot at it today. And tomorrow. And every day after that.




I lead a fantastic team of WordPress developers building enterprise level WordPress systems. On occasion I have been known to speak at conferences on the topics of Freelancing, WordPress, and the meaning of life, though I tend to spend much of my performance energy on my music. Perhaps one day I will figure out how to merge the two without having to write songs about debugging Javascript.