Balance is probably the most important thing to me. I think about balance in a way that is dynamic, fluid and intuitive. I will explain.
In the simplest sense, balance is when two things are equal. Think about the basic balance scale from grammar school – you put an object on one side and then put small weights on the other side until they are even. There are two things that weigh the same, they are not changing, so they are equal and therefore in balance.
I believe that when people try to ‘balance’ things in their life it is this concept dominating – perhaps subconsciously – that trips them up the most. For example, when you think about “work-life balance” it’s like you have one part of your life that is work – that goes on one side of the balance scale. Then you have the part of your life that is… well, everything else. Life. That goes on the other side of the balance scale. Expecting these two things to balance neatly, and stay that way, is simply unreasonable. And, work is in fact part of your life – so carving one piece out of a whole to balance against the rest of the whole is messy. Let’s look at three important differences between that balance scale and real life.
In life, you will be balancing far more than two things. When I say “things,” I don’t just mean physical things. I mean everything that is important to you. What is on your list? I bet it includes personal things – like nutrition, exercise, self-care; family things – taking care of and spending time with kids, parents, partners, pets; relationship things – like hanging out with friends; career things – going to a job, being an entrepreneur, studying; general things to keep life going – like grocery shopping or doing the laundry; and many other things unique to you – faith, contribution to society, hobbies. To even think about balancing one thing against another against another against another… can be a bit overwhelming. In addition, many things in life have overlapping boundaries with other things – it’s not like each aspect is a discrete bucket. How does one start thinking of balancing so many things that are intertwined?
In life, things don’t actually need to be equal to be in balance. It can really put a damper on living joyfully to feel a need for the various aspects of your life to be the same – to feel like spending a certain amount of time, money or attention in one area requires you to spend the same amount of time, money or attention in another. I remember struggling when my younger daughter, Maya, was born because she was certainly not getting the same amount of time or attention that my older daughter, Isabella, had gotten when she was an only baby. And, all of a sudden, I was not giving the same amount of time or attention to Isabella as I had been before Maya came along. I felt guilty, like they were both getting short-changed. As time went on, though, I came to understand that things not being the same didn’t mean they were bad, or less than they were before. It just meant that they were different, and that was OK. Both girls were getting my full love and attention – and now they each had a sister! In this simple example, I was comparing “apples to apples.” Extrapolate the amount of angst that can arise when trying to balance things that are completely unrelated, and in really big buckets – like “a career” and “a passion project” – and it can seem so complex. Not just comparing “apples to oranges” but perhaps more like comparing apples to an 18-wheeler! There’s no real way to objectively evaluate whether the different aspects of your life are in balance.
In life, things don’t stay the same. Things change, and so do you. As things in your life change – a new job, hobby or pet; a kid going off to college or the loss of a loved one – suddenly something may warrant more or less attention than it previously did. Meanwhile, you are changing. Sometimes the changes in you are instantaneous and drastic, but more often change happens in small, unnoticeable ways. Gentle shifts, but when you step back you can see it. The freedom to sleep until 1PM on the weekend when I was just out of college was priceless and now, I love getting up early to enjoy the morning! This one change – which happened over a number of years – has a profound effect on nearly everything else in my life. As you change, what is important to you changes, and so does the amount of attention you want to give various things.
To recap: you have many things in your life, you will want to allocate varying levels of attention to each of them, and both you and things in your life are constantly changing. Trying to balance all of this from a logical and intellectual perspective is likely to bring you frustration and may never actually work. It’s like an unsolvable equation. But fear not! I honestly believe you can achieve balance by approaching it differently.
First, acknowledge the principles above. There are a lot of things in your life – and that’s a good thing! Whether you keep detailed lists or just loosely accept their presence, embrace “all of the things” in your life and be grateful for them. Give yourself permission to keep whatever brings you joy. Give yourself permission to let go of the things that don’t bring you joy, that weigh you down, that don’t serve your higher purpose. Appreciate that the impact or effect of your time, attention or money isn’t always quantifiable and isn’t ‘worth’ the same when applied to different things. Different things – and different people – warrant varying levels of attention for an infinite number of reasons. Sometimes, a little goes a long way. Remember that change is constant. What works today may not work 10 years from now, or a year from now. Perhaps even tomorrow. That’s not failure – that’s just life marching on!
Second, look inside and listen to what your heart is saying, what your gut is saying. Approach ‘finding balance’ as a way of life, not as a singular goal that should be achieved. Look at whether your life feels balanced from a variety of ‘distances’ – meaning sometimes it’s all about the moment, and what is right in that moment. Stringing together days that feel good at the end of the day is a good sign that you’re balancing things well. Sometimes it’s important to look at the macro level – looking back on a month or a year and feeling like “I had a good month or year.”
Finding balance is more like surfing than becoming a statue. Bend this way and that, crouch, lean. Do your best to anticipate what’s next but know the ocean can bring anything anytime. The right mix of all that makes up your life can change year by year, day by day. The right mix just feels right and is yours to define.
Original art by Maya Burke