Like so many of us, we race along at 90 miles an hour chasing this concept of life balance that somehow manages to elude us. So began the quest to find out if it is possible.
When I first began to contemplate what constituted “ life balance” I looked up synonyms for it: stability, steadiness, equilibrium, but those certainly didn’t offer an answer. So what follows are the results of my personal journey in the quest to define and maintain life balance. Initially I discovered that trying to find balance in life is a journey on a road without a map. So I sent an email to some friends and asked them to share any insights they’ve found on the path to balance and fulfillment.
My friend Ina said, “I surround myself with those who support my need for balance, both friends and co-workers.” My friend Judy said. “It is precisely the fact that I work in my garden that makes my life feel in balance. Ruth said, “A balanced life depends on who you are and what you deem to be your most important values”. My favorite was from Charlie, a long time friend and a brilliant copywriter who said, “In my life, balance simply means not falling down”. And that was somehow the most profound.
Can we achieve a balanced life, is it really important, and if so why? Will insuring family, work, learning, fun, health, volunteering, and love in equal parts cause us to feel balanced? Will a pie shaped chart that rigidly divides our lives into multi-colored and roughly equal segments labeled with our top five or six core values steer us to balance? I use to think if I could; just get that chart completed, like it’s a finished piece of art to hang on the wall and admire, then all will be well. But I have since discovered that rigid adherence to my own rules actually creates more stress and anxiety. And forced divisions of time equal a life lacking in passion - like a straight line on your EKG.
If family is your main priority, and you balance your life around it, will you continue to feel balanced when your parents are gone and the kids have moved out? Is balance just about time management? Could be, but I think the answer is much simpler than that. If we are trying to find meaning, or uncover some profound philosophical answer in our quest for balance, maybe we are just trying too hard.
A few years ago I accepted a senior management position in a very large and successful not-for-profit social service agency and my life became the most chaotic it had ever been. Twenty previous years as an ad agency producer turned out to be child’s play compared to the demands of the non-profit. Yet I discovered that with less time, more responsibility, and busier than ever before, I felt a greater sense of balance!
I have always been a list maker and a list “checker-offer”. And I always had a sense of anxiety because the list was always there and never completely completed. Then I read a simple but profound little book, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”, and one simple little line changed my life. “No one dies with their inbox empty”. I had thought for years that if I could just get “IT” all done, then I could relax. So is balance about time management? Yes, but not entirely.
When you sit on a beach, quiet, alone, listening to the surf, reading a novel, sipping a margarita… is that balance? No that’s peace.
When you and your spouse or kids manage to agree after a heated argument is that balance? No that’s harmony.
So I began looking at what balance is not. It’s not a place at which you arrive and once there you’re done and can say, “HONEY, “WE’RE ARRIVED AT BALANCE …WE CAN UNPACK.” It’s not someplace you’re going to spend the rest of your life because life really is a continuous balancing act!
Our endless to-do lists have each of us juggling work and play, friends and family, heart and soul and mind and body in continuous always-changing cycles that are impossible to keep up in the air.
Many of us have watched that old variety act of a man who could spin eight or nine plates at one time and keep them up in the air. That was ultimate balance…. but that too was only momentary wasn’t it? Did the plates go crashing down? No, he collected them just before they crashed. Once in a while one would fall to the floor and yet he proudly took a bow and the audience applauded.
On this journey I have learned to forgive myself for not being perfect and have given myself permission to fail and try again, and fail again, and so on. Life is fluid and forever changing.
My best life balance is different everyday. The right balance for me today will probably be different for me tomorrow. The right balance for us when we are single will be different when we marry, or if we have children; when we start a new career versus when we are nearing retirement or are already retired.
There is no perfect one-size fits all that we should be striving for. The best life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives. I realized and accepted that it’s not a problem that has to be solved, but an ongoing task that has to be managed. If you love to cook, each time you prepare a favorite recipe, you add, subtract, amend and revise the ingredients.
I’ve learned to accept that balance in not a natural state, it is perpetually in motion, and trying to lock it down is exhausting. But it becomes much simpler if we look at it from a different perspective. If we look at achieving balance on a daily basis and break it down into small digestible bits rather than as a life goal it will work. Here is what works for me.
EVERY DAY I TRY to achieve something and enjoy something,
Achievement and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin in the value of life. You can't have one without the other. Trying to live a one sided life is why so many "successful" people are not happy, or not as happy as they should be.
I cannot get the full value from life without both Achievement and Enjoyment. If you focus on achievement and enjoyment every day in life it will help you avoid the "As Soon As” trap. This is a life-dulling habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and accomplishments "as soon as,” I have the time, the money, the kids are grown.
Most of us already have a good grasp on the meaning of Achievement. But let's look at the concept of enjoyment a little more. doesn’t just mean "Ha-Ha" having fun. It means Pride, Satisfaction, Happiness, Celebration, Love, A Sense of Well Being …all the Joys of Living.
So one day you’ll find yourself asking the question, “What’s my purpose in life?" Today I actually have the answer. I say, "You know, I just want to achieve something today and I want to enjoy something today. And if I do both of those things today, I'm going to have a pretty good day. And if I do both of those things every day I'm going to have a pretty good life."
And I think that's true for all of us. Life will deliver the value and balance we want when we are achieving and enjoying something every single day…in all the important areas that make up our lives. They don’t have to be big. Sometimes it’s getting to work in traffic without honking my horn and having an inappropriate silent conversation with the car in front of me. If this is a new behavior then I have achieved something!!
So for me, a good working definition of Balance is: meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of my five life areas: Work, Family, Friends, Service and Self.
Why not take 20 minutes today and do something just for yourself? Think about what you want to focus on achieving or enjoying today. Then give yourself permission to do just that. Sometimes that one act can accomplish both, for me it’s my garden.
These are simple concepts really, but once you focus on them as key parts of your day, they are not that hard to accomplish. So, make it happen…. for yourself, your family and all the important people you care about…every day for the rest of your life… Achieve and Enjoy… AND ONE LAST THING, be grateful, every day about something. Give thanks for being alive, for having long lists, or for the ability to sit and feel blessed for the ability to achieve and enjoy.