I have to thank Charlotte, over at Wordstrumpet, for inspiring me to take on the topic of balance.Back in April she wrote a thoughtful post about balance that stayed with me for weeks.
So I figured it was high time I wrote about balance too.
As Charlotte tells it, there’s been some talk lately about how life balance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That perhaps it gets in the way of excellence. Or worse yet, leads to mediocrity.
For the record, I don’t know exactly what was said, and that’s okay. Because the point I want to make is that when I heard about the conversation, I was immediately transported back to 1997.
I’m in grad school. Grabbing coffee with one of my professors. We start talking about balance.
“Yeah,” she says. “The entire notion of balance is an illusion.”
I remember feeling confused because I thought balance was a good thing. But my teacher seemed to know a lot. And after all, I was still studying to be a counselor. She’d already been out there, doing it.
End of discussion. (Or so I thought.)
Fast forward now, three years. I’ve started my counseling and coaching practice. The topic of balance demands my attention yet again, when one of my very first clients sits down and laments,
“I need some balance in my life.”
That was a turning point. My client’s plea for balance was real and deserved my respect.
In the years since I’ve sometimes wondered if the conversation about the value of balance in our lives is much older than we know. Ancient, perhaps.
Right now I’m imagining our ancestors out on the veldt, hunting and gathering, feeling the weight of constant work.
One of them gives voice to those feelings. “Wow, I’m burned out. Need a break.”
Another responds, “Breaks are for wimps. Go out and be all you can be. “
Okay, seriously now: the yearning (and struggle) around balance is very real and very human.
I’m guessing that about 95% of my clients during the past 12 years have wanted to talk about some aspect of life balance. Now that’s a whole lot of dialogue, and a whole lot of listening on my part.
I’ve learned that when I listen very carefully to what’s underneath the desire for balance, there’s often a wistfulness, a worry that life is rushing by, that you’re on rails and don’t know how to get off. It’s hard to put into words, though.
Maybe the best way I can say it is from a dog’s perspective. I just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, and the philosophizing main character, Enzo the dog, says it way more eloquently that I can.
I slept at my master’s feet on the sidewalk. Slept and sprawled, barely lifting my head to acknowledge the occasional petting I received from the passerby, all of whom, on some level, wanted to be more like me: able to enjoy a nap in the sun without guilt, without worry.
Enzo is one wise canine. He knows that the true human yearning for balance is definitely not about some perfectly aligned life.
No. The yearning for balance is about a yearning for feelings, like ease, flow, rest, spaciousness, calm. And the experiences that enhance those feelings.
For some that’s a practice, like yoga or meditation. For others, time with the kids. Exercise. Knitting. Reading, just because. Impromptu road trips. Art classes. Volunteering. Sleeping more. A home cooked meal instead of takeout, again. (I’m sure you get the picture.)
You have your own particular language to describe balance. We all do.
And I’ve noticed that when you define it for yourself and turn towards it, even in the smallest ways, all areas of your life are replenished, including work. Rather than a long slide into mediocrity, you flow towards your own unique version of excellence.
Why the knock on balance then, when it’s so clearly regenerative?
That’s the question I’ve puzzled over ever since Charlotte’s post. And then I remembered–of course! There’s a part of balance that often goes unspoken. So here it is, with some extra emphasis:
Balance. is. hard.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the effort it takes to turn towards those replenishing feelings/experiences you want more of may be one of the hardest (and most worthwhile) things you’ll ever do. Believe me, I speak from experience.
Here are a few things I know:
- It’s harder to say yes to balance and easier to say yes to work instead.
- It’s harder to find quality couple-time with Dave and easier to complain about how our schedules don’t mesh.
- It’s harder to go for a walk and easier to continue to sit, eyes glued to the computer.
- It’s harder to go to bed on time and easier to insist that I need to wrap up one more thing.
- It’s harder to get up and cook (even though I like cooking) and easier to grab takeout because I’m too tired or busy.
Sound familiar? No wonder balance gets knocked around then.
It’s certainly easier to knock it than make the harder choices. Maybe it’s even become a collective defense mechanism that we’re not fully aware of. And it keeps us from looking at the deeper (and decidedly human) challenge of doing the real work of creating balance in our lives.