What’s the big deal about balance?

I have to thank Charlotte, over at Wordstrumpet, for inspiring me to take on the topic of balance.

[Max is very good at life 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.

So tell me, human-to-human: have you ever questioned the value of balance, or found it challenging to say yes to it?

15 thoughts on “What’s the big deal about balance?

  1. I am SO happy that you are back, Patty, and so pleased that this wonderful, thoughtful post was inspired by something you read on my blog. You hit it on the head when you said that balance is hard. That is so true! It’s so much easier to return to the computer and work than pause and figure out what it really is in the moment. Welcome back!

  2. I think balance gets easier when we go a step deeper and move from what we really want in and from life, from who we truly are. Of course, there can be much work involved in getting to one’s true self, but once we’re there, returning to balance, which for me means one’s natural flow, is not so difficult anymore.

    • Yes! I believe “who am I?” is a worthwhile question to ponder, although often a question without a concrete answer. But when I tune into the symbols/images that come up for me around the question, then I certainly do move towards my natural flow.

  3. Hi Patty, You sure haven’t lost your knack for good thinking posts! I think women especially struggle with balance because we get so caught up in the care giving aspects and forget that we count too – like we so often ignore that little voice inside of us that says,
    “Hey, you need time for yourself, time for (fill in the blank). Balance has been easier for me since the kids grew up and moved out. Now I get it! Now I have TIME to balance.

    • So true, S. More time often does make it easier to experience balance. For me the challenge is taking the time, making the room for those feelings/experiences of balance even when I do have the time.

  4. What a wonderful surprise to find you back! I remember balance and now I am on the quest to find it again. it is a challenge – new job, not so me friendly hours, aging child with whom I desire to maintain a relaitonship – I feel like a knight on a quest to find the magic that is “balance”

  5. Hi Patty.

    Am back trying to leave a comment! Charlotte is great.

    My take on balance. When folks feel they are out of balance, it may mean they are not living the life they want. I love sleuthing the municipal stuff in my town and often I do that more than others things. But it makes me feel alive.

    A lot of folks hide behind work because it doesn’t require you to reveal yourself. Yes, there’s lots of talk about authenticity. Yet, I see folks spouting that and then doing the opposite. Entrepreneurs have more opportunities to reveal themselves, yet I see so few doing that.

    I hope this goes through … Am trying a different route by not connecting to my blog.



    • Very interesting points you’re making G. Work = a safe place to hide out. You bet. And so much talk of transparency/breaking out of the box in the online/ entrepreneurial world, but often it’s doesn’t seem particularly revealing or real to me. I wonder…is it just another box that’s being created?

  6. Patty,

    To post my comment, I had to not use any email connected to word press and not list my blog in the website box. Others may be experiencing the same problem!


  7. Hi Patty — good to see you again. My own thinking about “balance,” which I get the sense is similar to your take on the subject, is that the issue starts coming up for me when I’m doing a lot of stuff in my life out of a sense of obligation, as opposed to coming from a place of uncompromisingly doing what I want. The more I do exactly what I want, the less I have to create an artificial division between “me time” and “them time.” 🙂

    • Yeah, I struggle with what I “should do” vs. what I “want to do.” And sometimes what looks like something I want is really an obligation dressed up in fancy clothes. Tricky biz, this balance stuff. Good to see you too!

  8. Hello Patty, I have to admit that I don’t often think about balance — only when someone brings it up. Maybe I see it as a constant variant, we all function at different speeds; some of us thrive on marathon runs, others prefer sprints yet somehow, we all know when to drink the water, or at least I hope so. If I were to define balance, I’d say it’s when I feel I’m in my rhythm — I wake up refreshed, I’m not always rushing about or getting to things hopelessly late, I enjoy myself and I don’t harbor guilt, resentment or bitterness about anything. Which I have to say isn’t always the case. There’s always the pressure we put upon ourselves to take on more, give more, be more. There’s often the temptation to pretend everything is okay when clearly, thre’s a problem. Maybe balance has a bit to do with being true to oneself, or maybe it’s at least being able to accept oneself with all our various parts that could be improved upon.

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