The whole notion of life balance — or our lack thereof — is something that I think resonates with most of us these days. We want it, we love thinking and talking about it, and we have a heck of a time making it happen.
As someone who is frequently described as a die-hard workaholic, I have my own perspectives on this quest for balance. But before I get into that, I also want to reflect for just a moment on the fact that — regardless of the challenges we may have managing our daily schedules — we are blessed to live the kinds of lives in which we have the luxury of contemplating the concept of balance in the first place. So many people are consumed with addressing basic needs for food, water, shelter, safety and decent healthcare, they have neither the time nor inclination to make concerns about balance an even fleeting priority.
Unfortunately, one side effect of our “gotta get things done” mentality is a narrow, self-obsessed perspective. And this can present real barriers to us cultivating more thoughtful, empathetic attitudes — attitudes that could empower us, collectively, to truly see and facilitate the resolution of these larger problems in our midst. All of which brings me back to the topic of our quest for balance, and its place in determining the quality of our character and life experience.
A few years ago, Fast Company magazine (October 2004) published a thought-provoking article titled, “Balance is Bunk!” It argued that the whole concept of life balance is, in fact, an “unattainable pipe dream.” Whether raising a family or launching a business, the only way to do anything well, the author asserts, is to accept imbalance as a chronic, but necessary, reality. Rather than attempting to mete out our time and attention in measured doses, he says, we must willingly swerve from one area of imbalance to another, striving to “balance a portfolio of diverse experiences” over time. Success, he notes, is more a matter of knowing when to switch our laser-sharp attention from one area of focus to another than of being able to focus on everything all at once.
I think this is an intriguing perspective, and true in some ways. Certainly, there are times when we simply can’t achieve any semblance of balance — moments when work or health or a personal relationship demands a disproportionate amount of our energy and time. And in such moments, we may get huge satisfaction (and great results) from deeply devoting ourselves to the priority at hand.
And yet, I continue to think that the pursuit of balance is a good thing. The pursuit is what keeps us honest, what keeps calling us back to our larger life priorities when our focus becomes too narrow. It also reminds us to correct imbalances that diminish our capacity and perspective overall. Which is often the case.
The key, I believe, is awareness.
It’s having the consciousness to recognize the state you are currently in. It’s the ability to notice when you are out of balance, and to make sure you’re not in the same mode of imbalance all the time. The pursuit of balance is what keeps us asking: “What do I really desire? What am I choosing?” Without that, we inevitably get wrapped up in momentary goals and objectives that have little to do with our bigger-picture priorities. We get so focused on achieving in one place that we forget that other areas matter, or even exist.
When this happens, our whole personality changes. We can’t be counted on to make good decisions. The fun, kind, curious, kid-like part of us — the surprisingly wise little boy or girl each of us carries inside — gets locked up or tossed out. We lose all sense of playfulness and empathy and become miserable, boring adults. Our health and happiness suffer. And it all goes downhill from there.
So ultimately, sure, chasing an ideal of perfect balance is probably a thankless pursuit. But in my view, refining the art of continual rebalance remains a noble and worthy endeavor.