I like to imagine “balance” as this peaceful state of mind. It’s this feeling that everything is occurring in symbiotic coexistence. My life, my work, my personal happiness, it’s all at this serene, cue ocean wave white sound noises. That’s what balance is, right? It’s the perfect (by definition) system, weighted on each end to meet everyone’s needs, each side receiving equal weight. Because that’s what balance IS.
In reality, balance is much more than the peaceful beach house. Balance is a massive tower of dishes that you haven’t had time for, but holy shit you just don’t have the time to do them right now, and you just can’t even think about it, and you just have to find a place for this other dish that you’re just sure will fit, and you’re just going to squeeze it in to the sink in the hopes that everything doesn’t come crashing down. That’s what balance really looks like.
And once you’ve achieved balance, how do you stay there? Because let me tell you: balance does NOT happen in a vacuum.
It’d be nice if my life balanced itself – this weighted scale with four sides to it – work, personal interests, family, marriage. I mean, five sides, because health. Wait, six, because friends. So, in this vacuum, the ideal state would be a six-sided scale that existed with no external influences. That means no asks of things we don’t want to do, no conflict of interests, no birthday parties, doctor’s appointments. No sick kids. We’re talking True Balance with a capital T.
I think you see where my analogy is going: balance is HARD. Life isn’t a vacuum. Oh, and dishes suck.
I’m a busy person. This isn’t a surprise to those who know me. I get a lot of comments that I am put together, that I have my life in line. That I am well organized, successful. But I’m going to be a bit vulnerable with you for a minute. I’m not.
I’m a Girl Scout Troop Leader. I am a full time working professional. I have two kids. I have a husband. I love to read copious amounts of books. I wish I had more time to knit. I have an amazing family. I want to get better at skiing. I need to organize my closet. I need to pay that bill. Ugh, when was the last time I changed the cat litter? Shit, I haven’t talked to that one friend in weeks. She must think I’m avoiding her. When was the last time I saw my mom? Am I spending enough quality time with my husband? Did my daughter do her homework? Did she score high enough on that test? Am I teaching her what she needs to learn? I’m so tired. Could I have used that lesson for my son as a life lesson? But what about dinner? I have to travel next week. I forgot about that dentist appointment coming up. I can’t keep up this pace. When does balance come back? Does balance mean slow? What am I missing?
And slowly, each dish is being jammed into a fuller sink, but nothing is being taken out. Does this sound familiar? Please, tell me this sounds familiar.
Because here’s the thing: I’m convinced balance is a lie.
It’s high time for a new goal. Balance suggests that two things can exist together, equally. And if we lived in a vacuum, and we had just two things, that would work. But we don’t. We have six, seven, eight, and nine, and then we have things we don’t want to do, and things we don’t want to say no to. Which means we need to think of balance as a moving thing. Something that sways and changes. Something that can be pushed off course, but can ultimately course correct. What we really need is a weather vane.
Because sometimes (oft times), our priorities will not be in balance. And just because our weather vane is pointing in one direction at a given time doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the rest of our life – it just means that that the direction it’s pointing is our priority at that time.
I like this analogy because there’s grace in it, there’s flexibility. And, there’s imperfection.
But even this system requires maintenance. And regardless of your choice of analogies, balance or vane, neither happen without a focused effort to maintain it. After three weeks of travel, drill schedule, birthday parties, more work travel, tight deadlines, ski lessons for kids, homework, housework, and an insane amount of pressure I put on myself to succeed, my weather vane is spinning in circles and I’m so tired. It’s the tired where just thinking about how tired I am brings tears to my eyes and makes my nose burn, because if I think about it too much and I don’t power through the nose burn, I’ll break down, and I just don’t have time for that because crying in front of strangers on an airplane is just not a priority right now, thankyouverymuch.
I’ve learned something about managing priorities in my professional career (and my insanely long list of hobbies and passions). There are a lot of conversations about learning how to get better at saying no. We put so much pressure to be “on” that our sinks get full of requests and commitments that we didn’t really want to do in the first place. But, I’d argue that’s actually the easiest part of balance – cutting out the stuff you don’t want to do.
No, the harder part is saying no to the things you really want to do. Ha, in the face of saying no to things you WANT to do, saying no to things you DON’T want to do is easy. That just requires a level of honesty with ourselves (and others) of what we don’t want to do and taking it out of the equation.
But saying no to things that bring you joy? That’s something I’m not very good at. I am a finite resource, and coffee only takes me so far.
The answer isn’t easy, but it is simple. At the end of the day, balance is achieved through a conscious effort. It will never happen by accident. It means continuously reevaluating our priorities as they shift and change, and as things come in to competition. It also means finding friends that shift with your priorities, not against.
And you will fail. Your vane will spin dangerously. Your dishes will fall. Your scale will break. And it is okay. You are okay. That thing you had to do today will still be there tomorrow. You are not a failure because your day was driven off course by a vomiting child. Your life is not a mess because you lost sight of your priorities.
And maybe you already know this. Maybe you didn’t need to read it. But, I sure as hell needed to make the time to write it.