Why balance is overrated
Spring is super busy. Always. For everyone. Taxes, sports games, college admissions, graduations, work events, weddings. If you actually take the time to talk to anyone and ask how they are doing, you find out that they are crazybusy--so crazybusy, in fact, that they don't have the time to separate "crazy" and "busy" into two words.
But really, aren't we always crazy busy? Since when did we have all the time we wanted to pursue career, family, friendships, health, happiness, and self-development? Something always gets the shaft. At different times different parts of our lives need great focus. This, I believe, is universal, even if it is a problem primarily voiced in privileged populations.
For some reason, however, I encounter conversations about balance almost exclusively in women's circles. Why? Men need and want rich lives comprised of successful careers, meaningful relationships, good health, self-actualization, and spiritual meaning and depth, I would assume. And yet it is only the women's magazines lamenting women's inability to juggle it all, the female actors and celebrities who are asked during interviews how they manage work AND motherhood, and my girlfriends who worry that they are never doing enough.
I developed a mild infatuation with Rachael Ray a decade or so ago and remember assessing her quality of life as she rose in stardom. How would she sustain her workload? Did she ever rest? Wouldn't her marriage fail since in the midst of her multiple cookbook, television, and magazine projects, she must never see her husband?
First of all, why did I think I was qualified to make such judgments? I hungrily consumed her interviews and perked up whenever the questions about balance and the juggling act arose (and they always did). Rachael would often make a crack about the day being too short to spend eight of its hours asleep, but she also sometimes said something to the effect of, "you know, I think balance is overrated." She would go on to talk about how her marriage worked because her husband understood that she loved her work and would never be the kind of person who worked from 8 to 5. What she did, though, worked for her.
And I think her response sheds light on the assumption behind these questions about balance: that it looks the same for everyone, that our lives look like some sort of evenly divided pie chart. The problem with these balance questions--which I too continue to engage--is that they force us to become stuck in a past that is never good enough or push us hastily into a future where we imagine that all will be well. We miss the present moment. We cannot attend to what is unfolding before us in the here-and-now if we are always seeking an elusive balance that will one day come if we only buy that perfect day planner, figure out the most efficient shopping and meal planning system, land that job that fits us just so.
An evenly distributed pie probably is not a bad thing--it's actually, I bet, quite desirable--but when we focus our energy on getting to that mythical pie, we miss the lives we are living right now and fail to appreciate what is right. More importantly, we miss the opportunity to see how we can work within the framework we already have to make our lives better. Maybe I still have to work six days a week but I shut off email notifications after 6 pm. Maybe I have to give up the idea of cooking new recipes this month but we can at least eat simple meals as a family. Maybe I say no to one late meeting a week or a month to practice self-care. Or maybe it's about figuring out what makes me happy and energized and doing more of that and less of what drains me instead of worrying about tracking how I spend my hours with different groups of people and on various activities.
This all sounds great on paper, but I would be lying if I said that I had it all figured out in practice. Time sucks inevitably creep in, and carefully carved out free time falls to the wayside. Good intentions remain merely that: intentions, not actions. Case in point: I have had this post saved in my "drafts" folder for more than a month, just waiting for that moment when I could add some polishing touches.
A quick Pinterest search--the ultimate place for beautiful infographics and quotes--on balance yields hundreds of didactic sayings. The images I find all tell me what I must do to have balance. But the quote which most catches my eye is not one that tells me that life is about finding the right mixture of holding on and letting go, or doing what I love, or making time for a life in the midst of making a living, although I suppose all of those things are true. Albert Einstein's words strike me as the right, ahem, balance, of flippant yet truthful: "Life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance, you must keep moving."
Maybe it is time to lighten up and stop getting stuck in what could be; instead, just go with what is.