The illusion of balance

Entrepreneur and blogger Sarah Bray wrote an excellent and soul bearing post today about her struggle to find balance. It got me thinking about finding balance. Is life balance real or is it just illusion propagated by life coaches, self-help authors and bloggers in search of page views and easy content? Is balance a myth that we all chase like hamsters in a wheel?

Back in October I wrote about multitasking versus going with a single focus and switching gears quickly. The concept of balance is admittedly something desperately lacking in my life too for many of the reasons that Sarah mentions. While most of my life seems like a “before” ad for some ADD medication, I have a habit of diving in on a project and forgetting about everything else. Shifting gears quickly has never been my strong suit, but is definitely something for which I strive.

So what is balance? To some, balance means that everything you are doing, everything you are striving for, all your goals and ‘big rocks’ should fit nicely into each and every day. I read somewhere that every 24-hour period should be divided into eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work time and eight hours of personal and family time. You can take a minute to wipe off the coffee you just spit all over your screen and keyboard from laughing. I’m not sure what MBA came up with that one, and it may have been reasonable in the 70s, but we are a long way from that now.

Stephen Covey wrote volumes about determining your core goals and making sure that you work on them a little each day. I don’t think that necessarily leads to balance. I think that leads to multitasking, frustration and disappointment. However, properly applied, I do think it can be an effective tool to separate the things that are important to you, versus the things that are imposed on you by others. A tool to separate true goals from the “stuff” that sucks away your day.

I think in this day and age, balance is about deciding what is important on any given day, carving out the time to singularly focus on it, and forcing yourself to be OK with moving on. As the line goes, the work on a ranch is never done. People who work in an office, for better or worse, have a forced division in their day — going to the office and then going home. For those of us who are self-employed (whether by choice or not), and God-forbid work at home, it is too easy to dive in and keep on going. One of my new years resolutions is being fully present in my life, and by corollary, putting my project on the shelf and moving on to the next thing so as to be fully present. Whatever the project is, it will still be there for me to pickup in the morning. However, my daughter may not.

I have become a student of patterns, or perhaps I just try to pay attention when other people point mine out. One of my least favorite patterns that gets me in trouble often is not being able to say “no,” over committing, then getting mad at/resenting everyone because I suddenly have no free time or general control of my life, and saying yelling “NO!” the second I think anyone is trying to ask me something or encroach on “my” time. This generally results in me completely flipping out somewhere around late August when I realize that I can’t do any thing in September (my favorite month of the year) because every second of my time is taken up by someone else.

Do you remember walking on the balance beam on the playground when you were a kid? I think there were a lot of lessons in that. At first it took all your concentration not to fall off. You learned to look at the beam, not the ground. Then you leaned to just to keep an eye on where you wanted to go and the balance part took care of itself. I have to wonder whether finding balance in life can really be that easy — focus on where you want to go, on what is important, and let the rest take care of itself.

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