This article was originally posted Jan 24, 2012. It’s worth taking a look at again.
Is balance something you possess or that you pursue? Are you assuming someone else decides whether you have it? Or do you see it more as an ongoing effort on your part?
Back in graduate school, I was delighted to discover work by Martin Seligman that talked about “learned helplessness.” The term was used to describe the mindset of individuals who assume that they’re at the mercy of “powerful others”–God, the Establishment, whatever–who decide what happens in their lives. Their assumption that someone else holds all the winning cards keeps them from even seeing what they can do to help themselves.
Life balance is vulnerable to that kind of thinking, even if you don’t go in that direction on everything else. It’s really easy to assume that your life is out of balance because of the load at work, the phase your child is going through or a favor for a friend that’s gotten far more complicated than you expected. Life should just flow smoothly and balance should be a given, right?
Nope. Assuming that is just one more way to be a “victim.”
Seeing balance as an ongoing process rather than entitlement to Nirvana keeps you in the game. And brings you closer to it even when you can’t get the “full meal deal.” Why? Because seeing balance as an on-going process puts you in control. You can do things to move toward that version of emotional symmetry you prefer.
The good life isn’t about always being in balance. It’s about getting good at recovering that balance when it goes away, which it will. Often.
Some things to consider as you work at it:
Not all efforts to achieve balance work. If getting up an extra half hour in the morning to exercise makes you cranky for the rest of the day, forget it. Look for a another way.
Not all options are total improvements. Okay, you want more time with your kids. That doesn’t mean they want to shovel snow with you. But when they are part of getting the work done, you feel less like poorly paid hired help, right? So find a way to have FUN shoveling snow.
Sometimes your balance is on a different dimension than you planned. So that snow shoveling wasn’t the fun “quality time” you were hoping for with whoever you drafted to help. You still had more time to get everything else done, right?
Balance isn’t always intentional. Perhaps you got the surprise of your life when you insisted on help in cleaning up that snow. Sometimes working together really is, fun. Yes! A nudge from a different direction.
Balance is as much about assumptions as it is about reality. Quite often, what’s out of balance is what you are telling yourself about what should be happening. A classic definition of stress is “the difference between what’s happening and what you think should be happening.” Getting a solid handle on what’s reasonable under the circumstances can take you a lot closer to balance than a major overhaul. Accept reality. Then change as it changes.
Balance changes moment to moment. Even if you do get into perfect balance, you’re not going to stay there. At least not if you’re human. The key is whether you elect to stay out of balance or put effort into moving back toward equilibrium. As life changes, make your own changes.
A good life is balanced but it’s up to you. It will aways require awareness and effort on your part. And that’s all just fine.