The Pursuit of Balance and the Case Against
“Anything great in life has sacrifices.” Mike Libecki, climber
The pursuit of balance is modern time’s quixotic mass endeavor.
I just returned from vacation, and I wish I could tell you that it was the walk on the beach that brought me this latest epiphany. But um, it was the diarrhea. Three thirty in the morning in my hotel room, I woke up with stomach pain and was forced to make a mad dash to the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later I emerged, skin clammy, with a jackhammer migraine and a tidal wave of nausea that sent me reeling back to bed and there remained for the better part of the day.
The human body holds endless fascination for me. When you lack the intelligence to do right by it, it overrides your willpower and cuts off its functions. If my body could talk back, I’d imagine this is what it would say:
“Look, moron, you weren’t paying attention. Now I have to take matters into my own hands. Slow down or else.”
I finally got the message.
Busy as a Status Symbol
I remember a time when asking someone, “how are you?” the prevalent answer was “I’m fine, thank you.” Ask that question now, and you’ll likely get, “I’m-so-busy.”
Our modern life appears to be moving faster and placing heavier demands on us. When we can’t keep up with these demands, we feel off balanced. Yet rarely, do we stop to question if we should take up the added burden of responsibility, obligations and “to do’s” in the first place.
So we make ourselves masters of multi-tasking, believing it will elicit greater productivity, and even more importantly, carve out more time. But all this truly accomplishes is creating busywork. If busyness is a status symbol for you, you certainly accomplished that through multitasking.
Multitasking is not the answer to finding balance.
Countless studies cited in business and health publications have made the case for why multitasking is ineffective and counterproductive. Yet we persist because multitasking fools us into feeling good. Bragging about being busy and complaining about the non-existence of work life balance has become a favorite American pastime.
The Real Problem
Let’s look at the real problem. Do we really have more demands than generations before us? According to this study, we don’t. We actually have MORE time. It’s the act of shifting from task to task (ahem, multitasking) that makes us feel overwhelmed.
So if it is not lack of time, what then is our problem?
It comes down to two things: our inability to prioritize and our unwillingness to accept trade-offs.
Instead of making balance into a Holy Grail, it might be wiser to switch our quest to one that focuses on priority. If you’re off balanced but the scale is tipped in favor of activities on your priority list, breathe easy, you’re still on top. You are doing the things that matter most to you.
How to Prioritize
If you need help with prioritizing, here are a few questions to ask: What is my overall objective? Are the things I’m doing this moment moving me closer to my goals? Does it provide any value add to me or the people important to me?
If your activity does not lend itself to the above questions, they are busy work.
Still unsure about abandoning your pursuit of balance? Here are four more reasons to consider:
#4. Balance is not a natural condition for personal growth.
One of the definitions of balance is “a condition in which everything is equal and in correct proportions.” Balance, then, is a state of equilibrium. Irrationally, we want to maintain this condition over a long period of time, say, forever. But everything about our world is transitory. The very act of living is not static but ever evolving. New things need to be introduced into the equation, thereby, upsetting the balance. Yet, from this beautiful mess is how we form art out of life.
#3. Balance is code for having it all.
When we speak of work life balance, what we are essentially saying is we want to give a hundred percent to each and every area of our work and personal life. This does not make mathematical sense. Think of your entire life as a delicious pie. The whole pie is 100%. Each slice of that pie is one part of your life - hobbies, parenting, working, etc. You must decide which part gets a bigger slice. This is the trade-off I mentioned earlier. Accept it. If you cannot, it leads us to the next point.
#2. Balance is perfectionism in disguise.
In her Facebook post (July 13, 2014), Author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote:
“The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT -another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other.
To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear, or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever.”
Perfectionism causes more harm than good. Some researchers call it an addiction. Read more here.
#1. Balance does not equal happiness.
When we are arguing for balance, aren’t we truly asking for more time to do the things that bring us joy and less time spent on obligations? To quote Gilbert,
“The world is like a dropped pie most of the time. Don't kill yourself trying to put it back together. Just grab a fork and eat some of it off the floor.”
- Being Present
- Getting Off the Couch
- Life Lessons from Sports
- Mental Clutter
- Overcoming Challenge
- Overcoming Sadness
- Positive Attitude
- Positive Self-Talk
- Taking Action