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I have this fantasy of one day having a life where everything is in perfect balance.
I’m putting out quality work, exercising daily, nurturing all of my relationships, getting plenty of sleep, making smart financial decisions, maintaining a clean home, making green juices every morning and healthy meals every night, and leaving plenty of time for fun and relaxation. And eventually I imagine adding kids and pets into the equation (without disrupting the balance of everything else, of course).
Intellectually, I know this is unrealistic, but I can’t help that a small part of me still hopes this fantasy will come true.
Can you relate?
I’m reluctantly realizing that, as long as I stay attached to the myth of a perfectly balanced life, I’ll always be slightly critical of my current, imbalanced, messy life, judging it for what it *should* be.
So I’ve decided I need to take a good, hard look at this whole “balance” thing and shift my mindset around it once and for all. Otherwise, my longing for a perfectly balanced life will perpetually steal any contentment I could be feeling with my life just as it is.
Here are 4 hard truths that I’ve come to believe about balance:
1. BALANCE IS A SNEAKY FORM OF PERFECTIONISM
On the surface, seeking balance feels like a worthy aspiration. Even the word “balance” evokes a sense of peace, groundedness, and moderation. I mean, what’s healthier than wanting more balance in your life, right??
That’s all true … to a point.
But too many of us (myself included) imagine balance as being able to do it all, and do it with ease. It looks like being a master juggler who never gets flustered by so many moving pieces, and certainly never drops one.
Which means if any area of life is out of whack, it throws off the balance of everything else, and then we feel like we’re failing at this whole balance game.
And the truth is, some area of life is always out of whack, isn’t it? It’s like that whack-a-mole game — as soon as you get one area of your life sorted out, another one goes awry.
So the desire for a perfectly balanced life turns into yet another way to judge ourselves for not being good enough or having it all together.
Thinking of balance as a sneaky form of perfectionism is helping me see its sinister underbelly, which makes it altogether less appealing. Because I don’t need one more thing in my life to try and make me feel less than, thankyouverymuch.
2. YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL, BUT NOT ALL AT ONCE
The more I think about this idea of a balanced life, the more I realize I’ve been taking the short view of it, when I should’ve been taking the long view.
I’ve been wanting to have perfect balance in all areas of my life all at once. And that’s why the whole concept of a balanced life feels so daunting.
But when you’re trying to pay equal attention to all areas of your life simultaneously, you end up half-assing a lot of things, simply because your attention is constantly divided.
A healthier approach to balance might look like giving a lot of TLC to select aspects of your life — your health, your finances, your career, or your relationships — and letting other areas of your life go a bit on autopilot, temporarily, knowing that they’ll get their turn later.
When I zoom out and look at my life from a bit of a distance, I realize that I’ve actually given good quality attention and nurturing to all aspects of my life … just not necessarily all at the same time.
I’ve focused on improving all parts of my life, especially the parts that matter most to me, over the years. But to expect myself to give equal attention to all of these facets of my life simultaneously is flat-out unreasonable. Plus, I couldn’t have made as much progress in any one area of my life if my attention had been scattered.
Which leads me to…
3. BALANCE WILL (AND SHOULD) LOOK DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT SEASONS OF YOUR LIFE
A balanced life as a 21-year-old college student looks very different from that of a 34-year-old working parent of 3, which is incredibly different from that of a 58-year-old with grown kids who’s starting to look into retirement possibilities.
That’s because balance has everything to do with your priorities. And as those priorities change throughout your life, your definition of balance will evolve with them.
Sometimes your priorities change as a natural side effect of getting older or transitioning into a new phase of life. But other times, life throws you a curveball that dramatically shifts your priorities without your consent.
For example, when I had a health crisis a few years back, my #1 priority became taking immaculate care of my body. Health had always been important to me to some extent, but for those 6-8 months, it was what I structured the rest of my life around.
To other people, my life must’ve looked incredibly imbalanced: I was spending the majority of my time making healthy home-cooked meals, researching and ordering natural supplements, going to holistic doctors, and getting plenty of rest to keep my stress low. My social life took a hit, and I had to cut down on how much work I could do in a week.
But for that phase of my life, it was exactly the balance I needed based on my priorities at the time.
And once my health improved, my priorities recalibrated, and so did my overall life balance.
4. YOUR VERSION OF BALANCE DOESN’T HAVE TO LOOK LIKE ANYONE ELSE’S
Not only does balance look different in various phases of your life, but it also looks incredibly different for every person.
The beautiful thing is, everyone gets to define balance for themselves.
For you, a balanced life might look like getting 8 hours of sleep a night, going to a yoga class each week, working on your side hustle on the weekends, and having a couple of social engagements per month.
For your husband, it might look like taking a long run most mornings, going to multiple networking events throughout the week, and getting home before 8pm every night.
For your sister, it might mean getting all of her kids to their respective activities on time, finding 5 minutes to meditate each day, and having dinner as a family at least once a week.
Your version of balance might not look balanced to anyone else, but who cares? As long as you feel like your life is organized according to the things that matter most to you, then it counts as a balanced life, even if no one else “gets” it.
And again, your definition of a balanced life can and will change over the years. Balance isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of thing — it’s going to constantly require you to recalibrate and redefine it.
So tell me, has the desire for balance turned into a form of perfectionism for you? What’s your new, healthier definition of balance, at least for this season of your life? I’d love to hear any of your thoughts about balance, so I hope you’ll share with me in the comments!
Kristen (& Rachel)
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This was great! It really does seem impossible to have everything all at once. To get specific about one thing in particular, I remember transitioning from college to the real world and thinking, “I have to work for 8 hours?” Sometimes I’d get a random burst of energy in the middle of the day and would want to run a marathon but couldn’t. And people would say, “Just do what everyone else does and work out either before or after work.” But that never sat well with me because I might not be feeling the same energy at that point and I wanted instant gratification, lol. To this day, the times I get energy are too random and unpredictable for me to plan times to work out. But I got on a tangent there.
I’m curious what your health scare was? That’s because I sort of struggle with gut issues myself and am very interested in functional / holistic medicine. I also would say I’m borderline eating disorder. And when it comes to figuring out what to focus on in my life when it comes to balance, I sometimes think, “Well, maybe if I focus on some big outer things like having a job I don’t hate and being able to afford my own place, the health will improve on its own without me having to focus on it specifically / exclusively.” (Because sometimes eating disorders can be a by-product of unhappiness in other areas). But I don’t know, I’m still experimenting with that. Some people say if I fix my health, it might better enable me to get the other things I want. Who knows.
But very thought provoking topic! It is one that is very close to me.
Hi Marianne, thanks for sharing how this topic is relevant for you right now! I agree that sometimes focusing your energy on one or two areas of your life can help boost other areas — I’ve definitely seen that happen in my own life, as well as with my clients. So it’s definitely something to experiment with!
My health crisis a few years ago was extreme eczema, to the point that I was barely leaving the house for a while because it was so painful and uncomfortable. Traditional medicine wasn’t giving me any relief or answers, so for a while my life revolved around finding more holistic solutions. So I share that interest of yours in holistic wellness! 🙂
Glad this topic resonated with you!
I have been where you have been! I would say from experience, in my opinion, it is very hard to try to make your life work with your job. It should be the other way around, make your job work with your life. It’s going to be hard to lead a healthy life if you’re stressed and unhappy every day(obviously)!
As you suggested, sometimes giving problems a little space can do wonders. I have also had gut problems and went to a number of doctors and tried a number of treatments. Finally fed up, I just decided to stop listening to others and listened to myself(what foods made me feel good and what foods causes issues as well as what habits). I’m definitely not suggesting to ignore your doctor, just realize that only you know how you feel. Trust yourself:)
“Make your job work with your life” (not the other way around) — great advice, Clementine! Couldn’t agree more. 🙂
Ah yes, I have worked through this exact issue in therapy before!
My therapist worked with the idea that ‘there’s no such thing as a perfect mother, but most mothers are good enough.’ So when I feel like I have to be doing every area in my life perfectly, I remind myself it would be actually impossible to be at 100% in every life area 100% of the time. Instead, a good goal is to be at 60-80% and know that if I’m hitting that range that is ‘good enough.’ There will be times when you’re 100% in one area i.e. work but then housework slip to 60% and that is all ok and is within ‘the balance range.’ I found those ideas really helpful and am overall much more forgiving of myself these days.
YES! I LOVE this idea of the “balance range.” Some areas of life are going to fall into the “good enough” categories sometimes, and that’s perfectly OK — healthy, even! That’s for sharing, Samantha — super helpful!
This article is spot-on to how i am feeling in my current every day life. I have been struggling since my son was born last september to feel “balanced” in every part of my life. The whole “half ass” statement when it comes to each individual part is screaming at me now.
My husband works out of town alot, and when he is home hes constantly taking care of work even at home. He was gone most of my pregnancy So it wasnt so hard to juggle everything then. It was really just me and the dog. I worked 70 hrs a week then and I love working. I love to people please and ensure the people around me can count on me.
Well when my son got here and the amount of time my husband was gone I slowly started losing grasp on everything I had to do everyday. I’ve always had a problem with being able to wake up and being exhausted I started over sleeping more and more. Work started to suffer so bad that i ended up quiting that job because everyday i felt like i was failing in 1 aspect and it drove me into depression. Started a new job with the company my husband works for who are also family friends where i could work from home which was great mainly but i still struggled with anxiety and depression and havent been able to address it. I mean, with what time when im trying to take care of a household solely byself. . Now they have acquried a office and expect me to be there everyday at 9 and with the distance from home and husband gone I feel like im getting worse and just want to step back and get myself and my home in order so i can truely find what i ENJOY doing, but my husband doesnt understand and I dont even know where to start
Wow, Victoria, you’ve got a lot on your plate right now! It’s no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, which is bound to lead to anxiety. Being a parent can feel like a full-time job all on its own, so it’s totally understandable that it feels like other areas of your life have started suffering since you became a mom. Your life balance has necessarily shifted, and you simply won’t be able to do as much as you used to do before your son was born — and that’s 100% OK and normal.
It sounds like you know what you need right now — you said it perfectly clearly: “I just want to step back and get myself and my home in order so I can truely find what I ENJOY doing.” You’re more than allowed to give that to yourself right now!
Oh boy, this is just what I needed to hear. I find myself criticizing myself for not being able to handle more things at the same time, and that of course comes with comparing myself with other people. On the other hand, when I notice myself getting “too comfortable and content” with just how I am doing, something tells me me I gotta do better (=accomplish more)–So it seems thy self is really thy greatest enemy. But I’d rather have myself as my friend most of the time LOL! Thanks for this post. It’s a great reminder to my not-so-friendly self to myself. XD
I’m so glad this resonated with you, Kat! I think a lot of us assume that in order to keep moving forward and accomplishing more, we have to be our own drill sergeant … when in reality, we’re WAY more motivated by kindness than by being hard on ourselves. Happy to be the reminder that you can be perfectly content with where you are AND be eager for more! 🙂