Life is Not a Balancing Act
People often talk about leading a more "balanced life". It is my belief that this phrase arose from the notion that you can "do (or have) it all". It's a way of expressing a desire to achieve a sense of stability and calmness amid the chaos of a busy life.
The problem is a balanced life is not possible, nor is it truly desireable. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.
Balance, by its very nature, is fleeting. Try standing on one foot. Yes, you can do it. But for how long? With practice, you may be able to improve your performance, but you will need to rest and readjust regularly in order to prevent yourself from toppling over.
In addition, priorities, needs, and circumstances are constantly shifting making it necessary to adapt and change. The idea that there is some magic formula we can apply to achieve the permanent end goal of a balanced life is a fantasy. The moment you feel as though equilibrium is within reach, something will change. A new need will arise, upsetting your stability and forcing you to adapt.
Balance also implies equality of importance. In order for something to be balanced, the different elements have to be equally weighted. When it comes to life, responsibilities, and time management, equality is not the goal. Some things simply require more of our time, energy, focus, and commitment than others, and that's a good thing.
Imagine what life would be like if every aspect of our lives (work, family, social interactions, home maintenance, civic duties, personal development, and more) required and received an equal degree of importance and attention. It would be overwhelming and exhausting, to say the least, and oddly enough, it would leave us feeling unbalanced.
When we speak of balance, what we really mean is that we want to have enough time, energy, and resources to focus on the things that really matter and not neglect the things we value most.
We all know that there are an infinite number of hours in the day. What we sometimes forget is that we can only do so much in the hours that we have. Author and motivational speaker Jon Acuff stated it well when he said:
In other words, it is necessary to prioritize. If a particular thing is important, then other things must, by necessity, receive less attention. For this reason, I think of life, not as a balancing act, but as a juggling act. Juggling implies a more fluid, changing environment.
Think of all the aspects of your life as balls. You can only hold one or two balls at a time, thus requiring you to juggle. If you try to juggle too many things at once, you will drop some of your balls.
At any given moment, some balls are more important than others. They are made of glass; other balls are made of rubber. You cannot drop a glass ball, or it will break. Rubber balls, on the other hand, are safe to drop because they will bounce and remain intact until you are able to retrieve them.
The secret is to determine which balls are glass and which are rubber, knowing that the nature of the ball will change depending on your circumstances and season of life and personal priorities. Some balls even change in nature during the course of a single day. For example, when you are at work, work requires your focus. It is a glass ball. But when you are at home, other things become more important.
The key to success is to learn to discern which balls you can afford to drop or set down and which ones you have to keep in the air at any given time. When we choose in advance what to focus on and what to ignore, we free ourselves from guilt and shame. Instead of feeling bad about some ball you’ve dropped, you can feel empowered by your own mindfulness in deciding not to pick that ball up to for the time being.
Once you buy into the idea that life is not a balancing act, there is much to learn from the juggling analogy. Consider the following:
If you're tired of trying to achieve the impossible ideal of a balanced life, I encourage you to take a step back and reevaluate your situation. Instead of trying to do it all, make an accessment of what matters most. Give yourself permission to set down some of your balls from time to time. Decide when you can best give time and energy to the things that truly matter in your life. Be mindful in the moment by switching balls out periodically to reflect your priorities. Enjoy focusing your energy, effort, and heart on a few essentials and let the extraneaous balls bounce off into the corner until (and if) you are ready to retrieve them.
5/3/2021 01:31:46 pm
I like that visual of the different material balls. Sometimes you simply cannot keep them all in the air, so it is good to figure out which ones you can drop for a bit and come pick up later!
5/3/2021 03:09:20 pm
I have to give credit where it is due. My husband came up with the different types of balls, and I went with it! He's clever that way. I do think it helps to put things in perspective.
5/3/2021 01:55:37 pm
I appreciate your take on this topic. Balance really is more about prioritizing, and it changes and goals and priorities shift. Great food for thought here.
5/3/2021 03:07:41 pm
5/3/2021 08:08:02 pm
I've been trying to get back to this post all day as the first paragraphs really stood out to me - I had several balls to juggle myself! I especially like the analogy of standing on one foot. Balance is not sustainable, and the more we can learn to ebb and flow with what's important and valuable, the better we can manage. Great post!
5/4/2021 06:51:42 am
Thanks, Sara! It’s so true. I’m glad it resonated with you.
5/5/2021 09:10:36 am
Sheri- I love all of the ideas you shared here! And that phrase your daughter uses, "I can only do one thing at a time," for when her kids are asking for many things at once, is a fantastic reminder. Have you ever seen a Dan Thurmon workshop or read his book, "Off Balance On Purpose?" If not, I think you will love his approach. Aside from being a coach, writer, and presenter, he's also an amazing juggler and gymnast. He incorporates the physicality of juggling into his message, which aligns so much with yours. I also interviewed him many years ago. If interested, here's the link: https://www.ohsoorganized.com/blog/2013/12/17/ask-the-expert-dan-thurmon.html
5/5/2021 03:50:23 pm
Amazingly, I have not heard of Dan Thurmon or his book. I just looked him/it up, and reading the description for the book was like reading the introduction to this post! I've added his book to my wishlist. He sounds like a kindred spirit, for sure. Thank you for introducing me to him.
5/5/2021 11:55:49 am
"The secret is to determine which balls are glass and which are rubber" that is the key, right there. I have also learned that you need to teach others how to treat you... so if I am in my office working, my kids learned to respect that time. I have always worked from home so establishing rules was HUGE.
5/5/2021 03:54:08 pm
You make an excellent point, especially with so many people struggling to work effectively from home. Thanks for your response.
5/5/2021 05:34:43 pm
"Think of all the aspects of your life as balls. You can only hold one or two balls at a time, thus requiring you to juggle." So very true, Sheri. It's so tempting to think we can move forward in all areas of life at the same time, but it just isn't realistic. I love your emphasis on jettisoning any guilt around that fact.
5/6/2021 08:32:13 am
Thanks, Lucy. I do want people to know that it isn’t possible to do everything and that it’s necessary and desirable to establish and embrace priorities. Rather than feeling guilty about falling short of some impossible standard, better to feel good about making mindful decisions.
5/6/2021 01:56:20 am
You've brought so much wisdom and breathed so much new life into this topic. It should be immediately obvious that the areas of our life cannot be balanced; who could ever (and always) give equal attention and care to their jobs, their children (and equal attention to each child all of the time?), their elderly parents, their community (and activism), their spiritual community/life, etc.? Every season, every week, and as you noted, every part of every day demands attention for different priorities. Yes, juggling is a MUCH more apt metaphor, the balls don't always bounce, and self-care keeps you from being a breakable glass ball!
5/6/2021 08:34:07 am
Thank you, Julie. I appreciate your thoughts on this topic and wholeheartedly agree!
1/11/2022 06:46:56 am
Lhynzie, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your feedback, and I’m so glad to know that you found this post helpful.
5/26/2022 08:33:34 am
Thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback.
7/28/2022 02:18:44 pm
Thank you for your comment. I'm glad you found it helpful!
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