It’s an odd and challenging time we are living through – physically distanced and constrained; separated from friends and family; worried about our health, our jobs, and those our friends & neighbors. For many of us, the days are boringly predictable and repetitive, and yet nothing is “normal” and everything seems unsettled. Social media is jam-packed with advice and self-help tools to get us through this difficult time. One of those self-help tidbits is a meme that reads, “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” The first day I saw it on my Facebook feed I thought, what a great reminder about the need to be productive, that makes perfect sense. The next day, when it reappeared in my feed, I though, are you serious?! who cares about new skills?! I’m just trying to make it through this mess. The yearning for a balanced life is perhaps more keenly felt at this very moment when everything feels so very out of balance. Finding and maintaining life balance is the challenge.
Balance, by its very nature, exists in the tension between two poles: work/school & home; busyness & rest; trauma & joy. Finding and maintaining balance begins by recognizing that tension and getting comfortable with the space in between. Balance does not remove the tension, the poles are still there. Balance, in physics and in life, requires us to hold both poles in equal measure. Here’s the tricky thing about balance: just like balancing on a seesaw, life balance can be held for a moment, but it requires constant effort and adjustment to maintain it over time, particularly as things around us shift. Life balance is not an end goal, it is an active practice. As circumstances around us change, we need to be willing to adjust our goals, expectations, and choices to re-establish balance in our lives.
So where to begin? Well, let’s go back to that social media meme. The thing that I reacted to so positively on one day and so negatively to the next, was the implied either/or choices. Either you lacked time then, or you lack discipline now. Either you learn a new skill, or you lack discipline. Of course, those choices are neither fair nor true. In reality, we can choose to strike a balance. We can choose to use some of our time to learn something new AND we can choose to use some of our time to tend to our physical and emotional well being by doing nothing new, or nothing at all. Choosing both does not indicate a lack of discipline, it indicates a well developed intention.The notion that our choices are black or white, all or nothing, and that we can only choose one option is precisely what throws us off balance. It is ok to maintain physical distance AND develop emotional proximity. It is ok to be afraid of getting ill AND fearlessly care for those who are. It is ok to worry about job security AND enjoy the time off work. It is ok to feel at ease one day AND feel like you just can’t cope the next. It is ok to feel sad about not being able to graduate with your friends AND feel happy about the fact that high school (or college) is finally over. It is ok to learn a new skill AND take time to just chill.
Accepting the duality (the “and”), rather than the polarity (the “either/or”), of most of our choices puts us well on the way to finding balance. Each person’s balance point is different so yours and mine will likely not be the same. The key is to be honest with yourself and stay true to who you are, not who other people want you to be. You will know when you find that point where everything feels in balance. Most of us have experienced it, if only for a fleeting moment, at some point in our lives. It feels content and grounded. In positive psychology that feeling is referred to as “flow”, a cognitive state where one is fully engaged in an activity—it can be any activity big or small, highly creative or intensely cerebral. Athletes refer to it as being “in the zone”. It would be unreasonable to expect that we can maintaining this sense of balance 24/7 throughout our entire life, yet it is possible to reside in it much of the time, but that requires adaptability and flexibility. When conditions change you need to be ready – and willing – to make adjustments. Accept what is AND make a choice or adjustment that gets you back to the in between, the place of balance. Why, because see-sawing from one extreme to the other is exhausting and counterproductive.
There is a reason why I named my coaching company GoalSpark. It is my belief that setting and achieving goals in life is important, mostly because it ensures that we continue to grow and because it provides direction for our life. But I am also a firm believer in passion and creative spark. What good is being a high achiever if there is no passion or joy in what you achieve? And what good is creative spark and passion if you don’t have a plan to develop it and share it with others? It’s about balance.