For years, I pored over books and magazine articles on how to achieve life balance. I’ve felt inadequate as I haven’t been able to achieve this elusive balance of work, love, family, creative expression and physical fitness. No amount of pie charts, detailed schedules, to do lists and goal tracking helped me attain the highly desired but lofty goal of a life in perfect balance.
My time has come but it isn’t what you think, it’s my time to give up the quest. If I could go back and pass pearls of wisdom to my younger self, the first words out of my mouth would be “life balance is overrated”. When I look back at my life and recall every instance where I achieved a major accomplishment, other areas of my life suffered as I needed to tip the scales in order to meet my goal. Passing the CPA exam required spending vacation hours and weekends studying during my 20s instead of traveling, socializing, rejuvenating or spending time with family. Losing 30 pounds was accomplished by putting diet, exercise and sleep first, leaving work at a reasonable time became mandatory. Satisfying my need for creative expression through writing has meant less sleep, downtime and a messy house. I wouldn’t give up any of these accomplishments or moments of satisfaction for an evenly balanced life. The important life lesson I’ve learned is to not to beat myself up for not performing at the highest level in all areas of my life at the same time. We need to step back and revel in our accomplishments instead of feeling like a failure for not achieving the unattainable.
I’m not alone in this thinking. The concept of cycling or prioritizing certain areas of your life at different points in time, without apology, has taken the place of the usual life balance rhetoric in self help and self reflection writing. No one is saying to prioritize one area of your life and abandon all others. After all, we all have family obligations and bills to pay. What we are saying is to kick the guilt and self loathing to the curb. We all intrinsically know when we take on a high pressure job, set a lofty personal goal or start a family, something else has to give. Yet many of us continue to feel badly because we haven’t been able to pay the same level of attention to all the pieces of the pie we perceive to be important, not just in our eyes, but also in the eyes of our peers. We may also exercise judgement over others who have prioritized the areas of their lives differently than we have instead of recognizing different life choices also meant different sacrifices, sacrifices we may not have been willing or in the position to make.
That said, I do struggle to fit everything in. I’ve set some high goals for myself which include becoming a published novelist. Meanwhile I also have a demanding day job and would like to become once again physically fit. In order to do this, I understand I need to spend many of my evenings and at least one weekend day writing. I may not be able to exercise as many hours as I have in the past but I’ll still work toward a healthy middle ground. I’ve decided not to join a volunteer organization for now (I’ve been a volunteer in some capacity since my early 20s) so I can devote myself to writing. Choosing to live in a smaller space is also key so I’m not overwhelmed with taking care of my home. I’m letting go of some of the vanity and the so called American dream, without regrets, to meet my writing goal.
I don’t have children but have many friends who have made career choices, lifestyle changes or even moved to a different state in order to focus on their areas of high priority. I’ve also seen these same friends sometimes struggle with their choices and also with the opinions of others about those choices. Those same friends also have gone through cycling, adjusting their priorities and shifting focus to different areas as their children grow older or life circumstances change.
Literature which stresses life balance can be helpful to us for tips on becoming more efficient and to serve as a reminder that all work and no play is not healthy. But I’m abandoning the pursuit of perfection and having it all…at the same time.