When I think about what I want out of life, the word that often comes to mind for me is "balance." But I wonder if that's just another way for me to try to have it all, in a way that gives me tiny doses of everything I want.
Balance is hard. And I've recently realized that it isn't possible achieve a state of balance, which I think was my secret goal. As I've learned from practising yoga, if a person appears to be balanced and at ease, in reality there's intense effort there—all kinds of muscles, big and small, working together to hold onto the pose, not to mention a mind that's alert, calm, and focused. This is definitely not easy. And it's not a state of being; it's a focused effort.
There are two areas that I find particularly hard to balance.
1. You can't Strive for Excellence and Be Content with What You Have at the same time.
Both are virtues. I know and love people who are masters at looking on the bright side, being happy with their lot in life, and generally accepting themselves and others as they are. However, these aren't always the same people who are consistently innovating and breaking records.
I also admire people who hold themselves and others to a high standard, and manage to inspire excellence in those around them. There can be a dark side to this tendency. It can be easy to overlook achievements and focus only on what didn't go right. But if that is what makes you try harder and better next time, then is it really a bad thing?
If you're overly content with everything, what motivates you to excel, progress, and innovate?
If you're overly focused on always getting better, stronger, or faster, how do you find satisfaction in who you are right now?
2. You can't Plan for Productivity and Live in the Moment at the same time.
I want to do both. I love days when I feel productive, like I lived up to my potential, like I managed to complete a long list of tasks of all sorts in record time. But those aren't the days that I just let the inspiration of the moment lead me. Those aren't the days that I take leisurely walks with my daughter around the neighborhood, letting ideas percolate and solidify in my mind.
If you're always living in the moment, this can cripple productivity.
If your life is overly planned to achieve maximum productivity, it's difficult to find time to stop and smell the roses. (And somehow, I think writing "stop and smell the roses" in your planner at 3 p.m. on Tuesday is missing the point.)
I've been thinking about this a little bit and imagining these opposing values as either end of a teeter-totter. I've realized that dead center (in other words, perfectly static and balanced) is NOT where I want to be. I have to walk to one side and then the other. It's important to be up, and then down—to experience both ends of the spectrum and gain insight and understanding from each, being careful not to stay at either end for too long.
I recently saw a series of productivity videos advertised that said we should be in pursuit of priorities rather than balance. It's an interesting idea and very foreign to how I naturally think. I typically fool myself into thinking that I'm juggling all the things I love at once. But in reality, when two things you value are in opposition to one another, you can't do both at the same time.
And besides, standing in the middle of the teeter totter is not likely to give you a very fun ride.
You have to choose one side, and then the other, and then the first again, or you'll go nowhere. This is, essentially, prioritization, which I do every minute of every day. What I don't do is admit that I'm focusing on one thing in lieu of another. If I did, I might make some different choices. And maybe that's the key.
How about you? Can you relate? What opposing areas of your life do you have trouble balancing?