March 12, 2014

Balance is overrated: the ramblings of a sleep-deprived blogger

A week ago, I promised that I would write every day for 40 days. 

It's harder than I expected it would be. Some days, I sit down to write and the words pour across the screen like they were already written, tucked away somewhere, just ready to come out and greet the world.

Other days, like today, it's all starting, stopping, deleting. I'm so tired that I can barely see the screen in front of me. I've been awake for almost 19 hours, my body is crying out for sleep, and I ask myself why I made this commitment. Can't I just post a picture of my kids enjoying themselves at the car wash and call it a night?

Earlier tonight, I talked with some smart women about the myth of the balanced life. Each of us feels the pressure to seek balance in our lives among work, family, friends, activities, health, etc. - and we all come up short. Maybe it's not us; maybe the concept just isn't working.

"Balance" reminds me of a teeter-totter, or a waiter carrying a tray full of precariously stacked glasses. It suggests that diverting energy to one part of your life takes it away from another, and if one thing were to tip too far, the whole contraption could come crashing down. This model makes no room for when things overlap beautifully, like when a job makes you happy or a friendship blossoms from pursuing a hobby. It makes no allowance for those times when your life is so busy it's bursting at the edges, but everything in it makes you feel alive and grateful.

The notion of work-life balance is especially odd: What are you doing at work, if you're not living?

One woman suggested that balance is best viewed with a long-term perspective: My life may be incredibly busy and chaotic right now, but 20 or 30 years from now, my house might be quiet and I'll be seeking hobbies to fill my free time. Once I've lived at a slower, more reflective pace, perhaps I'll have had enough experience to consider my life balanced overall.

I like the metaphor of a centered life, like a solar system in which all the components of our existence orbit around a core of our spiritual self and our deepest-held values. Work, family, friends, activities - all of them are like planets and moons and comets on oblong orbits, sweeping in and out of prominence as our situations and priorities change. Sometimes they travel in sync for a time, one thing swept up in the gravity of another - and sometimes they collide in destructive ways. 

I'm having a bit of a meteor shower right now, but I know enough about the circular movement of things to have faith that soon, it will quiet down and things will be knocked into their new orbits.

I need to work on this metaphor more after a good night's sleep.

Tonight, this will have to be enough.

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