As success-driven people, we keep searching for the next system or technique to help us reach the next rung on the ladder while keeping everything together. And yet, if we are honest, we struggle, sometimes deeply.
We struggle to keep our heads above water, living in secret, self-perceived failure that creates chronic guilt. We don’t take enough vacations, yet we feel as if we’re not working hard enough. It seems we’re always so far behind. We’re not giving our spouse and our kids enough time and attention. We’re not exercising as we should. We’re not serving in the church and the community as we know we should. So much is left undone at work, and the deadlines are coming fast. And even though we’re running as fast as we can (maybe too fast), we’re still not making it happen. We’re doing our best to pursue a “balanced” life, but our wheels are wobbling.
We walk a balance beam, working our hardest to make sure each priority gets just the right amount of effort and time. But when do we ever get it just right?
Ask yourself right now, Am I balanced? Is my work balanced? Am I giving balanced attention to my fitness, my family, and my spiritual activities? Is my marriage in balance? What about recreation, friends, and volunteer service? Let me guess what you’re feeling: guilt, guilt, guilt. Am I right? I’ve posed this question to thousands of people, and no one has ever said, “Yes, my life is balanced.” We all know that even if our lives are balanced at this particular moment, situations change so rapidly that, a minute from now, we might fall off the beam. Pursuing balance contributes to burnout and guilt.
Most of us want to live a full life, making a meaningful contribution and enjoying ourselves along the way. But the stress of life drives many of us to anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression. The number of prescriptions doled out each year for anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids, and antidepressants is off the charts. Life in the developed world is unhealthy. We feel as if we’re wasting our lives and having no fun in the process. We want the insanity to stop.
Pervasive media create and feed excessive expectations in every area of life. People are unnecessarily stressed because they don’t have a Better Homes and Gardens house and yard or a body like they see on the cover of Shape. We think that something must be wrong with us—and something is wrong with us. In our attempts to have it all in perfect balance, we stay up too late and get up too early. Not having slept well for even those few hours, we’re also sleep deprived.
When life is crazy, the common prescription is to re-establish balance, the supposed antidote to our insane lives. But what if the antidote is actually a poison?
Balance, which usually goes undefined, has become the modern paradigm of a well-lived life; its merit is largely unquestioned. Of course we should be living balanced lives. Who would want to be unbalanced? They put you in special places for that!
I don’t agree with Stephen Covey, who says that “obviously, balance is a ‘true north’ principle.” Instead, I think balance is a dead end. The idea of balance logically entails something fixed, equivalent, uniform, and average; yet none of these words describes a well-lived life. Balance is a false ideal that doesn’t guide us toward health but instead diverts us into despair. It puts an impossible burden on us.