Striving for balance often equals striving for perfectionism. Whether we’re talking neatly pressed suits and manicures, or boho perfectionism, it’s all the same: a dynamic of assessing one’s life, seeing that there’s not enough of this and too much of that, and assuming that if things were evened out, it would all feel better.
Truth be told, “balance” actually isn’t that hard. You could have it if you really wanted it. Pull out a day planner that tracks each week by the hour, and schedule in each thing that you want in your life, and then stick to it without apology.
There. You’re now “balanced”–except for the part where you no longer have room in your life for unscheduled adventures, impromptu dinner invites, or serendipitous sex.
Most of the people who say they want to feel more “balanced” are just using that as a placeholder word. They actually want to feel something else: awake and able to respond to their lives.
They want to see the challenges come up and have the skills to:
- be able to look at said challenge,
- be honest about the totality of what they feel,
- and respond FROM a place that is sane, kind, and life-affirming.
Translation: People want to meet challenges without denying their feelings, yet not let those feelings control them. They don’t want to go into reaction mode, hiding out with ugly inner critic comparisons, or numbing out with hours of Facebook or television.
Basically, you want to feel fully alive. Far from being such a terrible thing to want, it’s your birthright. And yes, there is a way to study, learn, and master the skill-set that leads to being able to do all of what I described, above.
So when you’re in the midst of a challenging day and the thought skitters across your mind that you’re tired of things being out of control; that you crave more “balance,” stop.
You don’t crave balance. You crave respect for proportion.
Work Hard, Play Hard
I run my life by an internal mechanism I call the Law of Proportion.
Of course, this isn’t a natural law in the scientific world (you’re thinking of the law of definite proportions, which relates to chemical compounds), but like other laws, The Law of Proportion is consistent.
Unlike perfectionism, living by proportion isn’t about pre-determined measurements to “live up to.” My kind of Law of Proportion states that everything in your life is relative to the whole, and pieces of the whole are not perfectly equal, so much as they are…proportionate. Also, there’s only so far that any one piece can expand relative to the whole, before the system breaks down, entirely.
So for example, you want rest and rejuvenation in response to life’s challenges–a proportionate amount to the stress you’re dealing with, not some pre-determined idea of what “rest” is supposed to look like that basically amounts to a series of bland routines.
In fact, you actually do want life challenges, because they help you to learn and grow–you want a proportionate amount of stress, not over-commitment, nor creating challenges by trying to fix that, then that, then that.
If you try to arrange your life “just so” to avoid challenges, The Law of Proportion is going to knock you on your ass with boredom or a mid-life or existential crisis as soon as you succeed. If you constantly over-commit, the Law of Proportion is going to say, “Hon, you and I both know that you can’t handle that. Try it for awhile if you really think it suits you, but eventually I’ll need to present my bill.”
Respect the Law
I don’t want to aim for balance/perfection. I aim for, and respect, the Law of Proportion.
If it’s time to get the project done, that project is getting done. I’m going to put other things on the back-burner, say no to dates, and anticipate more eating out. I’ve got conviction, I’ve got passion, and I’m doing this thang, baby!
Likewise, when it’s time to rest or play, it’s time to rest or play. The Law of Proportion will let me know when that time has come (the Three Horsemen of Burnout Apocalypse will come riding: Fatigue, Resistance, Resentment).
I used to think that the goal was “balance,” which meant that I was supposed to take it easier, compartmentalizing and time-hacking my life a bit better so that I wouldn’t get “burned out.”
Then I realized that trying to reign in part of myself ended up cutting off the passion–the passion that I needed to fuel creative ideas, expand them a bit wider, or trust that it was worth it to meet a wacky deadline.
What I was calling “burned out” and summarily chastising myself for was actually…the beautiful, perfectly spent feeling that you get when you’ve just worked hard and your face is shining with pride, sort of like finishing a race and knowing that you trained hard, worked hard, and executed as best you could.
Balance/perfectionism would say that you should finish a project in such even tones that you finish with nary a sheen of sweat on your brow. Then, the next day, you’re ready to wake up and tackle the next one.
The Law of Proportion says: “Fucking far-out! That was intense, but you rocked it. The sacrifice was totally worth it. Now let’s go eat pie. And read books about home decor. And get to yoga early, instead of slipping in right as she’s closing up.”
Note that the Law of Proportion demands self-care. This isn’t manic swinging from states of high-octane activity, to swooning on a settee. The Law of Proportion doesn’t stand for over-doing it (that’s not proportionate). The race analogy I just used? You’re supposed to finish the race with pride, not make it to the finish line and keel over from an injury.
The Law of Proportion says, “Yes, you just got a promotion, so let’s stretch the career piece of your life so that you knock that project out of the park and let your higher-ups know that they chose the right woman. But let’s just understand that hubs is going to need to handle dinners for awhile, and that could mean a lot of take out instead of home-cooked meals. Just deal. And if you get too crazy with over-work, I’ll have to burn out your adrenals to force you to chill out. You can bring home work on the weekends for a little while, but not forever. You’ve been warned. Now let’s show everyone what Freaking Awesome looks like, and have fun with it.”
The Good News
Because we’re talking about proportion here, and not perfectionism, this means that we’re also talking about shifting things, not overhauling them. It’s a new coat of paint, not a reno.
That means: the solutions are simpler than you think, and they are probably right on hand.
Perfectionism might require that you meditate for 30 minutes a day and go to yoga a few times a week. Proportion might only ask you to notice that taking 10 slow, deep breaths is pretty relaxing, and that making room for one extra yoga class a week is enough to tip the scales in your favor.
Perfectionism might say that you should be working weekends until your business takes off, while also fitting in time for marathon training and volunteering and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family. Proportion might say that you’ll need to work more hours while you’re launching something or for a set number of months, and you understand that it’s not the season to train for the marathon if you want to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. Hard as it might be because you know you’re needed, you’ll need to cut back on volunteer hours.
I thought I wanted “balance” all of those years, but really? I wanted proportion. I wanted the passion-fueled ecstasy of total communion with a project, followed by seeing its completion and retiring to read books about triathlons, or neglecting email, or getting extra snuggle time with my man.
To think that you can do everything, and do it all in a way that’s “balanced”? That’s perfectionism and insanity (and drama).
Opt for ease. The Law of Proportion is at work in your life, anyway. Respect it, and you choose sanity. Start now.
I believe in people’s basic goodness.
I believe that your desires are worthy and your birthright.
I believe that the explosion of self-help is an expression of our deep desire to connect and live from love.
That said, I’m a down-to-brass-tacks gal. I genuinely want people to change their lives, and when I see that a whole lotta people are buying into a concept, but that it isn’t actually translating to a better life for someone, I get a bit dubious.
“Dreaming big” and setting intentions falls into that category.
The internet is full of intentions, and the tricky part is how to go from intention to realization. People sign up for e-courses but don’t finish them. They proclaim they’re going to change XYZ, without following through. They ride the high of their intentions for six months to create a website, blog, and business packages…and then stop updating things altogether.
There’s always some seemingly good reason for quitting, but really, the reasons for quitting on something are typically the exact same challenges that people who keep with it are facing: life gets busy. Time or money seem in short supply. Illness happens.
Same challenges; different response. The response makes all the difference.
On their own? Intentions alone aren’t really worth a damn.
Click to tweet that: http://clicktotweet.com/bTD0i
They’re like window-shopping, a lovely pleasure, but without ever doing the gritty but necessary work of procuring the job and working the hours so that you can get the money so that you can afford the thing in the window (or finding some other innovative and creative way to bring to fruition that which you desire).
Since I’m all about facing fear, let me be transparent: I fear that you’ll think I’m hard or that I pooh-pooh on your good intentions, or that I’m looking down on you because I always follow through on what I start (definitely not the case); or that I don’t acknowledge that sometimes, in that wide expanse of time before something can come to fruition, holding your intentions close to your heart is the best a person can do.
I’m hoping that you’ll see that in pointing out the potentially hard-to-swallow truth that intentions alone don’t get the job done, you’ll see the love and the deep desire that I have for all people to end their own self-imposed suffering.
When it’s another year of good intentions, without much actual life change, people suffer. The door is wide open for the inner critic. Life seems more meh.
Dreaming Big + Living Big
Most of the self-help work out there rarely goes beyond the stage of setting intentions. Plenty of people sell “dreaming big.” Dreaming big is fun! You think of all the things you want or desire. There are lists to be made and visualization exercises to complete. You will probably end up setting a lot of…intentions.
Dreaming big is fun. Living big? Much harder. The two need to be paired together.
Living big is working through conflicts with someone because you choose to love them unconditionally, not declaring them an “energy vampire” and putting them on your “stop doing list” because that’s “self-care.”
Dreaming big is all about the high of visualizing six-figure deals after you sell the next Great American Novel–and I’m all about it! Visualizing success is a component of success.
But living big is what Aaron Sorkin did, writing A Few Good Men in spare moments on cocktail napkins while he was bartending to make ends meet, and then coming home to empty his pockets and get it all typed up into an old computer that he and a bunch of his roommates had had to chip in to purchase (and then share).
I’m not saying that one is fun and the other isn’t. While it’s more challenging to practice unconditional love, I know that my heart is more open and better off for it. While it’s not ideal to create a masterpiece on napkins, I’m guessing that Sorkin was deeply in a pleasurable, creative flow.
Intention + Integrity
The missing link that gets you from dreaming big, to living big?
Integrity is when your words and actions match, and they are in alignment with your values, beliefs, commitments, and life vision. –Matthew Marzel
Intentions are the vision. Integrity is the vehicle for the vision.
Pair intentions with integrity, and you start making your words and actions match. That alone can be a hurdle. Then you start making sure that they’re in alignment with your values and belief system: hot tamale, Batman! You’re going to find some values that you aren’t honoring and some belief systems that you are living from that need to be dropped like a hot plate.
Pair intentions with integrity, and it becomes clear that you absolutely must pay attention to where you sabotage yourself from over- or under-commitment. Start making a lot of choices in service to your intentions, and you’ll become clearer that this is all feeding into a larger life vision.
Integrity is sexy. It’s a force. When I see someone with a big dream who’s willing to do what it takes to make it happen, simply being around that energy feels irresistible.
We are in this together
Everyone has fear, doubt, or hesitation come up. Everyone has challenging circumstances. Everyone would love more time or money.
The difference between intention and realization is not about pretending to be “fearless,” nor about not having any life challenges, nor about having an abundance of anything. Plenty of people have peachy-keen life circumstances and still live miserable lives (and of course, we can’t forget that if you’ve got a roof over your heard, security in where your next meal is coming from, and access to the internet, chances are good that you qualify as having some pretty “peachy-keen” circumstances, compared to millions of people around the world).
Use your intentions as they were, well, intended to be used: as a jumping off point for expanding possibilities and daring to dream.
Then take the next step. Risk. Risk hard and risk big. Your life is waiting.
I said in this interview with Janelle Allen:
“The more we work with these fears, the less they show up at the beginning of the journey. The trajectory is something along the line of: when it’s totally new, the fears are right there at the front. So you start moving into it and the fear moves a little farther down the line. Instead of “I don’t even think I can start this,” it becomes, “what if I don’t finish this?” So fear morphs and changes and it’s really about how to you work with it along the way.”
When you’re newly working with fear, it can be the thing that stops you from even starting.
Later, as you start to see that fear is full of bluster but that you ultimately call the shots, the fear moves farther down the line. It starts showing up later in the game, perhaps after you’ve made the first significant investment towards what you want.
Then you start practicing courage with fear at that entry point, and you get more confident there, and then you start dealing with fear at a new entry point–perhaps somewhere around the middle of some new journey, when fear is most likely to show up as doldrums and boredom. You might suddenly feel as if all the gas has left you. The resistance can be huge.
Then you start practicing courage with that fear, and you learn that one of the ways that fear shows up is through a strange sort of “boredom-resistance.” That’s par for the course. You learn more about you and start to parse out when it’s truly boredom because the project no longer interests you, and when it’s the boredom-resistance.
The courage/fear timeline shape shifts and morphs. When you’re put into similar circumstances next time, it’ll move and show up at a different point in the timeline. When you encounter something wholly new and unfamiliar, the fear starts right at the beginning again, and the more you work with it, the farther down the line it moves (and the less intimidating it gets).
Bottom line? You’ve got this.
As long as you practice courage, which I define as feeling the fear, diving in anyway, and transforming, you’ve got this.