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.