Like many people, I’d like to have a balanced life. I’d like to round out the stressful seasons of my life with periods of serenity. I’d prefer if I played as often as I worked. It would be wonderful if I could find equilibrium in the midst of the forces pulling me in so many different directions: kids, husband, career development, family, friends, girl time, “me” time, exercise, housework, volunteering, spirituality, school (to name but a few). When I find myself feeling stretched too thinly in one area, I often find myself saying things like this:
“I really need to work out more.”
“Lancelot and I need more one-on-one time.”
“We haven’t connected in a while – we need more family time.”
“I need more time to breathe!”
“We need more money to fix the backyard/basement/car.”
“I can’t believe it’s been so long since we’ve hung out! We need to hang out more!”
In other words: More. More! MORE!
Why is it that when we feel our life is off balance in some way, we feel the need to add things in order to create equilibrium?
I’m not the only one that says things like the above statements. I hear these things all the time, out of the mouths of my fellow mom friends, or from high-powered executives, or from cashiers at King Soopers. Whatever our individual race, creed or sex, it seems we have this one thing in common. We all want more.
When we conceptualize balance, it’s common to think of life as a teeter-totter, with work on one end and life on the other end. (Some people might call that apparatus a seesaw, but I grew up in the Midwest, so I’m going to stick with “teeter-totter.”) To achieve balance, one of the items has to increase or decrease so the teeter-totter will steady. This can be achieved by adding something, or taking something away. Yet, in our culture, it’s very difficult to think about doing anything “less” than we currently do. We are a society of high achievement, a culture of “work hard, play harder,” a community which values achievement and status and action. We start the race of achievement minutes after the first breaths of air are taken, when an infant’s weight and length are written alongside their name on their birth announcement. We tout every accomplishment and rate everything on a scale of worth in which higher is better – from that first preschool report card down to the latest performance review at work. You may be enjoying your work, but with a 4.73 out of 5.0 possible points on the rating scale, clearly there is more that you could be doing in the office – right?
We are rarely, if ever, told to slow down or back off of our efforts at achieving a goal. That’s probably okay if the goals we are seeking are aligned with our values and principles, or if we’ve had a chance to sit down and reconcile our greatest desires and wishes with the day-to-day activities we engage in. However, all too often in our crazy-busy society, we are just trying to make it through the days, and we are drowning in obligations. We don’t have time to sit back, look at the big picture and figure out whether we are doing the things we really value in life, because we are too busy just doing stuff. Instead, we plug away trying to achieve and we often don’t realize that the more we work and the more we add to our lives, the more we are actually robbing ourselves of the very things we seek.
Balance. Harmony. Peace. Tranquility. Joy. Bliss. Contentment.
You can’t get those things when you are constantly adding more.
Contentment doesn’t mean complacency, of course – though many of us confuse the two concepts. We want nothing more than to “just be happy” but when we feel happy, we think something is wrong. We feel lazy. We fear getting complacent, so we add more to our plates – and then happiness disappears again, just like that.
Is it any wonder that in a world so achievement focused, we gravitate toward “more?” Is it any wonder that we turn to “more” as the magic bullet?
Why do we think that adding more will truly give us less stress – when in fact, it often just adds stress? For example, I’ve heard the phrase “self-care” thrown around a lot lately. For some reason, it usually just pisses me off. I’ll be reading an article about balance in life, and the good-intentioned author writes something like, “In order to care for your family and lean in at the office, you need to make sure you focus on self-care!” It’s not untrue, but in this context, “self-care” becomes just one more thing that a woman (in this example) must do in order to be happy or successful. It becomes an item on a To-Do list. Something to check off. An obligation. More work.
Maybe our culture of demand and excess has skewed our perspective a bit. Maybe what we should be trying to do, instead of constantly seeking more, is focusing on less.
Less obligations. Less stress. Less clutter. Less worry. Less pressure. Less perfection.
What if we tried to balance that teeter-totter by removing some of the junk? What if we took a look at some of the stuff in those “work” and “life” piles and decided to remove the unnecessary stuff that is piled up there, and decided to get rid of it, instead of just adding more?
What can you get rid of? Maybe it’s that report at the office that you know you are the most qualified to compile, and that Susie Q is going to fumble with, but which Susie Q is qualified to do. Hand it over. Get comfortable with the inevitable typos. Who really cares? Or, maybe it’s the elaborate date you have planned with your sweetie for Friday night. Friday night, the culmination of a busy week, a time when you’d really much rather put on sweatpants and watch re-runs with a big bowl of popcorn. Do it. Stay home, share some popcorn and clear out your DVR– save the money you would have spent on steak, truly relax, and enjoy the uninterrupted company of your sweetie.
The pressure you feel to have every color of the rainbow represented at every dinner? The stress you feel over wearing the latest fashion trend at your holiday party? The disappointment you feel every time you step on the scale and discover you’re still five pounds “overweight?”
Let it go. It’s not serving you.
You deserve balance and harmony and tranquility, and that’s not found in “more.”
What can you start eliminating right now, to bring a bit more balance in your life?