Do you live a balanced life?
I frequently ask myself this question and the answer is typically the same: no, but I’m trying!
According to Kofodimos (1993), balance is “finding the allocation of time and energy that fits your values and needs, making conscious choices about how to structure your life, and integrating inner needs and outer demands (p 8).” To me, balance has always been a matter of ensuring my personal and professional priorities were met in a healthy, productive manner. Whether it was leaving work early to make it to a spin class or closing my office door to get some mental “me” time, I always felt as if I was taking steps towards a more balanced life but I was never quite there. Overall, I found myself feeling unbalanced more often than I felt balanced, so my answer to the question above never changed. “No, but I’m trying!”
At first I was proud that I was always trying to be balanced. I was proud that I made efforts to avoid allowing work to overpower my personal life and vice versa, but soon I found balance became exhausting and overwhelming. Maintaining balance is hard! In fact, it was so hard for me to maintain balance that I would often loose sight of my goals and stop trying to live a balanced life until I became motivated again. And so the cycle goes.
Then I discovered the concept of living a fulfilling life. Carponi (1997) uses personal reflection and critical theory to share that our well-intentioned efforts to promote work/life balance may undermine our abilities to live actually productive lives.
“If balance is an unachievable goal – both because of the unpredictability of life and internal ambivalence toward social life – then framing balance as a desirable and possible goal is seriously problematic for at least two reasons. First, it advises us to try to achieve the unachievable… Second…because the emphasis on work/life balance, as well as the advice designed to help people achieve balance, may create yet another ‘idealized image’ of ourselves (Kofodimos, 1993, p. 52).”
In trying to achieve balance I have actually been trying to achieve the unachievable and setting unrealistic expectations for myself. OUCH. So what does Carponi (1997) recommend? Living a more aesthetic, fulfilling life by working to fully developing your character or your abilities.
Taking this into consideration, I asked myself the following:
Am I living a balanced life?
Am I living a fulfilling life?
Yes, and it feels damn good!
By setting realistic expectations for myself, by focusing my developing my own character and abilities, I became much more likely to feel accomplished and motivated as opposed to overwhelmed and deflated. The best part? This shift in mentality required no changes to my daily routine.
And just like that – by shifting my perspective – I gave myself permission to fail, learn, grow, and try without feeling like everything has to be perfectly balanced.