THE QUEST FOR BALANCE has been an ongoing theme in my life. I don’t mean physical balance; fortunately, I’ve always been reasonably athletic. I mean balancing the responsibilities with the passions, the “have-tos” with the “want-tos,” the whirlwind of real life with the commitments and goals I set for myself.
Like many people — like you, perhaps? — I have a lot of activities I both need and want to do. The question is, when you are engaged in many diverse projects how do you manage to keep everything moving forward, stay balanced, and make progress? How do you grow your writing life and business while simultaneously working a day job and taking care of family?
When each area of your life has its own set of daily maintenance activities, goals, and requirements, some of which overlap, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and on the edge of burnout. At those times, balance seems to be an unachievable dream — a ball poised, perfectly motionless, on the head of pin, without a breath of wind to disturb its perfect center.
We all want to experience life from that center of constant grace. Yet, the truth about balance is that it’s a transitory state. Although an accomplished dancer moves from a balanced center, she doesn’t stay perfectly balanced all the time. In fact, the beauty of dance is her ability to continually achieve, then fall from and regain her balance — a poised moment at the height of a leap, before dropping, catching, and moving seamlessly to the next breathless half-second of balance.
The dance of life is like that. We catch a moment in the air when all the forces of our efforts have come together in perfect harmony — balanced, flying, everything working together, our hearts exulting in the beauty of it — when down we come. It is our task to learn how to weave those moments of balance together, one to the next in a smooth transition, that will allow us the impression of a balanced life. If we lack that skill, life can seem to consist of disconnected events and overwhelming responsibilities, with only occasional moments of balance.
At the beginning of each year, as I reflect on the previous year and set goals for the new one, I work on creating a realistic schedule. And then I adapt that schedule throughout the year, making changes where necessary as events and priorities shift. I have gotten much better at this over time, learning when to be flexible and how to let go when necessary to perform this all-important balancing act that is life.
In the process, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you.
Tips to maintain work, life, and writing life balance
(1) Forget perfectionism — embrace excellence instead
The key to maintaining a sense of balance (and perspective) is to let go of the need to be perfect or achieve perfection. Since there is no such state in the real world, we will always fail in the quest for perfection. When we embrace excellence (vs. perfectionism), challenges bring inspiration instead of fear, criticism becomes an opportunity to learn instead of a personal attack, and being second (or third) best can be a source of pride instead of shame. Excellence is relative to each goal and each moment, rather than fixed and impervious to change.
Embracing excellence means reaching for quality, keeping your standards high, doing the best you can in each moment, and not giving up when the going gets tough.
Being the best partner, parent, manager, employee, musician, or writer you can be comes down to giving it your all in each discrete moment and then celebrating every win along the way.
(2) Identify and limit time-wasters
Do you have people in your life who drain your energy? Do you spend time surfing the web or aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter feeds? Identify the time-wasters in your life and limit them by creating boundaries.
When it comes to people, reclaim your time as your own. Let them know when you’ll be available and then don’t allow them to interrupt you at other times. Set your phone and computer in “Do Not Disturb” mode or turn off notifications. Let the phone go to voicemail. Respond to email and texts and phone calls at scheduled times during the day instead of feeling like you have to respond immediately.
Set boundaries for yourself around times for checking Facebook, watching TV, or other activities you identify as preventing you from accomplishing your goals.
(3) Incorporate “Me time” into your schedule
Exercise, meditation, and other stress-reducing strategies are important to maintaining a sense of balance. If we work too hard on our external goals — finishing that book by writing into the wee hours of the night, skimping on sleep, not allowing ourselves downtime, relentlessly pursuing accomplishment at the cost of health and emotional wellbeing — what’s the point? What will all that achievement mean if you’re a wreck at the end?
Balance is not about achievements; it’s about your whole being, which includes self-care. Be sure to nourish and refresh your body, mind, and heart on a regular basis.
(4) Redefine balance
From my perspective, staying balanced includes remaining mindful of the truth about balance: it is not a static state of being, but a fluid and connected state. Being mindful and present helps me become more skillful in my dance of life — increasingly able to hit those balanced moments more purposefully and more often, without giving up anything of importance.
But you must define balance for yourself. When you know what it means to you and what it feels like, you will be able to achieve and hold the state of balance more often and for longer periods of time. Balance is more art than science, more subjective experience than objective state of being, and takes practice.