I hear it often, “I need balance in my life.” I get it – AND, I think the underlying request is not actually for balance. We use the word balance, but I think we’re actually after what we believe balance will bring us – peace, joy, excitement, adventure, deeper love, etc. The concept of a perfectly balanced home life and work like is, well…how shall I put this? Bullshit; An urban myth. It’s unattainable. Similar to the “perfect” body or the “perfect” marriage…it’s a social construct that ends up keeping us stuck in dissatisfaction, comparison, and disappointment. And yet, not unlike our bodies and our relationships, we buy into the belief that perfection is attainable. Most of us (perhaps all of us?) have lives that look more like a sideshow-juggling act than a delicate equilibrium. Alas, in our unattainable quest for balance, we negatively judge ourselves and our inability to give equally to all areas of our lives. This expectation of living a balanced work life and home life becomes a needle in our side injecting daily doses of shame and guilt.
Many years ago, during my training as a life coach, I completed an activity called, The Balance Wheel. Imagine a circle on a page, and then slice it up as you would a pie. Each slice of the pie was an area of my life. Categories included Career Financial, Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Relationship, and Social. The next step was to identify where I felt out of balance. Finally, I was asked to create goals and action steps that would balance out my parts – each slice of the pie separate and equal. As a result of this work, I found that I was putting a lot of energy into areas of my life that weren’t all that important to me. Balance became my goal and in the process, I became exhausted and unfulfilled. My balanced parts did not make me whole.
When we turn our energy towards something – towards that thing of passion, creativity, and curiosity – we cannot help but turn away from something else. If one goes from being an at-home mom to working outside of the home, time spent at work and time spend with family simply cannot balance out. If passion leads one to attend college or a training program, it is highly unlikely that equal energy can be given to both our social lives and finances. And yet, we subscribe to the societal belief that each area of our pie needs its own individual attention and time and it is only in striking this balance that we will achieve peace, joy, excitement, adventure, deeper love, etc.
Each of us is but one human with this present life to live. Might it be that this small space in the universe is best used to follow our curiosities and live by our values? In other words, let’s focus on wholehearted living. Yes, it’s sloppy and messy and big but it will not slice our lives up into domains that require tending. Instead, let’s integrate all of who and what we are (community, job, spirituality, finances, family, career, etc) into our passions and our values.
Jump off the balance wheel. The different aspects of our lives don’t need to compete for our attention and energy. Let’s release the stress and pressure of trying to give equally to all parts of our lives. Stressed brains don’t function well – in fact, research tells us that our stressed-out brains are less creative, less able to problem-solve, less present, and less able to pay attention. Guilt and shame, even when self-induced, activate two areas of the brain that are not exactly helpful as we try to create a more wholehearted life. Activated brain areas include the center involved with self-inhibition and the lower, more primal areas of the brain involved with our fight, flight, and freeze responses.
Move from balance to integration. Let’s live our lives in the name of what we truly seek and then integrate the areas of our lives into this larger purpose. How? Start by asking a few questions:
- What did I believe a balanced life would bring me? Love? Joy? Peace? Financial Security?
- Why was I seeking balance?
- Then, move towards integration questions. How can I integrate what I seek (love, joy, peace, financial security, etc.) into my life? Personally, the thing I seek is joy. I want to integrate joy into all aspects of my life.
- Using joy as an example, let’s go deeper with clarifying question around integration:
- How can work be more joyful?
- How can time with my family be more joyful?
- How can my exercise practice be more joyful?
- And finally, can any of these things be integrated with each other? For example, can family time and workout time be joyfully integrated?
The focus is subtle and yet, monumental. When we seek balance, the areas of our lives work against each other. When we give to one area, by definition, we aren’t giving to another area. With the integration model, all the areas of our lives work together to harmoniously bring us what it is we actually seek. Today, right now, let’s embrace our big, messy, unbalanced lives. Then let’s create one, small, tiny, doable step that can be done today to integrate what we seek into this wild and wondrous life!
Tiffany Grimes is a writer, blogger, life coach, and consultant. Find her at Evolutionary Consulting. Neuroscience for Everyday People.