The Balanced Life Myth

For years I felt like my life was out of balance. I couldn’t ever get it so that each area of my life got equal amounts of attention or as much attention as they needed. After years of frustration, I finally decided there is no such thing as balance, there is a better way to think about it. I hope this helps the equally frustrated among you about living a “balanced life”

We are constantly bombarded with this idea that we should live a balanced life, and yet no one seems able to explain exactly what that means. It’s as if we have certain areas of our life like our home life and our work, or our health and our relationships that should get equal amounts of time and if they are not then we have somehow failed. I don’t know about you, but that is just not my experience. I am not sure that is what balance means, and in fact, I’m pretty sure balance is not my goal. Maybe a higher goal would be the concept of giving exactly what life is requiring of me at this time.

My life has required certain concentrations of time at different points. When I was an intern working 80 hours a week in the hospital, for instance, to all outside appearances my life was very out of balance. I was not able to pay a lot of attention to working out, or my finances, or my relationships, but I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing at that point in my life. On the other hand, if I am 50 years old and I am working 80 hours per week at the neglect of my health and my family, that may not be what I need to be doing. In other words, balance is more about where we are in life and what life needs from us than what we perceive we need in order to be in balance.

During our weekly planning, as we lay out what the week ahead looks like instead of trying to balance everything as if it has the same weight, what if we take some time to ask these questions: What is life requiring of me right now? Where is the best use of my energy and time? How would my week best be utilized and where should I focus my time and efforts?

To be clear, I am not advocating we ignore our bodies or our relationships, or sharpening the saw. We need to take time to learn and to improve our spirituality. These are all important things as I lay out in my book Living Every Minute (soon to be published). However, not every day nor every week has to be laid out so that each area gets the same amount of time. The time and energy allocated to each area is predicated not on asking what I need from life but what does life need from me. How can I best serve myself, my family, and others? It’s a higher question and more difficult to answer.

Once we are clear about what life is requiring, then we can start to plan our week ahead by putting in the big rocks first. Making sure we are keeping the most important thing the most important thing. Each morning we review our week plan and make sure we are on track and that there are no new distractions or things that need our urgent attention. If there are we simply adjust the plan.

A great way to think about this is to draw 7 circles and label them health, wealth, relationships, money, career, self-improvement, and adventure. Now put a number between 1-10 for the energy and time you are giving that area of your life for the coming week. Be honest. Now ask yourself if this is ok? Not if it is ok with the world but if it is ok with you. For where you are right now and for what life is requiring of you right now, is that ok? If it is, then plan and execute. If it is not, then adjust some time or energy until you are good with it.

Be ok with your life being “out of balance” as long as your life is serving your ultimate purpose and serving others.

Dr. Tim

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