Literal balance is a great thing; I don't have as much of it as I'd like, because I have inner ear issues. But that just means I get to play a lot. I bounce off walls intentionally, because I can't always walk straight, and use that to practice moving without good balance; and sitting is always a challenge, as if there were a ninja behind me, pulling the chair away every time. I'm teaching myself to stand on one foot without waving back and forth like a construction crane in an earthquake (saw that once, it was amazing--and the worker didn't come down when the earthquake was over, just kept working).
But balance is not a word that usefully applies to how I spend my time. Some people talk about having balance in their lives, or balancing their activities, or balancing home and work, and it's all garbage. There's no such thing, and not only that, it's a bad goal to have.
When you're trying to balance, you're struggling with the different amounts of attention that you want to pay to things, and you're also struggling with the different amounts of your time those things might need. If work is using up 14 hours of your time plus some of your attention while you're at home, there's no way to balance your home life--you don't have 14 hours in a day to devote to home if you're already using 14 on work.
Yeah, I know--it's not meant to be literal balance, it's just supposed to feel balanced, it's supposed to make everyone you owe a duty to understand that you're performing it. And all the while leaving you enough time and attention for your own needs so you don't feel spread too thin, worn out, used up.
Imagine a set of hanging scales, as are often portrayed being held by blind Justice in statutes and paintings. There are two pans hanging at the end of the chains, and you divide up your life, your to do list, between the two pans. To be balanced, everything has to add up to the same weight, or time, or whatever you're measuring. The very metaphor sets some parts of your life in opposition to others, some relationships in opposition to others, some duties in opposition to others--because to give more attention to one thing you must give less to something else, and then you're out of balance. My desire to spend time with my friend isn't in a contest with my desire to read--I want to do both of those things, different amounts at different times. Saying I want to balance them isn't accurate. What I want is to do the amount of each that satisfies me and (in the case of my friend) her.
Balance is also an artificially stable condition. Life isn't stable; it's flexible, it changes. Life is ambiguous and uncertain. If you're aiming for balance, you'll never achieve it for long, because moments later everything will have changed. That's another reason balance is a bad metaphor: you are set up for failure. All the things you need to do and all the people you need to pay attention to are constantly changing. How much can you spare for the effort of balancing? Because whatever time you're spending thinking about how to balance is time not spent actually paying attention to the things you're trying to balance.
Balancing is also a bad metaphor because it implies giving each demand on your time just enough so it goes back into balance. What about the things that need more than just enough? Some pursuits and some relationships need more; sometimes passion needs free rein and full effort. You can't balance them into your life when what you really need to do is throw your whole life into them.
There's a metaphor that's much better than balance. It's focus.
Focusing is what you're doing when you're in the flow state (if you believe in it or experience it, like me). Focus is what passion looks like in performance. Focus is flexible: you can focus on each duty as needed, to the degree that duty requires. Or you can focus on what you want to do. Switch your focus from one thing to another as appropriate, don't count the minutes and stop your pursuit just to stay in balance. Focus can be tight or wide, depending on your resources (how much time and energy you have available right now) and the needs of the moment.
When you can focus on what you need and want to do, it's easy to strip out the filler, the stuff you might be tempted to add for balance. I don't need to make duty phone calls to my family, because I focus on them when we have something meaningful to share. When I'm at work I set aside personal life for the most part, and focus my attention and energy on doing my best for my employers. And I'm free to do that because the focus I turned on my personal life took care of what was necessary that day.
Give up balancing, unless you're a high wire act. Try focusing instead.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Sunday, January 02, 2011
I've hit on "flexible" as my word for this year--I want to be flexible enough to use whatever word fits my varying circumstances. I want to be physically flexible so I can do the things I want, I want to keep my expectations flexible, I want to flex my thinking.
I can be flexible this year.
I can be flexible this year.