It seems like everywhere I look these days, someone is selling me “The Secret to a Balanced Life,” or something along those lines. Anyone else out there annoyed by this?
I feel like I am being sold a new and improved version of perfection, just repurposed and repackaged. Their version of balance is another fantasy that I can’t achieve, will bring up familiar not good enough feelings, and I could spend precious time and resources trying, hoping, to attain it.
Personally, I don’t think balance is the problem. Even if it was, the answer doesn’t lie outside of me.
Feeling “out of balance” emerges from not knowing what priorities are most important in my life. When I don’t know my priorities, I can’t honor them, which makes me feel overwhelmed, scattered, unfulfilled, and out of balance. (This emotional upset, however, is great feedback for me to help me get realigned with myself).
Or, maybe I do know what is most important to me, but I am afraid of or judging those priorities (because they don’t line up with what I think my priorities should be), and so I don’t let myself live in accordance with them.
The way I see it, balance in life is something that is an outcome of knowing, and then living in alignment with my highest priorities. Balance is subjective and evolves with my changing needs and phases of life. Balance is an ongoing process. Balancing my life isn’t the problem.
The thing I have to navigate is my mind, and the thoughts that run through it that criticize, judge, and devalue. Even when I finally determine what my priorities are, those priorities are still subjected to this gauntlet of skepticism.
Take motherhood for instance. Since becoming a mother, I have come to value time with my children and husband over just about everything else. I have found that in order to feel available to all the other parts of my life, I need to feel really grounded and connected within my family first.
For a few years as a new mother, I was deeply unsettled by my shifting priorities. No longer was my career front and center, or my friendships, or my spiritual practice. Suddenly the day in and day out of nurturing small children was what I wanted to arrange my life around. This invisible, demanding, domesticated role of being a mother (that I had formerly judged as too traditional, too domestic, and not empowered in the world enough for me) was becoming the most important thing.
I felt exhausted when I would try to fulfill all my former priorities like I used to. I felt like I was failing at my life at times, and like I couldn’t do anything well anymore. As I repeatedly hit this wall of exhaustion and exasperation, I started to realize that things had changed, that everything had changed (obvious to everyone around me probably).
I was different, my marriage was different, how I saw the world and my role in it, all were different. My experience continually showed me nothing felt as fulfilling, empowering, and right as prioritizing my family. I immediately started to feel energy, clarity, and inspiration for my life when I consciously acknowledged my new priorities, and just accepted them. I didn’t have to create them, or even figure them out. These priorities were simply emerging from me, and my life reflected them back.
So many people live with a lack of fulfillment in their lives, even those of us who look like they have so much. Sometimes, maybe often times, this is a problem of not knowing and living out one’s highest priorities. Much of the time, we are stuck trying to live out someone else’s or something else’s (like society’s) values that are not ours, and thus, don’t fulfill us.
Balance is really about determining my priorities and doing the heavy lifting of moving my life around to honor them. This requires a lot of self knowledge, and doing the difficult yet rewarding work of getting to know who I really am, what I love, and what I want to put my energy into. I have to make choices, and prioritize. I have to let go of some things, tangible and intangible things (like aspects of my identity). I risk disappointing those who don’t understand, and still I need to trust myself.
The experience I want, that goes much deeper and further than the feeling of balance, is fulfillment. I want a life that is directed by my desire for fulfillment. The ongoing tending to ourselves and our lives that stems from a sense of knowing what we want, and taking the risks and doing the work necessary to get there is fulfilling. That process is what will balance our lives in exactly the right way for each of us.
No one can tell me how to balance my life, but I can use the support of others to take the risks and make the sometimes difficult choices to move towards balance, a move toward the deeper experience of fulfillment. That is an experience we can always be cultivating.
And if I want to look outside of me for a guide post about balance, I’m better off watching how its done. You know, just let myself download the focus, confidence, integration, and ease necessary to do it. In that vein, I will happily watch my husband slack line over Lake Michigan any day.