I was talking with a friend earlier this week and he asked me this question: “how do you keep balance in your life?” Then he said. “Man, I‘m in my early 30’s and I still haven’t figured it out.”
My friend explained that he is struggling to balance his full-time job, studying for an exam, spending time with his girlfriend, and training in the gym. In an ideal day he crams it all in, leaving little time for sleep. I suppose most of our lives are like this, trying to juggle a number of responsibilities while feeling good about how well we perfectly distributed our time and effort. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to answer him. I felt out of balance myself, but I suppose it just wasn’t bothering me.
My first response was that I don’t have the answer and he should probably ask someone else who does. But then after we sat there and talked more, my answer became clear: Actually, I don’t worry about balance in my life, at least not in the context that he was asking about. Why? Because having a “perfect” balance is not only a pipe dream but it also doesn’t actually help us achieve what we really want, which is progress.
To pursue balance is to ignore the fact that priorities change often. This pursuit also neglects a critical factor of success, which is that in order to achieve success we have to often choose our top priority and decide to be all in, committed, and obsessed with it.
This is emulated best in professional golfers, such as Jordan Spieth, one of the most skilled in the world. Simplifying greatly, professional golfers are really experts at just one thing–they hit a little white ball very far and very straight. And, presumably, they are successful. By doing this one thing the rest of their lives seem to come together: they make great wages, travel the world, bring their families along for the ride, and develop relationships. They are afforded what many would consider a good life, one marked with the simplest “success” we may imagine–fame and fortune.
This success is a result of progress, always improving, enhancing, climbing, growing. And it all starts with completely disregarding a desire for balance. To be really good at golf, these professionals have to hit thousands of balls each day, spend hours upon hours on the driving range, and most of all, they must be obsessed with their sport. They have to rigorously prioritize one thing.
Likewise, there are times in all of our lives when we have to focus hard on just one thing. These are the times when we most desire progress. If you are new to a job, for example, then you have to spend sweat equity learning, putting in time, and focusing all of your intellectual energy on your commitment. Similarly, when you become a new parent, you need to put all of your attention and energy into the baby, learning how to feed, change diapers, rock her to sleep. There is very little balance for new parents. Finally, if you want to lose weight or get into peak physical condition, it requires extreme commitment and you have to be disciplined in your training routine and your diet.
In life, balance rarely exists in the pursuit of progress. If you want to remain stagnant, if your preference is to remain the same and never change, then you should seek balance. But if you want to win, you may need to throw away your desire for balance, at least temporarily. Sure, when measuring a lifetime, the balance of relationships, career, religion, and hobbies will be crucial. You will want to ask yourself: Did I spend enough time with those I love? And, did I focus on the right things? These questions are worth evaluating on a grand scale, such as a year or more, but they are counterproductive if being analyzed on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis.
Often times we may feel as if we are out of balance and this feeling can be frustrating, demoralizing, or saddening. This feeling isn’t to be ignored, not in the least. Instead it is to be treated as an invitation for reprioritization. If one area of life isn’t getting the appropriate attention then you should run at it full speed until the needs are met. Then, reprioritize and repeat. A race isn’t won while zigging and zagging, turning and making pit stops. No, a race is won by sprinting directly at your goal.
Even the daring Tight-Rope Walker, whose job is to balance, lest he falls to his death, can only focus on one thing. Putting one foot in front of the other, he progresses forward, keeping focused on a single goal. In this short moment, he cannot give attention to others, he cannot dabble in hobbies, he cannot worry about bills or responsibilities. Even as a professional balancer, his mindset must remain extremely narrow focused on just one thing. This focus, this narrow-sited single-tasking will allow him to cross the threshold and continue on.
After reading this metaphor you may have a visual of the tight-rope walker, or maybe the ballerina, or the yogi; but a different athlete comes to mind even more. Perhaps the best demonstration of balance is that of the diver, such as the ones seen in the Summer Olympics. The diver elegantly walks to the end of the diving board, turns his back to the pool, and puts all of his weight on his toes while his heels hang over the water. He balances for a moment while harnessing a reserve of power and creativity. He waits patiently for a moment but then suddenly he bounces himself high into the air, plunging into complete immersion.
The diver knows of balance only as a foundation that allows him to go all-in. His balance is temporary, and he lets it slip away without concern, knowing that his job is to demonstrate his skill, to immerse himself completely, to come out a winner.
Likewise, we all must, in our own passage, leap into our endeavors and give away the immediate desire for balance. To have progress, we need a willingness to go all in with total commitment and keep from looking around along the way.
Think of this next time you are faced with a challenge or you set a goal. Be willing to throw balance to the wind, if only for a period of time. Then, surface up, reassess, and do it again. These short sprints of immersion will produce more success and more reward.
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