Growing up, if there was anything my mom preached, it was balance. She stressed everything in moderation. Sugary treats and other junk food were fine – in moderation. Relaxing in front of the TV (aka being a couch potato) – yep, fine, in moderation. As we got older we were told that alcohol, too, is fine – in moderation.
As I got older, I realized that work and play also need a balance. Too much of either is really not good for you. Having balance in your life is a positive – we strive to have balanced meals, balanced accounts. Unbalanced people frighten us. When things don’t quite feel right, we may say we are “off-balance.” Losing one’s balance is a cause for alarm, whether standing someplace high up or merely experiencing vertigo.
Merriam-Webster defines balance: to bring into harmony, mental and emotional steadiness, an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements. Synonyms include: stability, equal opportunity, fairness, and steadiness.
Balance is a good thing. However, in this busy, crazy world we live in, it is often difficult to achieve. Parents struggle with balancing their lives to meet the competing needs of their children – time spent with them and money to pay for their basic needs (and some wants). In families with more than one child, that struggle for balance is more complicated. Employees struggle with doing their job well to please their bosses (and further their careers) and having a fulfilling life of their own outside the workplace.
I never thought it about it before, but I guess that I internalized the idea of balance long ago. When I made the decision to abandon my plans to go to vet school, I did so because I knew this was an area I would find too difficult to balance. Some careers work well with a family, and some women may be able to make this one work, but it was not right for me. Though I still have a fascination for medicine (and get pumped up about new advances while reading the Health section of the Sunday newspaper), I think I made the right choice. Though I have gotten frustrated with myself for not accomplishing more some weeks, I have the flexibility to schedule my tasks around whatever life throws at me. No one’s life is dependent on my work, and I don’t have to make the choice between my job and my family, I can have both.
Though I have long understood the importance of balance, I have not mastered it. Oftentimes, things creep up on me and I find that nothing is “right.” When I stop to look at things, I usually realize that I have allowed some things to take precedence and other things have been let slide. Most of the time, I am finding that it is simple things that are lacking, that have sent me off-balance. It may be that I realize it has been days since I have been out of doors, or that I have spent too much time on “must-dos” and not enough on fun stuff. Perhaps I have spent too much time pondering life, or not enough time making plans. Lately I have gotten better at accomplishing tasks, and have even been able to find a way to prepare more balanced meals. Part of this is better organization, and more planning. Based on prior history, it is something that will not last without a conscious effort.
I have a conflicted attitude about planning. On the one hand, I find planning to be restrictive and confining, lacking spontaneity. On the other, I find it calming and reassuring, knowing that I have a blueprint makes the difficult look less so. Schedules and lists help keep me on task; the key is to schedule free time in as well. I know I am not alone in this, but often having many things to do means I get many things done, while having just a few often means I accomplish less, even though my “to do” list is never done.
I came across this quote, which was attributed to Albert Einstein in a letter to his son. “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” This actually makes a good deal of sense to me, with a qualification: in moderation. I am a big fan of downtime, and have frequently imposed it on my ever-active children, but recognize that it, too needs to have an end, a time when the recharging is complete and it is time to move again.