This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2017
Balance Is Bullshit
OK, so I feel like I need to put in a little disclaimer here. It is important to note that this article is written by a man who’s staff gave him the book “Workoholics: The Respectable Addicts” for Christmas some 5 or 6 years ago. It is also worth noting that I never did read the book. I will however say that I believe I have come a long way since then in my journey to ‘becoming’. I want to share some of the insights I have had over the last several years and how I continue to work toward a life of fulfillment. This area is a constant work in progress for me and certainly not a destination that I believe one arrives at. We have to be ever vigilant of our mindset and ways of thinking in our quest to find alignment with our inner selves.
We hear the term “balance” thrown around a lot. We are told that we need to “find balance”. We need to strive to have that perfect Work/Life balance. I’m here to tell you that that is a bunch of bullshit! Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the definition of the term that we throw around as gospel every day.
Balance: a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
I’m certain we can all agree that ‘work’ and ‘life’ are not elements that we want in equality. That leads us the conclusion that we must strive to have them in the correct proportions. Sounds reasonable. The trouble is, you cannot look at proportionate distribution without first quantifying each piece. Time is the most frequent measure we would use in this scenario. Traditional wisdom might suggest that a ‘balanced life’ is one where we spend 8 hours a day at work from Monday to Friday and the rest of the time in “life”, whatever the heck that means.
My masculine, analytical, A-type brain wants to take this further and look at other areas of my life. What is the correct proportion of ‘Me time’? What is the correct proportion of ‘Family time’? What is the correct proportion of ‘Fitness time’? You get the idea. If time is in fact the correct unit of measure than really it should be as simple as defining the appropriate amount of hours for each ‘segment’ and having the discipline to stick to it. Unfortunately that is not really the way that life tends to work. There are a couple of inherent flaws with this model.
- Is time really the appropriate measure?
- how do we accurately quantify it?
Do we measure the time that we are physically in our ‘work’ environment? Our home environment? What if our mind starts drifting at work to the football game we are going to go watch our son play that evening? What happens when we start thinking, or perhaps even stressing over, that project back at the office while we are at the ball game or out on date night with our spouse?
The idea that we have to have the correct proportion of each aspect of our life also presupposes that we live each of these segments in silos. That we can compartmentalize each of these items. The reality is usually quite a bit different. All of the areas of our life tend to cross over each other. Our work life spills into our home life and vice versa. Let’s face it, if we are having a really shitty day at the office it is not realistic to expect that as soon as you walk in that door to your home you can drop the burden of work that you are carrying and simply leave it outside ready to be picked up on your departure the next morning. The same holds true if you are having stresses in your life outside of work. When you walk into that office door there is no realistic way you can shed all of the financial anxiety those $15,000 orthodontics are causing you.
So what is the answer? As with most things in life I think you will find there is no magic answer. No one size fits all remedy that will miraculously make everything OK. I do however, know that the answer lies in there somewhere. It starts with awareness and asking the question. If we don’t ask the question we will never find the answers.
G.I. Gurdjieff was a greek-armenian philosopher that introduced a system of self-development called “The Fourth Way”. He says something to the effect that “If you do not know you are in prison, escape is impossible.”
The ‘Fourth Way’ to which the title refers is a method of inner development – “the way of the sly man,” as Gurdjieff described it. This way is to be followed under the ordinary conditions of everyday life, as opposed from the three traditional ways that call for retirement from the world: those of the fakir, the monk, and the yogi, which Gurdjieff maintained could only result in partial, unbalanced development of man’s potential.
For me part of the answer is to change the language I use. Instead of striving for “Balance”, finding correct proportionate distribution of the components of my life, I have started to look for “Integration”. In other words how do I successfully blend the components of my life to provide fulfillment and purpose. Let’s look at the definition.
an act or instance of combining into an integral whole.
Boom! This makes so much more sense. My objective now does not become to have the ‘right’ proportional amounts of each component of my life but rather to find a way to combine all the elements into an ‘integral whole’. This means that there is not a magic formula that you can apply to find that perfect mix of your parts. What it does mean, is that you need to find a way to combine each piece. Now, with practice you will start to find ways to implement integration into your life. When we talk in the context of work and home this means that you and your partner will both need to be on board with this concept. If one of you is looking for balance it will be difficult for the other to find integration.
If our partner expects us to be able to immediately toggle from “work mode” to “home mode” that becomes problematic. When you communicate well and both recognize that this is not an easily achievable concept, then together you can start to find ways to integrate that transition time into your life. Make this practice intentional. Make it a bonding experience.
For me the practice of yoga has been a great analogy and therefore practice of some of these concepts. In yoga the transitions between poses are especially important. They are times where we practice moving from one pose to the next, maintaining our rhythm of breathing, staying present in those moments ‘in between’. If we only focus on mastering the poses, or the ‘activities’ in life then we create this rushed, jerky, uncomfortable life where we simply jump from one test to the next. We need to slow down, breath and stop to smell the roses so to speak.
When I think of balance it puts a complete emphasis on the ‘pieces’ and doesn’t really allow us to focus on, or practice the transition with the objective of achieving that integral whole.
By shifting focus from balance to integration we are allowed to slow down, enjoy the in between and focus on creating those seamless transitions between the multiple facets of our life.
So my question for you is “Where can you find better integration in your life?”