Balance is Power (Updated)

I have been thinking a great deal about balance these last few weeks. I realize that I’ve not been posting as much to this space and apologize for letting down any of my regular readers. Let us just say that life has been rather unbalanced of late and my writing has suffered. Since this is an activity which is neither essential for living (like breathing) nor likely to keep the wolf from the door (as my business and technical writing do) it necessarily suffers when I am running short of time, energy and words.

The catalyst which precipitated my thinking about balance into writing this post is an article in the WSJ about someone who is apparently incredibly fit, but entirely unbalanced:

As the wife of an endurance athlete, Caren Waxman wakes up alone every morning, including holidays.

“It’s selfish,” concedes her husband, Jordan Waxman, 46, a private-banking executive at Merrill Lynch and an Ironman triathlete. He says he leaves notes for his wife and children before leaving for morning workouts.

The article goes on to talk about the struggles which the Waxmans and others have when exercise becomes (based on time spent) more important the spouse and family.

I could not help thinking of that old saying: “I have yet to see a tombstone with the words ‘I wish I had spent more time at work.’ engraved on it.” Perhaps we’ll yet see one that says “I wish I had spent more time at the gym.” Here is an individual who understands that what he is doing is, in his own words, selfish–yet he is apparently unable to stop his behavior. And yes, I understand that that this statement can apply to each of us–just for different reasons.

My wife would probably be glad to find me half as ready to swim the English Channel as Mr. Waxman. On the other hand, I know full well that she and the children already miss the times when I could be with them and am not because of a variety of reasons. My many roles drag me in as many different directions. Despite that, I must continually review what is most important and strive for the needed balance.

Instead of balance, we should perhaps use the term ‘dynamic equilibrium.’ Instead of balance, which seems to be the point at which everything is just right and will stay there if nothing changes, a dynamic equilibrium speaks to the fact that balance is only maintained by directly and indirectly opposing forces and that changes will come and will need to be offset by other changes.

Being human, none of us can maintain a continual balance. Nonetheless, we look up to those who come close and seek to emulate them. We use expressions such as “He’s really got it together” and “She manages to keep everything moving right along” to express our admiration for those who appear to be balanced.

Every day has a number of problems which can only be solved by being balanced, or disciplined, or controlled.  Too much of that excellent venison and corned beef brisket from last night and I’m lethargic. A moderate amount and my body has the fuel necessary to make it until the next meal without hunger pangs. Too little and I wake up at 3AM and find I’m as hungry as the baby. Too much moving snow around with a shovel and I contort my back enough to warrant a professional visit to the chiropractor. A moderate amount and I’m both exhilarated by the exercise and grateful that I don’t drive a shovel for a living. Too little time with the shovel and I’m forcing my dinner guests to plow their way through drifts in order to enjoy the meal.

How then do we achieve balance? That is the sixty-four dollar question, isn’t it? There are any number of books which purport to address the subject, not to mention the relatively recent explosion of life coaches (who are much like the books, but with their own daily drive to help others be balanced). But, before you head off to read the books or contract with a coach, here are a few questions to get things moving:

  • Everyone juggles responsibilities, but do I have any which could be passed on to someone else?
  • If I put myself in my spouse’s shoes, would I have cause to be concerned about how I spend my time, energy and money?
  • When I am called upon to give advice to another, do I find myself saying things that are true–while knowing that the advice could just as well apply to me?
  • Honestly speaking, just how selfish am I?

One last thought. It is often difficult for us to know when things are out of balance–even while we can see the difficulties which others are having. This is where friends can prove their worth by helping us understand just off-kilter we’ve managed to become.

Update 2/7

P&R takes the time to balance my here and now thinking with a good dose of hereafter thinking. Perspective wins the day.