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Barbara is upwardly mobile, assertive, with much of her identity wrapped up in her position in her firm. She’s home from work now, but still in her business suit. With her briefcase open on the kitchen table, appointment book in hand, she is trying to finish up some of the calls and e-mail she didn’t have time for at the office. She has been interrupted now several times by her 4-yearold son, a round-faced little boy with big blue eyes. “Mom, what’s in that big book?”
“This is Mommy’s appointment book, Timmy. What’s in it are important things I have to do and the names of important people. Now, run upstairs and play with your toys.” Timmy wanders toward the stairway looking dejected. Then his face brightens as he turns back to his mom and tugs on her skirt. She looks down at him and says through clenched teeth, “What is it, Timmy?”
“I just wondered, Mommy,” Timmy says, his eyes pleading. “Is my name…in your book?”
Dave is lacing up his old gym shoes for the first time in months. His doctor didn’t mince words yesterday. “Dave, your health has deteriorated since your last checkup. Your weight and your blood pressure are both going in the wrong direction.” Things have been so hectic lately, Dave thinks, there seems to be so little time and so much stress. It’s definitely time to get back in shape. It won’t take that many workouts to get the old body back on track again, he tells himself. I’m resilient; I can do it.
Dave has to sit down after a half mile at a slow trot. His knee hurts and his chest is burning. What’s happening to me? he wonders. What have I lost, and exactly where did I lose it?
Gordon is sitting on the commuter train next to a wrinkled, old family doctor, a general practitioner. Just retired, he’s reminiscing about his 50 years of broken bones, vaccinations, checkups and especially about sitting at the bedsides of people about to die. “You know, it’s interesting,” the physician says. “You hear a lot of regrets from people on their deathbeds, but I’ll tell you one I’ve never heard. No one ever says, ‘If only I’d spent a little more time with the business.’”
More “lifescenes” like these are easy to find. They are all around us. We’re all busy people, doing so much, but somehow we leave out the most important things.
• People who live to work rather than work to live.
• People who read every article they see on stress and depression.
• People who want to simplify, get back to the basics and slow down, but who never get around to doing so (or even figure out how it could be done).
• People who reach their goals, but wonder if they are the right goals.
• People who say they’re happy, but can’t define happiness and wonder if they even understand the word.
• People who are too busy “getting there” to enjoy the journey.
In the Western world, before the Industrial Revolution, the prevailing personal challenge was survival. Following the Industrial Revolution, the personal challenge was physical and economic quality of life. Today, the personal challenge is balance. Because there are so many possibilities and responsibilities, so many options, alternatives, choices, it’s hard to balance our time and priorities. To be successful we need to be strong and structured; and yet to be fun, we need to be flexible and free. It’s hard to balance our attitudes. Because there are so many things we want, and so many people who need us or whom we care for, it’s hard to balance our goals.
What Does It Take? Take a stand! That is what you must do if you want life balance. If you want to swim your own course rather than being swept along by the world’s currents; if you want to judge yourself by your own definition of success; if you want to make what you do match what you believe, then you must take a personal stand.
The point is, no one ever achieves total life balance. Life balance is a journey, not a destination. It is a worthwhile, rewarding, ongoing struggle, and often what we are struggling against seems to be the world around us—the norms, the “usual,” the expected.
Tightrope walkers stroll along a high wire with the ease that most of us walk down the street. They do so with the aid of a balance bar—the long pole they carry that stabilizes and steadies their progress. To stay steady and balanced on the tightrope of life, we need our own kind of balance bar—one made up of strong commitments to clear priorities, and of thought patterns that focus both our plans and our sensitivity on the things that really matter. If you cannot change your thoughts, you’ll never be able to change your reality.
No one changes the fabric of a person’s thought but that person. Your balance bar, in other words, will have to be of your own making. Simply put, balance is a formula for joy. When we are balanced, there is more satisfaction and pleasure in work and in the process of accomplishing things in the outside world. And balance, most importantly, brings with it the deeper joys that spring from what happens inside our homes and inside ourselves.
Life balance means balancing the outer success of work and career with the inner success of family and personal growth.
Balance, like most worthwhile things, is something we never fully perfect or completely attain. Rather, it is something we can always be obtaining. The tightrope walker is never balanced in the sense of being still or stationary—he is always balancing, and gradually becoming better and more comfortable in his balance.
In reality, balancing is a skill that can become an art—an art we can master only when it is our conscious goal.