Balance is a myth
So we do we keep perpetuating it? (Also, Hi! Welcome to the new home for my newsletter.)
Welcome to prioritise this, the new home for my newsletter. I’m so excited to be back from mat leave, and to have migrated to Substack… Mainly because it has a comments section, which means we can get into topics at length. I hope we can use this space to build a good community, away from the algorithms and general exhausting/depressing environment of social media.
Every week I’ll arrive in your inbox with some thoughts on my favourite subject: priorities. My hope is that it will provide you with the opportunity to think more clearly about the thoughts, habits, actions and people that you’re prioritising in your own life. I’ve got some initial ideas in mind, but I’d also love to hear what you’d to read about, please let me know in the comment section below :)
First up, let’s talk balance…
How many times have you said to yourself: I must sort out my work-life balance!
How many articles have you read, or podcasts have you listened to, that promise to help you do just that? In fact, search ‘work-life’ in Google and the first predictive offering that pops up is balance.
It’s no surprise; we are a society obsessed with the concept. How to get it, how to keep it, how to help others with it… There are entire sub-sects of the wellness industry that rely on ‘balance’ for their survival. I’m constantly being asked to comment, or write a ‘how to’ feature, on the subject. Which, btw, is really easy.
Here, in a nutshell:
5am, wake-up. Meditate, journal, drink hot water with lemon, exercise, then spend meaningful time with your family or yourself while not even glancing at your phone. 8am, start work. While working carefully guard your time and energy so that you never have to compromise or compete with anyone else’s demands. Work hard but also make sure you maintain a positive outlook and also take regular breaks and don’t even think about sitting down for too long. 5pm, go straight home on the dot. Enjoy meaningful and enjoyable time with your family/friends/pets (don’t look at your phone!) Cook your own food. Have one glass of red wine. Do something for your brain – a puzzle or a creative activity. Go to bed early (don’t look at your phone!) Sleep, quickly.
But also, bullshit.
What the wellness industry fails to take into account with its balance hard-sell – as it does with so many other ‘wellbeing’ concepts – is that life is messy. Humans are chaotic, fallible and complicated, and we have lives (and minds) that constantly get in the way of our highest intentions and best-laid plans.
The notion that we can achieve perfect balance is as ridiculous as the notion of perfect productivity, or unwavering motivation, or the ability to get your priorities completely straight and keep them that way. Nice idea in principle, but in practice… Nope! Impossible.
I know why we’re obsessed with balance – because the technology that has made our lives so much easier, that has streamlined our experiences, has also made our days more complicated.
You’ll have your own lived, felt experience of this: our modern lives are demanding, the number of stresses, strains and requests put on us day-to-day unimaginable to our ancestors. We have so many competing priorities, it’s very hard to ever feel like we are ‘balanced’. And by striving for that elusive concept, we are constantly setting ourselves up to fail.
But let me ask you this: if balance is a static state – and a zero-sum game at that – do you even want to be balanced?! Wouldn’t you rather be gently moving, remaining flexible and open to changes and challenges?
To find actual balance, we need to lean into the natural state of being off-balance - like when you’re turning a corner on a bicycle and you have to lean into the tilt (FYI, not sure I’m qualified to use this analogy, I’m useless at riding a bike). The point is - you will always have several different priorities competing for your time, energy and attention. Shift your effort and focus to remaining flexible with whatever is happening in your life, and you’ll find far more ‘balance’ than ever before.
So don’t try to be static. Give in to the (sometimes nauseating) see-saw of life. Understand that shit will always get in the way. And instead of thinking day-to-day balance, think seasonal balance.
Accept that sometimes you will stay out late and drink all of the martinis and eat cold pizza for breakfast. Accept that sometimes you’ll work so hard you won’t have a moment to spare. Accept that sometimes your children’s needs will supersede all of yours, and more.
Accept it all, because suddenly (or gradually) everything will change. The cards will flip, either because you’ll have had enough or because external circumstances will change. As long as you don’t get stuck in any one mode of being for too long, as long as you let your life (and your priorities) ebb and flow, as long as you stay connected to yourself so you know what’s going on for you, you will find balance. Think, long-game strategy, rather than short-term living.
It certainly won’t be a day-to-day, Instagram-friendly kind of balance. It will most likely be messy, unstructured and complex. But it will also be genuine, full of forgiveness and much easier to maintain for the rest of your life. It will be much more you.
I would love to hear from you! Do you think balance is a myth? Or do you believe it helps ground a hectic, demanding life?
p.s. Totally coincidental as I wrote most of this before I even interviewed her, but if you want to focus more on living seasonally in general, Laura Brand speaks about this in Ep 2, S3 of the podcast which comes out today.