On Balance and Perfection

Many busy professionals, and especially entrepreneurs, express exasperation at the notion of achieving life “balance.” Some even say the concept of balance is a myth. Before approaching the questions of whether balance exists and how it can be achieved, there is an important distinction that must be drawn.¬†When people say they are in search of balance, they oftentimes use the benchmark of perfection. Using perfection as a standard automatically sets up the individual, who by this point is usually tired and somewhat frustrated, for failure.

Balance vs. Perfection

Balance is a scientific concept. It requires adjusting the distribution of weight to remain upright. While the positioning may not appear to be ideal or comfortable to onlookers, the end goal is to remain upright and stable. Therefore, achieving balance may not necessarily feel pretty at first. It may require strengthening muscles you’ve never used before, doing exercises that are not necessarily comfortable in the beginning, and stretching yourself in ways that may seem painful, but will eventually help you move more efficiently. The perfect illustration of what balance looks like is ballet. Anyone who has taken a ballet class knows it is not the most comfortable dance art to learn and requires a great deal of conditioning. But once dancers achieve a certain level, the beauty of the art form is undeniable. Like many areas of our lives, the beauty of ballet is all based on the foundational concept of the dancer being able to readily identify his or her center of gravity and move in ways that allow him or her to remain in a balanced state. You can always tell when a ballet dancer is not balanced because he or she will bobble or even fall. In these ways, life and ballet are very similar.

The Problem with Perfection

Many of us seek perfection, but oftentimes people achieve what they perceive as perfection only to realize “perfection” ain’t so perfect. How many times have we thought someone lived a perfect life until we saw what goes on behind the scenes? Some of us have thought we would be perfect if we were to gain or lose 10 pounds only to discover the weight did not necessarily go (or leave) wherever we had intended it to. Some of us chose the perfect major in school and later discovered we hated it; others of us may have even graduated and discovered that the chosen course of study was not necessarily the most employable degree, or perhaps you graduated just as job demand in that particular field changed. All these examples illustrate that we have to set benchmarks that are firm, but flexible enough to be adjusted to accommodate changing conditions. Otherwise stated, identifying an ideal and striving for it is a fantastic idea; however, in doing so, it is important that we spend time thinking about how we can incorporate a sense of balance into that equation.

What Does Balance Look Like?

Balance looks different for everyone, but it is generally characterized by a lack of chronic stress. If you find yourself constantly stressing over the same thing (money, relationships, weight, work-life balance), there is usually something you may be doing or allowing that is no longer working for you. An effective approach to discovering what may be contributing to imbalance is to evaluate every area in your life, write your findings down, and even track your moods and behaviors over the course of a week. Many of us have taken on practices that are in direct opposition of our overall goals and objectives, but we are unable to readily identify which part of our life is out of alignment because we adapt and continue to repeat counterproductive behaviors until they become habits. I should note that achieving a state of balance will not necessarily mean that you will not have to make sacrifices. Oftentimes, living a balanced life may mean cutting back on work to support children in their after school activities or enfing the party earlier in the interest of getting home earlier and waking up at a comfortable time to prepare for the upcoming workday. Once you achieve balance, you will know. Your basic needs will be met, you will feel less “strained” in certain areas of your life, and you will generally be at peace. Experiencing your personal version of true “balance” will ultimately compel you to continue to prioritize things in your life in a manner that allows you to maintain your newfound peaceful state.

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How to Avoid Getting Stuck “In the Meantime”

We often commit to things for which we lack passion. We take jobs that aren’t in our intended career field because we need to make ends meet. We spend time in less-than-ideal settings with an incompatible social group because it’s “better than being alone.” We go on dates with people who probably aren’t appropriate matches from the outset because “you never know who will be the one (…debatable…you can often tel who is NOT the one).” We remain in dysfunctional relationships of all varieties because “it could be worse.” This sort of thinking has its time and place. Unfortunately, for many of us, it is often applied virtually all the time in many of the wrong places.

Choosing “in the meantime” situations is only appropriate when combined with an exit plan that leads the individual closer to his or her ideal goal. “In the meantime” is not an adequate substitute for the lack of a goal or plan. While it is true that plans are sometimes delayed or even derailed, an exit strategy must also be malleable enough to accommodate the unexpected hand life may sometimes deal. Otherwise, there may be a great temptation to remain focused on the immediate term instead of looking out onto the horizon and making plans according to the terrain that stretches forth. It is when a person submits to the temptation to remain focused on the immediate term that the risk of encountering long-term lack of fulfillment sets in.

Unfulfilled Life Ambitions Often Lead to a Vicious Cycle

Remaining in an “in the meantime” situation that is not congruent with your overall desire for your life may seem comfortable at first, but eventually, the effects of not actively working toward your goals will emerge in other areas. Working a steady job, but uncompelling may pay the bills at first, but spending large chunks of time in a role that does not feed into a greater passion is oftentimes accompanied by added stress or even feelings of “numbness.” People often utilize their hard-earned income to alleviate stress and avoid numbness by pursuing other outlets, including expensive vacations, drinking, gambling, shopping, or other activities to create a greater separation from “work” during off-duty hours. There is nothing inherently wrong with leisure activities. However, knowing that you are committed to working 5 days a week in a capacity that is in conflict with your life goals can intensify the urge to get as far away from work as possible when you’re not working. The cycle becomes vicious when you realize are spending so much of your income on activities to get away from work, that you find yourself having to work more to maintain your basic, everyday needs throughout the work week (i.e. food, shelter, clothing, electricity, transportation, etc.). Entering the cycle often means having to delay your desired goals even longer.

 

Avoiding the Cycle of Unfulfilled Ambition

The cycle of working to make ends meet and spending the rest on activities that help us forget about work is alarmingly common among many of us. While most people mistakenly think the key to avoiding the cycle is to either be independently wealthy or very lucky, it is not only feasible for some people to avoid the pitfalls of working in an unfulfilling job altogether, but it is even possible for those who absolutely must work an “in the meantime” job and leverage it to pursue a life goal.

 

The Role of Detailed, Yet Flexible Planning

Plans are made and broken all the time. However, attempting to reach a desired destination without utilizing a map is the least efficient way to get there. Similar to traveling to a new restaurant or shop on an unfamiliar side of town or visiting a friend in a new city, employing the use of a “map” when working toward a goal can be very beneficial. When working to achieve career goals, an action plan or “career map” might include the level of education required to achieve the ultimate goal, schools that award the required degrees or certificates as well as their entry requirements and tuition costs. In addition to education, a plan might include related part-time jobs that will not only help cover the costs associated with achieving the goal, but also help develop skills that can be used in pursuit of the ultimate career destination. Internships and related postgraduate entry-level positions may also be included in the plan.

Planning is not only helpful when working toward a fulfilling career. “Mapping” is also effective when navigating the road to personal and relationship goals. A person who would like to dedicate more of their resources to philanthropy may wish to map out a course to working for a non-profit organization or create a detailed budget to determine how to achieve a goal of giving a certain amount to charitable organizations each month or year. An individual who wishes to allocate a certain amount of time to community service projects may start by creating a detailed schedule and determining changes that may need to be made in the interest of freeing up time to do volunteer work. When seeking new friends or a romantic relationship, mapping out shared interests you would like to have with a potential friend or partner and planning to participate in related activities is an excellent starting point for meeting like-minded people.

Conclusion

Whether you are feeling stagnant in your job, relationships, or any other area in your life, take a step back, evaluate where you are in relation to where you would like to go, and plan accordingly. By continuing to reassess your current whereabouts and reevaluate your plan, you will eventually end up where you would like to be.