…..But if not balance, then what?
During my time working among entrepreneurs over the last 15 years I have consistently heard and seen a rejection of the notion of “balance”. Anytime it is said, invariably some young grinder will scoff and say,
“There’s no such thing as balance.
Or if there is, I certainly don’t have time for it.
I’m 24/7/365 to build my business.”
At first I was confused, then troubled and concerned. I argued, usually just in my head, “You have to balance your personal health, your relationships with your work, otherwise what kind of life will you have? After all, no one on their death bed says, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work…’” (Turns out some people do, but that’s for another time.) How can people live that way and be happy?
I’ve come to view it differently over the last few years.
The problem with the word balance is that people seem to hear it as “equal amounts of time and energy PUT INTO each segment under consideration. As in, “You need to put the same number of hours into your work, your relationships, your physical health, etc. On the face of it this is fairly unrealistic for most people. A week contains 168 hours. Let’s say you sleep 6 hours per night, leaving you 126 waking hours. Spend another 28 hours on eating and personal hygene. That leaves 98 hours for everything else – work, family and friend relationships, exercise, recreation, spiritual and relitious practices. I think most entrepreneurs I know work between 60 and 80 hours each week on their thing, whatever that is. Frankly, many salaried and hourly workers put in as many hours on one or more jobs. In which case, balance that looks like the image here is impossible. That would mean 26 hours of your 126 available for each segment.
There are several false assumptions embedded in this mindset. One inherent falacy is the idea that these six facets of life are siloed, as shown in this image of six separate and distinct collumns – one for each of the six domains of human flourishing. The dominant understanding in this point of view is that the time and energy, behaviors and impact of each segment need to stay apart from each other. Two of the most obvious examples are: 1)
“Don’t bring your personal problems to work, and don’t bring your work home,” and 2) “Don’t mix your religion/spirituality with your work or relationships,” otherwise known as “Spirituality is a private matter, don’t talk about it with others.”
While there are certainly risks on the other end of this spectrum, the reality is that we cannot build imporous barriers separating these aspects of life. If we are having emotional struggles, or relationship problems, we cannot help but carry these with us into our occupational lives, and they will likely impact us physically.
This energy wants to flow naturally and organically from one to another aspect of life. When things are going well and we feel energized and excited, say at work, about an idea, or in a special relationship, then that positive energy wants to flow over into the other domains and bring vitality to them as well. Conversely, if we are feeling discouraged or depleated in one place, then that will draw energy away from the other facets of life. This happens without our thinking about it.
The gift in this organic system of life is that we can turn this natural process to our advantage. We can channel and direct the positive energy where we need it. We can counterbalance negativity and discouragement in one part of life by boosting the positive energy in another. Harvard Medical School reports that physical activity improves mood and mental focus. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can even help counteract the debilitating symptoms of clinical depression, improving quality of life and releasing more energy for other things. It even seems to slow some of the negative declines associated with aging, according to a study conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas. These improvements can have a significant opsitive impact on our relationships and our occupational lives.
If not balance, understood in the above “equal and distinct time and effort” way that seems common among entrepreneurs who dismiss “balance” as unatainable, or at least undesirable disruption to the persuit of their goals, then what?
How do we go “Beyond Balance”?
You may also enjoy reading DownTime,
and “New Seasons, New Priorities” – where I reflected on my own efforts to move #BeyondBalance.
Interesting post. I guess I never saw “balance” as equal distribution. I saw it as healthy distribution. Meaning each segment of life is functioning well. The amount of time needed ebbs and flows. Where trouble comes is when some segments are like stars about to flicker and go out and others are becoming black holes, sucking everything in.
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Shirley, That’s a great way to put it. My experience over the last few years has been that every time this conversation comes up with entrepreneurs the predominant response is strong aversion to the idea of balance, and they define it as I’ve described here. I’m hoping that I’ll hear from some who provide other points of view.
Thanks again for sharing your understanding of it.