It seems we’re ready to start thinking about slowing reconvening The World and The Economy and Life. This is a pivotal moment for humanity in so many ways. We are emerging from a global crisis, and we’ve all had a little time to think about things: how we want them to go, and also how we don’t.
How we re-emerge from this pandemic will be how we recreate our world. What we decide “the new normal” will look like is as important for the climate and governance and human rights as the economy, and it’s just as important for you and your family’s well-being, too.
We run the risk of recreating a reality that wasn’t all that awesome to begin with. Let’s each do our part to ensure that, in our desperation to get back to normal, we don’t waste this opportunity to create a life and a world we want. What we called “normal” without putting much thought or effort into it wasn’t working all that well for much of this planet and most of those who call it home. Let’s not get back to it in a hurry.
Actually, let’s not get back to it, ever.
If we do things the way we’ve always done them, we’ll get what we’ve always had.
And that’s not good enough.
What a waste of a wake-up call that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives—and counting—and plunged the world into a giant economic tailspin, the likes of which have never before been seen. There is much opportunity in this crisis, for sure, but not if we recreate systems that harmed the planet and its inhabitants (which, just for the record, includes us) in our haste to get our lives back to “normal”.
Instead, let’s make it better, on purpose. Anything less is a failure of imagination and human ingenuity. We can do better. It starts with you and me, looking at how to create the experience of life we want in our day-to-day living. And that begins by knowing what that would even look like. We need to create the balance in life we wish to experience, not go hunting for it on a treadmill and expect to arrive at any destination that isn’t the said same treadmill.
Make no mistake; it will be very, very easy to jump right back into the same ruts we were stuck in before this pandemic slowed everything down. If it’s going to be different, it will require consciously choosing what different will look like, and then acting on that vision.
So how do we change this?
Well, we’re already gotten clear that the reason work/life balance seems so hard to find is because it you keep trying to find it. In hide-n-seek, if balance is hiding, then you’re the seeker by default, and you must do the searching. I didn’t make the rules. That’s how the game works.
You can actually win the fight for balance by giving up the fight, stopping the hunt, and learning to make it yourself.
You may be thinking I’m out to lunch, and while that may be true (figuratively speaking, because I, like everyone else, am in isolation and there are no open restaurants at which to be out to lunch), hear me out.
If there is one good thing to come of this coronavirus pandemic, it’s gotta be the revival of slowing down and learning to do things with and for ourselves again. Things that we’d given up on in the pre-pandemic hustle and bustle of “normal life” that cost our planet and ourselves our peace and peace of mind.
The good news is that if you’re ready to stop wistfully dreaming of one day finding balance, you can begin to DIY the experience of balance you seek.
If you’re worried that you don’t have the time or space to take this on, I have great news for you: you already are to some degree, even if it’s not perfect. You’re having some experience of life, and it’s balanced in some way (even if it all seems precariously perched), and you’re committing your energy and attention to various priorities, whether or not they’re the ones you’d like to prioritize. These are not problems; just opportunities for experimentation.
It might seem like right now is a crazy time to start making balance a priority, but I assure you, there will never be a better time than now to create balance, no matter when you find yourself reading this. Plus, if you can create an experience of balance in your life in the midst of a three-ring circus, you can create it any time, any place.
Remember, part of the reason that balance seems so hard to wrangle is because we’re being too vague about what it would actually look like. It’s like when you were a kid and you’d ask your mom what was for dinner, to which she’d curtly reply, “food” and you’d realize, with rolling eyes, that the conversation was over before it began.
Vague generality wasn’t a satisfying answer then, and neither is saying that balance looks like “balance”, today. Clearly, that’s an inadequate definition, or else we’d all have found it already.
This is just like when Alice met the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland. He makes a short business of her wishy-washy request for directions, and so does Life, with your amorphous desire for balance.
You need to know what balance looks like for yourself. So, what would life would look like if you’d already found balance? In order to start creating balance, we need to figure out how you would define it first. What would you be experiencing? How would you feel? What would your ideal days look like, on any given Tuesday?
Figure that out, and you have yourself a gap that can be addressed. Figure that out, and then you can go forth and create it.
Do you get stuck at “I don’t know”? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Lots of people don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s not for lack of comprehension; it’s simply a lack of patience. All you need is a little more curiosity and the willingness to not stop at I don’t know.
For example, “I just want to feel more spaciousness and peace,” sounds lovely, doesn’t it? If you think balance is spaciousness and peace, that’s awesome, but it’s a starting point, not a final destination.
Get even more specific. If you were experiencing more spaciousness and peace, what would that look like? What would it make possible? Make a list. If you would define spaciousness and peace as having more free time, then tell me how you would use that time. Keep asking yourself “what would that look like?” over and over again, until you’re actually clear on how you’d know whether or not you’d created balance in your life.
What would you do with all this time you want to have on your hands, devoted to spaciousness and peace? What does it look like to relax? Is it reading by your favourite window, or creating a quiet morning routine? Going to bed earlier? A meditation practice? Picking up your guitar and learning a new chord? Journalling? Is it bike rides with your family? Helping with homework? Cooking together?
Don’t tell me you just want balance or time, or even spaciousness and peace, because if you can’t answer “what would that look like?”, then you wouldn’t know what to do with it even if you had it.
Specific is sexy. Be sexy. Get specific.
Empower the choices you’re making.
You gotta stop acting like your life is out of your hands. It isn’t. If you’re doing a bunch of things with your time/life that you don’t want to be doing, then you have a few options that I can see:
1. Choose to empower the choices you’ve already made. Make the decision, and move on to the next one. If it’s something you have to do, either outsource it, or figure out how to empower it as a priority. Kids’ lunches, cat litterboxes, making dinner; maybe you don’t love doing it, but is it part of a higher commitment, like being a good parent, CEO, partner, etc? I definitely do NOT love cleaning the cat’s litterbox, but I do love my pets, so I’m committed to being a good pet owner.
2. If you’re not going to empower the choice, change it. You are not a tree. You can move. Choose something new. Otherwise, you can hang out at option #3 (but fair warning: the third option sucks).
3. Keep complaining and being a victim to your life, blaming the way it’s going on Others, and stay stuck forever. This option isn’t fun, but it is familiar.
Start with you: balance is an inside job.
If you’re balancing an inanimate object, it’ll stay put as long as you ensure nothing moves near the item, not even air. That’s great, for inanimate objects.
You, however, are not an inanimate object. Maintaining physical balance is not a static practice; you are constantly making tiny adjustments that allow you to stay on balance. You don’t get there and then rest. Balance is not a one and done.
As a dancer and yoga enthusiast, I can assure you that physically, balance requires many factors to be in alignment, and those factors are within you, not outside of you. If you want to have great physical balance, you’ve got to create it from the inside out. You need to develop core strength, engaged muscles and a fixed focus.
This is great practice for your body, but can seem a little trickier to master in our lives, given that we have more authority over our abs (yes, you do) than we necessarily do our external circumstances. There are factors within your control and factors outside of it, for sure. And yet, there are people (even people you know!) who have created their lives to include some of the balance you can’t seem to find.
Figuring out that your endless search for the idea of balance is part of what keeps it out of reach gives you options that aren’t available otherwise. Bringing your blindspots into your periphery like this allows you to get back in the driver seat of your life, and design your experience. It might not be perfect, but at least you’re moving in the direction of the life you want to be living, and not just wistfully and blindly groping around for it.
If you want to experience balance, you’re going to need to be willing to let go of the mental obstacles you’ve put in the way. You need to stop convincing yourself that life is a struggle, or a fight, or an uphill (both ways!) battle. You need to understand that Nature is innately capable of balancing things out, and so are you. You are part of Nature, after all.
So, instead of focusing so much of our energy on finding this magicalrishical place on the head of a pin where the conditions are perfect and we can relax and enjoy our lives, what if we focused instead on what the experience of life is that we’re craving? Rather than long for balance, or endlessly be hunting for it, what if you created it instead?
Don’t go hunting for balance. Learn how to make your own.
Stop looking for balance and create an experience of life that you want to be living, instead. Chances are you’ll find something better than balance: satisfaction, fulfilment and the agency to create a life you choose.