The Futility of Seeking Life Balance and Having It All
Life balance or work/life balance is a notion that continues to create more pain than joy (at least for some of us). Combine it with one of the biggest fantasies of our time: we can have it all, and we create a bottomless pit of struggle. I sum it up in this simple formula.
Life balance + having it all = mounting stress + constant unhappiness
What happens when we seek life balance based on the assumption that we can have it all?
We think we can manipulate reality to not only have our cake and it eat, but also to:
- Not gain any weight when we eat the cake,
- Not overload on sugar,
- Share slices of our cake with loved ones and the entire world, and while we’re at it,
- Leave enough room to enjoy slices of other people’s cakes.
Cake is anything we deem sweet enough to desire and pursue.
Think about it for a moment. We do this every single day when we add more stuff to experience, do, or work at, while we strive for balance.
Below are a few thoughts about the illusion of a balanced life of having it all.
Moderation vs. balance
Moderation is something we can do—for ourselves. We can intentionally eat a slice of cake to satiate our appetite without overdoing it.
Moderation by its nature is single-minded. We moderate one thing at a time. There is no need to balance anything.
When we want to balance things, we’re dealing with so many cakes—different sizes, flavors and textures. We’re trying to get equal bites from each, and, at the same time, savor the flavor of all.
Usually one sweet taste will overpower the others—whether we like it or not. So, balancing too many sweet flavors is a complete waste of time and energy (and a waste of good cake for that matter).
Today I invite you to forget about balancing all the sweet cakes of your life—career and success, relationships, community, health and wellbeing, service and contribution, or anything else you can add to the list.
Trying to fit everything you desire on your calendar or schedule will only result in one thing: stress.
All vs. choice
The idea that we can have all of our cakes at the same time is unrealistic.
To fully enjoy the taste of one sweet desire, we need to give it our time and attention.
We can’t truly savor all the flavors at the same time. We need to pause and cleanse our palate. And we need to make room on our plate for a different slice of cake.
We can try eating cake of all the flavors we want by expanding our focus, but that comes with a price—diluting our attention, and not completely indulging in one taste.
With too many choices available today, the line is getting thinner and blurrier between a healthy appetite and sheer gluttony.
Having it all (assuming you know exactly what all means to you) is a trap for a perpetual state of seeking and not getting anywhere.
The reality of choice
One thing we take for granted, or tend to overlook, is choice. Every single moment we’re making choices—consciously or unconsciously. And every choice is whole and complete as it is.
Every choice, decision, or action is balanced—cost and benefit, debits and credits, positives and negatives, or risks and rewards.
The reality of outcomes and destiny
A balanced reality doesn’t mean that it’s always pleasant—far from it. Sometimes it hurts so much, and we wish we could escape to an alternate reality where things don’t suck as much.
This is not an easy thing to grapple with. But let’s take a look at life situations and how (though we may not like it), the outcome is balanced.
Birth and death
Every birth ends up in death.
If someone lives a long life, it means more life experience and time with loved ones. But it also means a higher risk of illness, dealing with the loss of loved ones, and a physical body that will eventually succumb to decay.
A life cut short means less joy experiencing life and not enough time spent with loved ones. But it also means early freedom from pain and suffering at the hands of time and destiny.
Love and Loss
When we love deeply, we connect with another human being in a way that brings the best in us. And the closer we get to a person, the more we worry about losing them.
Being alone can be viewed as devoid of a meaningful connection with another. But it also means we don’t have to fear losing a loved one and being alone without them.
Fame and Scrutiny
Fame nowadays equates success. Who doesn’t want to vacation in the most exotic locales, or be adored by tens of millions of fans?
Fame has its perks—influence and perceived authority, financial rewards far exceeding the value of exerted effort, and countless opportunities for more exposure.
But fame comes with a hefty price—scrutiny and being in the public eye almost all the time. Only fans cheer for the admired celebrity, but almost everyone gets to hear about his or her missteps. Who wants to fail in front of the whole world?
The opposite is also true. Obscurity carries with it the freedom to do what we want, without much care about how the rest of the world will react. Of course it may also mean that whatever we do may not be noticed or appreciated, in spite of our best efforts.
Success and responsibility
Success in any field is the ultimate goal. We know that we achieved our goal … we made it. It has its financial rewards, and it opens new doors and opportunities.
But success carries with it the heavy weight of responsibility. A successful person will be expected to sustain such success. The responsibility may extend to other people who are employed and reliant on someone’s continued success for their livelihoods.
Failure is the exact opposite. It can be demoralizing, but it gives us freedom to start over, without worrying about responsibility and making mistakes.
Yes and no
With every yes to something (with its benefit and cost) there is a no to something else (with its foregone opportunity and cost).
As you can see from the above, every single situation contains both the positive and the negative.
We cannot escape this balancing formula. It’s imbedded in every choice, no matter how significant or infinitesimal the decision might be.
Conflict between what is and what we think should be
When we focus on balancing choices and wanting to have everything at the same time, we’re trying to bend an already balanced reality into what we think it should be.
In effect we’re trying to reap many positives and push away their negatives. And we suffer.
The struggle we create for ourselves amplifies the negatives we’re trying to avoid, thus creating more struggle.
When we forget about life balance and wanting to have and do everything, we create space for conscious choice.
We make one choice at a time, knowing that it comes with its own complete, and balancing polarities. We accept the choice and its consequences and let things be.
The best choices seem to come from a calm and contented heart. When we choose with our heart, we go with the rhythm of life in this moment and what feels right (with its inherent negative).
Our choices will not make us, and everyone else, happy all the time. We will get disappointed with some undesirable outcomes. But that’s part of the balancing act of living a certain choice.
Fulfillment was never about balance and having everything. It’s about being satisfied with the choices we make that express our highest joy, and being okay with whatever comes as a result—negative and positive.
We can’t control future outcomes, let alone trying to balance them out. We just need to be aware of our choices, and what they may lead to, and life will take care of balancing it all.