Many of us are overworked and struggle
through life under a burden of tremendous stress, living lives in a state
Thoreau would call “quiet desperation.”
Indeed, as humanity has evolved through the industrial and information ages, new technologies designed to make life easier have made it more complicated. In the last 50 years women have entered the workforce and have been working to juggle the pressures of career and family. Men have had their challenges as well, as they have been working to break out of 1950s stereotypes and make bigger contributions to child rearing and home making.
Life has become so complex that most families require two wage earners to manage the large debt loads and high living expenses. We get up early, get the kids to school, work hard all day to pay the mortgage, a couple of car leases, the gas and electricity bill, pick the kids up from school, get dinner made, make sure all the homework and housework gets done, maybe watch a few favorite shows and get to bed. After a few hours of sketchy sleep, we repeat the whole experience. Weekends fade into an endless drone of more work weeks and the annual holiday comes and goes, making only a small dent in the strain.
Work is the dominant part of most of our waking lives. Despite most people claiming that family, health and leisure are most important to them, work, by measure of time, money and energy committed, appears to be the priority. This precarious post-modern predicament has led many people to the search of greater balance in life.
Balance is a seriously misunderstood concept. The flaw in many attempts to create life balance is a common misconception in the mythical idea of “work/life balance.” It is not acceptable for most people to simply make a linear reduction in the amount of time they spend on the job to make space other activities. The demands there are too great. It is impossible to get control over my time and energy if I divorce “work” from “life,” creating artificial boundaries and placing each on either side of an artificial scale.
There is much more to life than working to make money. A portfolio is a better metaphor for balance than two items on either end of a scale. In a life portfolio, just as in a financial portfolio, all components work together in harmony. Every investment of time, energy and money I make, say, in my health or in my marriage or leisure time might seem to reduce work resources already under strain, but this is the paradox that traps most people into a miserable fate. Balance requires a leap of faith.
A balanced life is one where we treat each part of our lives with the same respect and focus as we do our work. Every investment I make in one part of life returns me to work in a more relaxed and creative space, empowering me get my work done in less time and at a higher level of quality, and in turn creating more resources to invest other parts of my life. This is the business of life.
Action Step: : Draw a wheel with 10 spokes. Label each spoke as one part of your life portfolio: financial independence, meaningful work, romantic partnership, harmonious family, supportive friendships, community contribution, healthy lifestyle, fulfilling leisure, lifelong learning, spiritual practice. Mark a place on each spoke to indicate how well that part of your life is working: close to the centre is poor; farther out is excellent. Complete the circle by connecting the dots. How well your wheel would roll indicates your balance level; its diameter indicates your fulfillment level. Pick one of the shorter spokes and make a commitment to creating more fulfillment in that area. Any work you do in that area will enhance your fulfillment in all other areas.