Balance is Bullshit

How many of you struggle to find balance in your life? Whether you’re a parent or not, most of us seek that elusive state of balance in our lives. For me, a sense of being out of balance means something is unresolved or about to change. It might be a conflict that is simmering, a plan that is awaiting action, or a relationship that is struggling. My reflex in these types of situations is to smooth things over and get back to normal as quickly as possible. I am uncomfortable in the in-between parts of life.

Recently I read something on the subject of balance that challenged my modus operandi. Here’s a short excerpt from a chapter in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World:  

All life lives off-balance in a world that is open to change. And all life is self-organizing. We do not have to fear disequilibrium, nor do we have to approach change so fearfully. Instead, we can realize that, like all life, we know how to grow and evolve in the midst of constant flux. There is a path through change that leads to greater independence and resiliency. We dance along this path by maintaing a coherent identity and by honoring everybody’s need for self-determination.

This made me stop and think about how much I try to control my environment and circumstances by inhibiting change, conflict, and the unknown. It is a fear-based response to the unknown that motivates this need for balance. In an effort to protect myself, and the life I have built, I unconsciously sabotage the growth that is necessary for healthy evolution. Perhaps a better response would be to approach change with openness and trust. Trusting that I have the core identity to move through disruption and yet remain stable.

If we understand that balance is a myth, that no living system remains in equilibrium, than maybe we can begin to let go of our fear. If we also understand that equilibrium is actually a neutral state, one where nothing new is actually being produced, than maybe we’ll see it as less desirable. 

A more helpful concept than balance could be rhythm. Rhythm allows for the movement and tension in life that is so necessary for growth. A better use of my time and energy would be joining in the rhythm, rather than teetering on a false balance. 

8 thoughts on “Balance is Bullshit”

  1. I like your idea of rhythm. I think it’s fitting for human existence that is more defined by change than staying the same. I think the probem with applying a concept like balance to our lives is that it is too static. The image that comes to mind is a yoga class where the main physical object is to enter and hold a position. Great for the body but limited as an approach to life.

    As an armchair fan of all things seafaring, my favourite metaphor is that of a ship out at sea (and I mean one of those cool old sailing ships with lots of sails). Some days the sea is calm and the ship remains level, barely moving. Other days the wind is brisk, the sails are set, and distance is covered with purpose and direction. Then there are the stormy days when capsizing is a constant possibility. But you know what, those ships can weather the storms and say afloat, despite all the gyring from side to side. With a calm and confident captain at the helm the ship is all the more likely to make it through. So for me, I aspire to be that calm and confident captain and keep my shit mostly together during massive storms and the tiresome doldrums.

    Though I don’t have a crew of my own, I like reading your posts. All the best! -Anne

  2. I like the idea of “rhythm,” but I’ve also found it helpful to think of “balance” as an active, mobile concept — “balancing,” I guess, rather than a static equilibrium.

    1. I’m thinking of yoga, where you stand seemingly still but become mindful of your “spin” – the small motion of your body as your muscles work to keep you balanced.

  3. I need to give credit for the rhythm idea to a class discussion. The word was raised by my teacher, Gloria DeGaetano, and I found it fitting. I really like your captain of a ship metaphor. That captures what I was saying about a core identity remaining stable in the midst of external instability.

  4. Margaret, I think I should add another post about balance. I do think there is a place for it in life, but I’m not convinced it should be the be-all-end-all of our efforts. Maybe we need to intentionally go off-balance sometimes, like when we seek out adventure without a plan.

  5. I really like what you’re saying about how focusing on balance can instigate rigidity via fear of change. Everything changes, all the time, in life and especially in parenthood. Think of the frustration parents face — perhaps especially with the first child? — when an easier sleep/eating/temper phase gives way to a harder version thereof. Just when you think you have things figured out, it all changes.

    I read something on Ask Moxie years ago that absolutely clicked for me: it’s all a phase. Some phases are delightful, others not so much, but all of them will pass.

  6. Interesting! And quite true – I’m guilty of defining balance along the lines of routine, smooth, calm, etc. Where that’s not what it is at all. It’s about going with the flow and still maintaining a healthy and happy life where your basic needs are being reasonably met. Some days that’s very different than others, and some weeks and months require different things and it’s just about listening to yourself and honoring what it is you need to feel at peace with yourself and your day when you lay your head down on your pillow at night. I’m trying to embrace this direction a lot more lately, and you know, amazing how good it feels to let yourself off the hook sometimes.

    Amanda – Toronto

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