It’s Not Balance

Have you ever Googled anything along the lines of “how to live a balanced life?” It’s kind of amazing. You can choose how many steps you’d like to take to find balance in your life pretty easily. 5 easy tips, 6 steps, 7 secrets, 10 simple ways to find balance. Almost all of these articles will have a picture of a cairn in it.

Full disclosure: I spent a lot of time choosing a cairn image.

I can’t help myself but to begin the way so many of the articles I searched do: People ask me how I balance everything that I do so I’m going to talk about it. The issue is though, I don’t believe in balance like this. I know in a lot of ways the way that this is talked about is well meaning. Tips and secrets and tricks can have some value in them, especially if they can spark some positive thinking about what you value in your life. I mean, I use the phrase occasionally without really thinking about it. We’re all still trying to figure this whole life thing out I suppose.

I am going to talk a little bit about what my life is like, but there’s not a step by step guide to it. I think the best of the typical analogies is when we talk about balance like being on a tight rope. Just when you think you have it figured out you have to readjust and find your balance again. Unfortunately that leaves out that sometimes we fall off the tightrope, or the tightrope breaks, and you’re flailing around on the net below attempting to even remotely get upright again. That’s definitely how my life is balanced. This isn’t intended to be self deprecating or overly humble or anything either. I understand that there’s a perspective that I can present that may make me look like I’m just rolling along balancing my cairn rocks on top of each other.

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled my entire life with pretty severe anxiety, and with bouts of depression. Because of that I’ve had to really learn to practice things like how to manage my emotions and handle my fears and anxieties (thank you modern medicine and therapy…oh and of course running). I still sink into low places and struggle, but since I’m currently in a good place it seems as good a time as any to document part of what it’s like to be in this space.

We divide our life into categories and then try to break them up into chunks, like a pie chart. We have the work slice, the family slice, the social slice, then maybe one each for something like hobbies, or pets, or volunteer work, possibly spirituality. We look for this formula where we divide these all up into the correct amount of time. Work life balance becomes a big theme. The reality is that for some people the idea of even attempting to cut work back to some idealized space is completely unrealistic. Placing expectations through inspirational quotes like “never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life,” or “you have to balance your passions not your time” is rooted in privilege. My husband and I both work for ourselves (I work with co-glitter thrower Coleen). This affords a certain amount of privilege with how we spend our time. Being self employed though also means that you are somewhat always at work. It means that you don’t ever just leave work at work and go home, you just do your best to separate where you can. Hopefully most of the time if you work for yourself things really are good, running smoothly and you can focus on the passion that led you to that. Other times you feel like you’re holding onto everything by a thread and you just bury that as deep down as you can to keep up the perception that everything is fine and hoping that soon it actually will be. You can’t blame things that aren’t working on anyone else. You can’t really complain about work and you certainly can’t complain about your boss. This can lead to an illusion of balance.

A lot of life then becomes perspective and adaptation. The weeks where my schedule is more full than I intended, and I feel guilty for not seeing my kids enough, and I’m going on a run anyway because I need it so that when I work with clients and see my kids and husband I’m a better version of myself are hard. Those are the weeks that I’m flailing in the net. Looking big picture and finding the next window where I have more time with family and making a plan to do something fun. I train the same way I coach my clients. I adapt my training to fit my schedule. I put long runs on days that I have the most time, not necessarily on Saturday and not necessarily the same day every week.

Balance is easily looked at in terms of schedule, where you’re putting those pie slices. Where do we put all of these things that we say yes to? I think it’s just as important to look at what we can say no to. Part of what I want is to work with runners that fit well with Coleen and me, put on races that we want to run, workshops that we feel are valuable, and work with companies that we feel are a good match. I can’t say yes to everything. Sometimes that means I say no to things that I’m interested in because I believe it will stretch me too thin. (Occasionally I still stretch myself too thin by accident.) I want to give the people who want to work with me the best version of myself, and that means capping the amount of clients and events we can say yes to and still making my personal running a priority.

Anxiety is such a major issue for me that the coping mechanisms that I’ve had to work into my life translates to this whole balance thing. Even when I get thrown off I know I can get it back together. I still freak out on occasion and feel like I can’t get back on the rope. I still put too many things on my plate. I still panic that I can’t get out of a hole I’ve accidentally dug. I still question if I’m being a good mom, wife, business partner. Nathan is usually going to take the brunt of that because we do that to our safe people. I recently read “we do good things because they are good, but the results are not guaranteed.” I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to remind myself to just “do the next right thing.” I think those two ideas fit nicely. I may not fit everything in the right places and I am not always home with my family as much as I’d like to be, or as quick to respond to emails or questions as I hope. I’m just trying to do the next right thing and feel good about my choices; and that just has to be enough to balance things out.

Reminder to do the next right thing.

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