Monday, February 2, 2009

The Myth of a Balanced Life

I have heard too many people say that one day they will live a balanced life. Here is my question: can we really ever achieve a well balanced lifestyle? How long will it last? A year? A week? A day? What do we give up to have such a lifestyle?

Okay, let's say I want to be a great mom - be there for my kids, take them to all their extracurricular events, help them with their homework, cook healthy meals, volunteer in their classrooms, and have frequent play dates at our house.

I also want to be an outstanding employee - going to community events, getting the company's name out to potential clients, bringing in new clients, and being recognized at the office for my performance.

But maybe I also want to be a supportive wife - always ready to talk, an encourager, ask appropriate questions, not nag, and be there when he needs me. I also want to keep a clean house including dishes and laundry checked off my list.

In addition I want to go have weekly girl time, build friendships with moms at the kid's schools, be up to date on the latest movies and books, knowledgeable about world news, as well as volunteer my time to local charities.

And of course, I want to continue to grow more knowledgeable of the Bible by reading daily, going to church, and attending Bible Studies. Included on the list is to finish three books I am ready to write. Did I mention exercise and to be in tip top shape?

Can we really do all that? How can I do all that and not get stressed out, feel like I'm a failure if I can't do each goal well, stay connected with my kids, and not want to give on becoming a better person? I know I do want to do it at all and ideally I would like to be all that at the SAME time. So if I had a balanced life, would I be able to do it all?

I turned to the Internet to see what it had to say on the subject. I found several websites on that very issue of living a balanced lifestyle. It seems a balanced lifestyle is the destiny many pursue. Some of the sites said cut TV out of your life others said get your life and your clutter organized before you begin. On the top listed site and on it's first page on, the author comments:

Do First Things First- Last year, in addition to my 40-hour week job, I served as Board President, completed speeches toward my Toastmaster’s Competent communicator award, and published over 100 articles on this site. All while going through a divorce.

Wow, so what is wrong with that advice? Mister, get a clue. There is no need to be super human while going through a divorce. Eh hem. It's okay to take a break and focus on what is failing - maybe his marriage. All I'm saying here is something is got to suffer if we are going to do it ALL.

So, I stopped to think, what does it really mean to have a balanced lifestyle? My thought is that every aspect in our life is done equally well (or poorly for that matter).

Michael Phelps has a rigorous workout routine. In one web site, it sites that Michael sets goals for himself. (a bit dated site)
Our eyes are on one medium and one long-range goal: World Championships in July in Barcelona and 2004 Olympic Trials and Games.To get ready for that, we have concocted a training program that began with a fairly high-mileage fall, a 7080,000 mixture of yards and meters per week. There was also 30-45 minutes of dryland six days a week. September through December, we focused on structural adaptation. With that, we are looking to stimulate major physiological growth that will make him go faster. At this stage, we don't emphasize fine-tuning. Instead, we have spent a lot of time on endurance work, improving technical issues and gaining strength-putting money in the bank.

Can Michael Phelps really live a "balanced" lifestyle and win eight (was it more?) Olympic gold medals?

Rahm Emanuel accepted the position of White House chief of staff although he had "some reservations in him accepting the position." Emanuel has young children and "cited his family as a big consideration when making the decision." Do you think Rahm Emanuel hesitated on accepting the job knowing he would have a "balanced lifestyle?"

Tiger Woods started playing golf at age nine. Do you think his childhood was balanced?

When I was in college I started going to this Bible study that was in my apartment complex. The guy who led the study was a Political Science major and he always dug into some heady stuff. One day when we got to his apartment, he had an article sitting on our chairs that read, "Did Jesus Lead a Balanced Life?" I kept that article for such a long time, but now that I want to refer to it I can't find it. Was Jesus' life in balance? He didn't marry, he left his parents and siblings, he didn't set up an adobe, he might not have even eaten a balanced diet. Was he of all people living a balanced lifestyle?

But, I think it goes back to the definition of a "Balanced Lifestyle." What he did do, He did well. He lived a very focused and prioritized life.

Here is what I think. We can't do it all so we must:

  1. make a list of what we want to do in our lives

  2. then prioritize

  3. focus on the top few on the list

  4. prepare to sacrifice something that is later on the list

  5. in a couple years reorganize your list again

  6. focus on those top few on the list

So maybe we can't do everything we want all at the same time, but through our lifetime we can focus on what is important at the time.

When I had my second child I stayed home until he was one year old. Then, my husband and I realized that I had to go back to "work" if we were ever going to get out of our 700 square foot apartment. I didn't pursue my "career" job, but I accepted a position that would not add stress to my life and allow me, without guilt, to take off a day if one of my children was sick, and yet help us pay off some school debt. I needed to make this decision to take the job at the time, because a) I wanted to be available to my kids, b) wanted to get out of our small apartment. I had to make decisions and sacrifices depending on the situation and the priority at the time. I would later pursue my career path.

Another example is that I wasn't exercising much for the last couple years, because, honestly, I did not have the time to get in the shape that I wanted to get into. At the end of last year I said it is time to reorganize my priority list and put that near the top of my list. Not being a morning person, I now get up at 5:00 am six days a week and run for 40 minutes at the gym. (Yes, there are some crazies who are LEAVING the gym all showered and dressed for work when I arrive which means they got up in the 4am hour! Who is crazy now?) I sacrificed sleep.

What else have I given up now that I am a mom, a wife, a full-time employee, and a person who just wants to write? I have given up a clean house. Yes, as much as I want a clean house and have it presentable for someone to drop on by, it didn't cut my priority list and I hate to say I just can't keep up with the house and I have to accept it's condition for now. Later, it might get a little closer to the top and our friendly abode might be a little more acceptable one day.

So, in conclusion, I can not balance everything that is on my list, but I can prioritize and focus on the few while sacrificing something else.

Do you have a different definition to a "Balanced Lifestyle?" Have you managed to live in "balance" or do you think it is even attainable?

(Notice poll about a Balanced Life in the right column of this blog.)

Sites Referred to In This Post:


  1. Loved your article Sharon! I agree that I cannot and should not try to do everything I want to all at the same time. Focusing on a few things makes me more successful and happier. It's hard to put some of those priorities on the back burner, but once I do I am better for it. When I have been my busiest the things that suffer are my relationships with people and God, and that is definitely not a balance life for me! I'll try to read and post more, but I'm trying to limit my computer time! Sue

  2. Very good article, Sharon...well researched and alot of input about your personal experience. I have to say that for the past year or so I have the most balanced life I've ever had. This is the first time in 23 years that I haven't had to work or attend school and don't have small children (ore really busy older children) at home. It makes a HUGE difference in the amount of 'free' time that I have. I have been able to be there for all of Claire's school activities, work in her classroom every Tues., join a weekly morning bible study that doesn't interfere with my family time, attend monthly lunch and bookclub groups (getting in my 'girlfriend' time), have friends over more often, meet friends for lunch, read books, keep my house as clean as it'll ever be (I'm not a clean fanatic), walk almost daily, and have time to work on the renovations in our home. That said, when I was a working mom or just attending school but not working, my life was often way out of whack. I've been fortunate that I've not had to work fulltime since having children. I can't even imagine finding a balanced life there! So...I don't think you can have what you might consider the ideal balanced life but I do think you can make one work for you if you let go of the idea of the perfect balanced life. I truly believe that as moms we are always torn between our children and everything else there is to matter how much time we have....and just a quick suggestion - hire a housekeeper to come once a week or every other week to clean for you. Your house may not be tidy all the time but at least it will be clean and you won't be the one doing it :-)

  3. Balance. I love that word! :) and even more, I love feeling "balanced" in life. Everyone has their own definition of what "balanced-living" is for them.

    I think we all know when we're "OFF-balance." We're stressed, worried, dis-connected from God, family, friends, just go-go-go! There is no peace in anything we do. We're pulled in so many directions. Yuck!

    Which makes me think of another word I love--- SIMPLICITY!!!
    ahhh! don't you just feel so much more relaxed seeing that word! :) and feeling simple! :)

  4. This is a fabulous question I ask myself regularly and do try to attain. Sometime I feel that I'm on a treadmill permanently and hate to have any of the above balls drop. What I've found is I need to make sure there is 'margin" in my life. That open space that gives me some room to breathe. But I like your thoughts on a purpose for a season. Being reminded of the Bigger picture regularly helps to get through the mundane of the small stuff I'm sweating. I do think getting better at letting go helps tremendously. Ok the house isn't perfect, Ok, the dinner is going to be on the table later than usual, OK the laundry can wait. When I learn to not be so hard on myself for being perfect and letting go, life is more fun.

  5. ...everything in life is an ebb and flow. A "balanced life"(I believe) is ever changing. I see it this way...if you are moving through life...on even ground, no bumps, no hills, no ledges...are you truly living your life to your fullest desire/potential- Are you really balancing anything?. If you are growing, taking on new tasks, new challenges & you face the unexpected things that come your way..Now, you are going to need to do some balancing! Just an analogy...If you are standing on a balance beam and some one starts to place "things" on you or around you..You're right, you'll need to focus & prioritize what is truly neccesary to keep from falling off. Such is life. But, you must keep moving to keep living. Sure you can choose to just stand still on the beam. But, what's the point? And honestly and obviously that means you are going no where! We have to relieve ourselves of our unrealistic expectations and figure out what our true intentions & goals are...Those too change with time.I agree with BOTH you & your husband...Living a balanced life IS feasible & attainable; maybe today, maybe tomorrow. However, I guarantee it will unbalance just when you feel you have it all worked out. We try new things, have relationships, have families, get new & better jobs (hopefully)... these are all choices we take on...They unbalance our groove. We do the work- we decide what we want (balancing) I think we have to be more forgiving & pliable and less "Pass or Fail" ... Ebb & flow- That's livin'... lulumcb

  6. Great topic. I believe I was in High School when I first heard the term 'Renaissance Man' and it has burrowed it's way into my very core set of values. If I remember these men, (now of course women as well) came right after the dark ages when dissmenation of information only came from the church. Well after Guttenberg books started appearing and became a more available source of knowledge and ideas to the common man. So these men with the explosion of knowledge became literate in not only politics but in the sciences, art, religion, history and mathmatics. There was an explsioin of knowledge and these men were not satisfied focusing one one aspect of knowledge but tried to absorb as much as possible.
    So as I stated before when I first read of these men I was deeply effected. Emulating them became a core value for me. Ultimatly it even affected my career choice. Regardless that diviersity branches into every aspect of my life. We were modeled as complex beings from the beginning and I think we are only truly happy or I am for that matter when I'm expaninding in each area; Spiritual, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, Occupational and Charitable. I beleive that we are most healthy when we are feeding each area. Now at times some take precedence over others and some get neglected, but that is a what a balanced life means to me. To pursue each area to the best of our ability.