Balancing Act

Cape Town rally © Natalia Martinez

What is a life worth living? What are the criteria we use to define success and, more importantly, balance when we look at our daily, weekly, yearly routines? In my case, a product of competitive after competitive environment, often have find myself feeling that success and balance (in life) are part of a zero-sum equation. That is to say that when you have more of one, you must have less than the other, and vice versa. This reverse proportionality has often leaded me to the daunting and no less impossible pursuit of both success and balance. All engines, go. Ploughing ahead. I will have them both if I have to get a damn ulcer doing it.

And thus, with the ulcer, health – and thus balance – went out of the window.

What I’ve realized is that for these two terms to be compatible, I needed to adjust my definitions of them. And no, I am now about to start demagoguing about the need to redefine success to include flowers and butterflies instead of money and power and prestige….but I will say that horizons need to be broadened and both definitions should be stretched.  More specifically, the search for balance is not just the search to fill up your day with things other than work but that still stress you out. Going to the gym, for example, is not necessarily making your life more balanced, it just makes you a leaner hamster than the other hamsters and usually does little to change the unfortunate fact that all of you are still spinning on those little interminable wheels. To achieve balance we need not only to exercise, but also to address your spiritual, intellectual, and emotional needs. We need to sleep and not feel guilty doing it.

Along these lines, I found this humorous and interesting TED talk by Niger Marsh. He says that work-life balance is too important to be left in your employer’s hands because a casual half-day Friday every once in a while is not really solving the fundamental problems of design that have made our lives too complicated, too stretched thin, and run by someone other than ourselves. As I currently study organizational design, I can’t help but find Marsh to be quite observant, not to mention correct.

Certain work and career choices are simply incompatible with living the life we want, and according to Marsh, the first thing you need to do is recognize it and then get control of it. If we are realistic about the time frames we use to look at our lives, we do not let the corporate world be in charge of the quality of our lives, and we approach the search for balance with a clear head, we might just be able to build the life we want. I’ll leave it at that so as not so summarize the entire video, but I will end with one of Marsh’s most interesting claims as he entreats us to take the reins of our own life design: being more balanced does NOT mean dramatic upheaval in your life…the smallest changes and the smallest investments can transform the balance and the quality of your life.

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