Life is Not a Balancing Act
It's More Like a Continuous Dance
What the World is Telling Us
If you do a search on for books on the topic “Balanced Life,” you will see over 14,000 entries. If you google the same phrase, over 4,000,000 hits appear. You can also find a store, a magazine and a line of products that carry this name. It seems everyone -- saints, yogis, gurus, coaches, physicians, athletes and cartoon characters -- offer you advice on how to achieve this thing called “balance.” This fixation indicates to me that there must be a large number of people seeking this allusive goal. I know I was.

We live in a time when we are asked to engage in a number of activities.
Often these activities seem to grow out of control. At work, there are more meetings to attend,
more projects to deliver, more initiatives to start, more trends to follow. In our personal time, there are more family commitments to keep, shopping to finish, friends to meet, kids to take to activities, exercise to do. Swimming within these demands, we find ourselves struggling to take “control” of our lives. Hence, a very popular question has developed that a lot of us have found ourselves asking: How can I balance my life?

After several attempts of trying to find balance in my own life and not succeeding, I was thrown into some thinking and reflection. From this I have come to realize that we might be asking ourselves the wrong question, and in doing so pursuing an unachievable goal. Let me explain.

It is said that the language we use creates the reality in which we live. It is therefore helpful to pay close attention to the words we use when describing what is happening in our lives. Looking at the word “balance,” Webster’s definition reads as follows:

“Etymology: Middle English, from Old French ... -, bilanx having two scalepans, from Latin bi- + lanc-, lanx plate
1: an instrument for weighing: as a : a beam that is supported freely in the center and has two pans of equal weight suspended from its ends
2: a means of judging or deciding
3: a counterbalancing weight, force, or influence“

Reading these definitions reveals to us two things in order to achieve balance: all the “weights” have to be distributed equally, and a static state needs to be maintained.

If we stop and look at life, neither of these two things actually occurs. Life is always dynamic. It has a biological nature, not a mechanical one, and it cannot be predicted. The rule of life is that both breakdowns and opportunities will show up no matter how well we plan. Therefore, an equal distribution of “weights” cannot be maintained for any significant period of time.

In other words, even with our best of efforts and intentions to distribute certain amounts of time to work, to family, to exercise, and to play, sooner or later something comes up and throws us “out of balance.” Our plan is sent out the window.

If we listen to our common wisdom, we know this will happen. For example, take the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans.” Or John Lennon’s famous line, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” Nevertheless, we still think that balance will “work” this time, and that we can control it.

You may have noticed in this writing that I have emphasized the word “control”. I invite you to listen to how and with what frequency we use this word in our culture. We try to control our lives, control our situations, control our emotions, control our children, control our employees and control others. Yet how much can we actually control? I will come back to this.

Listen to the Music
I suggest to you that the search for a balanced life leads to an exercise in futility and frustration that, for many of us, often results in hopelessness.

So, what do we do now? The pursuit of having a life that works is still a mighty one; let me offer a shift in approach by changing the language we use and thereby shifting our mood. My suggestion is that we start to seek harmony in our lives.

Webster’s Dictionary defines harmony as:
“Etymology: Middle English armony .., from harmos joint -- more at ARM
1 archaic : tuneful sound : MELODY
2 a: the combination of simultaneous musical notes in a chord
3 a: pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts <a painting exhibiting harmony of color and line> b: correspondence, accord <lives in harmony with her neighbors> c : internal calm : tranquility
4 a: an interweaving of different accounts into a single narrative”

The definition of harmony offers us a richer set of distinctions in which to have a good life. First, we are looking for a pleasing arrangement of domains (e.g. home, work, health, finances). In other words, we look to see how things can work together rather than as separate and unrelated pieces – the analogy associated with the word “balance” (two weights located at separate ends). We also see the word interweaved, which suggests that these domains have a co-relation and co-existence with each other. What is happening in one domain of our lives always influences all other domains. If I have a sick child at home, my performance at work and my conversation with friends is affected. If I am taking good care of my health, I am more engaged with other people around me and my performance at work is better.

Unlike balance, harmony is not a static state; it is an on going melody that plays throughout our lives. And, perhaps most challenging for some of us, when you seek harmony you cannot control it. Instead, you are called to follow its flow.

Get Control?
Back to the word control: In seeking balance, the underlying emotions and thinking tells us that we are able to predict and control what will happen in our lives. Hence, when something does not go as planned, we become upset. We call it an interruption or a breakdown, and we negate its presence; it shouldn’t have happened. We may look back and see what went wrong with our
planning, because we are stuck in the notion that we can control events.

Planning is a great tool for planning, but not a very good one for executing.

Shall We Dance?
In harmony, we leave behind trying to be in control of life. We shift to being in the flow of life. We still maintain our ambitions and goals and strive for them, and at the same time, we know that the unexpected will happen.

When this occurs, we spend little time being upset and more time in modifying our actions to be in harmony with what is happening.

Metaphorically, we can say that our life is a dance. In order to achieve well- being, we seek to be in harmony with the melody that life is playing, knowing that we do not get to choose what song will play next.

So, how does this look (feel)? If we look carefully, most of the time we are actually in harmony with life; we really have no other option. But we still complain or worry about it. I’ll give you an example. I had planned – and had really wanted – this article to be published two weeks ago. I had slotted times on my computer scheduler program that I would spend typing away at Starbucks. I was pretty confident that I could do this. I just needed (I thought) 3 more hours of happened. I was invited to attend a week-long course on human behavior, which of course I accepted. Then I thought, “I will work on it on the weekend.” Well, the weekend came and I had to finish the grocery shopping, and Stephanie (my wife) had made plans to visit friends and Sofia and Katia (my daughters) wanted to be out of the house.

So, then I find myself all upset that I couldn’t finish my “Balance & Harmony” article as planned.
Ironic, isn’t it?

So, I invite you to join me in shifting our approach to life. Start listening to the melody that life is
playing for us, and enjoy the dance... no matter how awkward we look.
Gabriel Acostalopez
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