For years now, “work-life balance” has been a huge buzzword.
The way it’s presented, there’s this magical point at which everything in your life just falls into place.
You have more than enough time for everything. All of your worries and stresses magically fall away, leaving behind a shiny and perfect version of your life where time is no longer an issue.
And then there’s the flip side. They’ll tell you that work-life balance is bullshit. That it’s impossible to achieve, and you should quit trying. Or, that you should call it something else, because balance isn’t really what you’re striving for.
So what are we, left standing in the middle of these two extremes, to believe?
I recently came across a beautiful quote that bridges the gap:
The Daoists believe that the world is always an interplay between chaos and order, and that if you live your life properly you stand with one foot in order and one foot in chaos. Because if you are only in order then nothing interesting ever happens to you, nothing is anything other than a repeat of everything you already know. […] And if you are in a state that’s only characterized by chaos, then you are at sea, or overwhelmed, or things have fallen apart for you, and there’s too much of everything for you to deal with. […]
A meaningful life, the optimally meaningful life, is to be found on the border between chaos and order, and I would say that your nervous system tells you exactly when you are there, and it’s a kind of place. You can tell when you are there because you are secure enough to be confident, but not so secure that you are bored, and you are interested enough to be awake, but not so interested that you are terrified. When you are in a state like that, when you find things interesting and meaningful, then time slips by you and you are no longer self-conscious.”
~ Jordan B Peterson (from this video)
So rather than fight against the things that fill your life, how can you instead embrace the flow? How can you find balance between chaos and order, and live comfortably in the exchange?
The Interplay Between Chaos and Order
Let’s be real for a minute.
Modern life? It’s messy. And loud. And usually pretty chaotic.
And it can be super stressful trying to create order out of that chaos — especially when you fight against it and try to force your particular and exacting desires onto it.
As a result of all this fighting, this resistance, you end up feeling stuck. Stuck in the middle. Stuck in the status quo. Stuck in your head.
You end up mindlessly muddling through, just trying to get through your day. Wishing that you could push a magic “pause” button that would deliver you effortlessly to a tropical island, drop you into a beach chair, and put an ice cold beverage of your choice in your hand.
But what if you don’t actually need to disappear to a far off tropical island to get unstuck?
A Road Paved With Great Intentions
Truth is, getting away and stepping outside your comfort zone is great. It gives you perspective you wouldn’t have otherwise. It gives you the chance to see things from a distance, rather than right in the muck of the everyday.
(I should know — I just got back from 9 days totally off grid in Mexico, retreating it up with one of my favorite teachers.)
That being said, how often do you get back from vacation or a super relaxing retreat filled to the brim with great intentions? You’re going to change everything! You have a new outlook on life, and all this motivation to make it happen.
So you head into this new chapter of your life, full-on-excited about the changes you’re going to make.
And then you realize you have to do the laundry — all those dirty clothes you wore on vacation aren’t going to wash and fold themselves.
… and you have to catch up on however many days of emails that you missed while you were way — they’re not going to magically get dealt with.
… and you come to the sinking realization that other people depend on you, so you can’t just drop everything and start fresh.
… and you have to deal with all of the other (annoying) day to day things that are suddenly back on your plate, because well, real life.
You end up frustrated. Tired. And most of that motivation to make big changes? Poof. It’s gone, along with that post-vacation glow.
Real life has returned. With a vengeance.
So if getting away to a tropical island doesn’t fix things, what will? Should you just give up and resign yourself to a life of imbalance and exhaustion?
Your Personal “Pause” Button
Truth is, the answer for most people is to give up. To allow themselves to slowly sink back into the status quo. They saw the possibility, but either they didn’t believe they could get there or they simply didn’t know how. (Or it looked like a LOT of work…)
But if I know you, you’re not most people. You see the possibilities. And even if you’re not quite sure how to get there, you’re going to figure it out eventually. You’re sure as hell not going to give up and sink back into mindless slogging. (Because that’s no fun for anyone.)
The good news for you is that I’ve been there, done that… and there’s a 3 step process I use to work through all the elements of the “balance” I try to cultivate in my life:
1. Rise up: rise above the status quo, and identify the patterns that keep you stuck
For example, I have a consistent pattern of saying “yes” to too many things. Too many new projects, requests for my time, and things that I see as big possibilities (but maybe aren’t totally aligned with where I’m headed right now).
2. Innovate: what’s a new approach that you can take, so you can leave those patterns behind?
To continue the example, I have a rule about closet space in my house — if something new comes in, something old needs to go. So I could use a similar strategy when deciding on new projects. I only have so many hours in a day, and by agreeing to something new, I need to make space for the “yes”.
3. Celebrate: celebrate the shit out of the things that are working, and bring more of those things into your life.
Recently, I’ve made the decision to let a couple of projects go that weren’t in line with my current priorities. I had been stressing out because I was feeling the time crunch, and after making the decision to let them go… let’s just say that there was a ‘lil bit of dancing going on. Celebrate what’s working!
As my teacher Britt says, fill up so full with the good things that everything that no longer serves you falls away.
Quit Chasing, and Start Cultivating
Now, let me be clear — you and your life, your grand visions? While we may each follow similar paths, we are very different individuals. What works for me may not work for you.
Over the years, I’ve developed a toolbox full of practices that I can turn to when life gets overwhelming. I also have a pretty good idea of what works for me in this moment, and I’m living those ideas to test out my theories. The things that work, stick around — and those that don’t, fall away.
Instead of chasing “work life balance”… I cultivate the practices that allow me to make aligned choices. I find my own personal version of balanced and centered. And I leave the rest.
All this being said, I also understand the frustration of constant overwhelm and chronic stress. I understand hustling hard to create the positive impact you want to see in the world, and still feeling like you can’t possibly accomplish everything in front of you.
That’s why I’m putting the final touches on a new program, designed for folks just like us. Overwhelmed, and ready to quit chasing “work life balance” and cultivate a life that works for you?
MindFULL to Mindful: A Guided Journey to a Balanced Modern Life will return this fall — sign up for the interest list to learn more.