Balance is Overrated
We live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognize that both are necessary for sustained high performance. (Loehr/Schwartz, p. 37)
I think I have heard most of my life from family, friends, self-help books, speakers, preachers, you name it, that if I could only achieve balance in my life (most of them speaking of work/life balance) that I would make it to some kind family, relational, vocational, spiritual, and emotional Utopia. I think I have often tried to achieve that sort of balance in life, but always falling short (much like my slightly off kilter arm position in tree pose you see). Even in my physical yoga practice, balance has always been difficult as my childhood scoliosis has thrown off the balance of my spine and thus created lots of fun imbalances of muscle, ligaments, tendons, fascia and the like.
Recently, I come across a book that is really changing my insistence on chasing balance, called The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (Loehr and Schwartz) Most often I have tried to achieve balance through time management (which I thoroughly suck at, by the way). What is apparent to me recently is that you can't really manage time, it marches on no matter what you do. The thing which you can manage, however, is your energy expenditure. Energy management means you live your life, not like a marathon (which again we have all been told to do) but you live it more like a sprint, or even better yet, like interval training with short bursts of energy expenditure with adequate rest in between to catch your breath. I was a distance runner in high school/college and I often improved my PR time and won races against stiff competitors after having completed interval training. I hated it at the time, and questioned why I needed to run repeated 400 meter sprints with rests in between when my race was the 3200 meter run. My performance always improved, however, after these interval sessions. What I am learning from this book is that this applies to every part of our life. We grow through short times of uncomfortable and concentrated effort, but then need to rest in between. If we live our lives in a linear fashion, always going without an end in sight, we are destined for burnout, failure and even what I like to call burn down (something I have unfortunately experienced).
At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage. For most of us, this requires an entirely new way of thinking about how to manage our energy. Many of us treat life as a marathon that doesn't end until it finally ends for good. (Loehr/Schwartz, p. 38)
I have been taking an honest look at my life here lately. I am a mom of three young children aged 2 to 7 whose needs are relentless each day. I am a wife to a man with a high stress job managing every aspect of engineering and public works for our city which has been the fastest growing city in the US for the past 10 years. I manage every aspect of my yoga studio including HR, payroll, website, social media, marketing, even cleaning the space each week. I run several side businesses including a children's yoga program at area preschools as well as other health and wellness related businesses. I am currently working as a consultant to build wellness and resiliency programs for people who work in my former field of humanitarian relief and development overseas. I am involved in music and other ministries at my church. I am a devoted friend, if you find yourself in my inner circle, and right now some of my closest friends are dealing with cancer, death, divorce and abuse. I will soon be overseeing the care of my father who is facing his own terrible diagnosis. In the words of one of my prophetic friends, "Leah, you are doing too much." Not hard to agree with that assessment. So what do I do? Here are some things I am putting into practice in my own life. Perhaps something here will resonate with you too.
1) I can't fix or do everything. What is my primary purpose here, my secondary purpose, etc? Does my energy expenditure reflect these identified true purposes in life? If not, what needs to go?
2) When working at what is important to me, I am doing so now in short spurts with periods of rest. My book tells me that we work best and most effectively in 90-120 minute intervals with periods of break/rest. This has become revolutionary for me as I used to make sure I had 5 hours to hammer out projects. Now I can do it during my two year old's nap or in the hour after my kids go to bed or in between other things.
3) When I don't take care of myself, everything else suffers. If I don't have a prayer life, ditch my cardio workout and my yoga practice, stop paying attention to my core relationships, and eat Taco Bueno everyday, nothing works well, period. And I feel terrible.
4) Positive energy rituals--highly specific routines for managing energy--are key to full engagement and sustained high performance. As these disciplines ultimately bring freedom, I am trying to build these things back into my days as a priority.
As Wayne Muller puts it in his lovely book, Sabbath:
The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even know the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life. We have lost connection to the simple but profound message of the Twenty-Third Psalm: "He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." Intermittently disengaging is what allows us to passionately reengage.