The Myth of the Balanced Life
There is a strong myth circulating in the world today on the subject of balance. The idea is this: You can do it all, as long as you have balance!
The truth is this: there will never be enough time to do everything you want. Finding balance is more about prioritizing and managing your time well than it is about fitting it all in.
Finding balance in life is in many ways like finding balance in your diet. Life is like an enormous buffet with endless choices, offering you thousands of ways to fill your time.
Trying to do it all is like trying to eat everything in this picture in one meal:
Rather than finding balance by trying to do it all, we need to be wise about what we put on our plates and how we prioritize. Good sense and good choices are required! You can't survive for long on just desserts, and you can’t fit everything on your plate, no matter how tempting all the offerings are.Julie Beck, Relief Society General President, put it this way:
“A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.” – Julie B. Beck, April 2010
Each of us is limited in time, talents, and resources. In order to make the most important things happen, we have to say no to other worthy and wonderful activities.
In a Women's Conference Address, Julie Beck emphasized three different categories of things that fill our time: essential things, necessary things, and nice-to-do things. Comparing this to finding balance in our diet, I suggest the following divisions:
1. Essentials: These are like fruits and vegetables. It's easy to leave them out of our diets, but without them, we are missing essential nutrients. Most essential things -- prayer, scripture study, family home evening, etc -- don't take a large amount of time and yet they are so important to put first in our lives. The First Presidency in my Church has said, “We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform”
2. Necessaries: These fit into our lives like the main course and significant side dishes. These are the things we have to do because it's part of our job description, like laundry and cooking and keeping a clean home, paying bills, taking care of kids, and so on.
3. Nice to Have: This is the all-important dessert category. This might include hobbies or lunch with friends or other activities that are fun and enjoyable. I pointed out today that in some ways, the analogy might break down here if you are a strict nutritionist who believes dessert has no place in your diet. But since I'm not, I'm suggesting that dessert is a wonderful part of a balanced diet. We need to have creative outlets and enjoyable social experiences in order to feed ourselves as well as our families.
Some of the other discussion items:
* I took a nutrition class in college and part of it focused on children's nutrition. One point I remember was that in looking at a child's nutrition, it's more important to look at the balance in their diet over a week or a month rather than a day or a meal. Children go on food jags and might eat just grapes for an entire day, but as long as the next day they drink milk and another day they eat sandwiches, it all averages out. Our own balance will be found in the same way -- one day our kids might need us a lot, another day we might spend most of our time on a project or a hobby, and another day our messy house might call us to spend more time on housework. What might look out of balance in a day will often average out over the course of time.
* One of the problems with worldly philosophies today is that the solutions they offer to the problems in our lives seems to always be, "Take more time for yourself!" Pamper yourself, get away, go to a spa, relax, do things for yourself, etc. In other words, "What you need is more dessert!" While this may be true in some cases, often what we are lacking in our lives isn't more fun times. If we are lacking essential nutrients that only fruits and vegetables can provide, then more dessert won't do anything but make us feel stuffed and empty at the same time.
My friend Rachel L. pointed out that it's like eating cheesecake -- one slice is wonderful, a whole cake just makes you feel rotten.
* It's important to leave some empty space on our plates, both because things come up that we don't anticipate and because we need time that is not committed to anything. If we've scheduled ourselves so much that there's no room for the unexpected -- a neighbor in need, a child who's sick, or an unexpected opportunity -- then we are stretching ourselves too thin and will miss out on important things.
We also need quiet times in our lives because it leaves time for revelation, for time to think and ponder over things we are worried about and receive answers.
* Some things have to be done even if you hate to do them. Schedule them in or there will always be something else that “comes up” and they won’t happen. For me, I have to tackle housework and my kitchen cleaning early in the day so I can be free to work on other priorities later on. One woman pointed out that there's a book called Eat That Frog, which comes from a line from Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” If you knew you had to eat a live frog today, wouldn't it be best to do it first and get it out of the way? If you didn't, you'd spend the day dreading it and it would spoil the good parts of your life.
We had a great discussion and I learned much from some amazing mothers this morning. I'll post more about the other half of the discussion early next week.
In the meantime, what have you made a priority in your life? What are your thoughts on finding balance?