“Balance” is Bull

by Pari

I used to be so sure of everything.

If I got good grades, I’d go to a good college. If I went to a good college, I’d get a good job. If I got a good job, my life would be great.

If I wrote a good book, I’d find a good agent. If I found a good agent, I’d get a great publishing contract. If I got a great publishing contract, I’d make a living as a novelist.

If I networked enough, I’d meet a lot of people. If I met a lot of people, I’d be able to market my work to them. If I marketed my work to enough people, they’d tell other people. My career would be made.

If I truly found love, I’d get married. If I got married, everything else would fall into place. If times got rough, love would conquer all.

And the biggest myth of all?

The Balance Paradigm:  If I could just find the sweet spot, I’d be able to: work, write, get enough exercise, sleep, eat well, stay in touch with friends, be supportive to people I care about, be a good mom, find fulfillment  — and it’d all flow beautifully.


Well . . . with apologies to my Buddhist and Taoist friends . . . I now think the Balance myth is unproductive bullshit. You know that yin-yang symbol? It’s a snapshot; it’s not static. It CAN’T be.

Balance, for more than a moment, is impossible for any living creature. Do you hear me, people? It. Doesn’t. Exist. Tell me when you last met a person  — other than the Dalai Lama — who achieved that perfect midpoint on the seesaw of his or her life.

Everything is in flux. So all the ifs we tell ourselves about trying to wrangle the numerous areas of our lives into some kind of blissful constant center is useless and emotionally exhausting.

Why do we do it?

The reason the Balance Paradigm continues to play such a large role in our collective mindset is that to admit it doesn’t exist is to admit that there’s never really going to be a time of rest – at least not until we die. This doesn’t exclude our ability to be satisfied or calm during certain moments in our lives, it just means that we have to give up the idea of “doing it all.” Because doing everything we want to do — all the time in perfect balance — is about as possible as perfectly singing the Queen of the Night’s aria from the Magic Flute with our mouths full of crackers.

So what can we strive for – what new paradigm is more useful – if we can’t manage to balance absolutely everything in our lives all at once in a perfect harmony?

Here are some ideas:

The Contentment Can Happen for Large Swaths of Life Paradigm

The Change Needn’t be Feared Paradigm (AKA  The Stasis is Death Paradigm)

The You Can’t Do It All But You Can Do A Lot Paradigm

The Life Evolves and So Can You Paradigm


What do you think?
1.  Can people really find balance in their lives?
2.  Is balance really the goal or has it caused us to shoot for a goal that, by its very impossibility, makes us miserable?

18 thoughts on ““Balance” is Bull

  1. Gerald So

    Hi, Pari.

    I agree that perfect balance is a myth. No way I can do as much of everything I'd like to do. For me, it's a question of what I'm willing to sacrifice versus what I'm not. For example, I'd like to buy and read every book that catches my eye, but if I did, I'd have less time to write. I've given up a lot of leisure and social activity in favor of writing, especially as the economy has declined, but writing is still most important to me.

    I think anyone who has committed to calling him/herself a writer, lawyer, doctor, baker, mother, etc. is willing to devote the bulk of time to it, giving up other pursuits. The pace of people's lives reflects what they are most committed to doing.

    That said, it's impossible to commit all your time to one pursuit and keep doing it well. The mind and body need to rest. Exactly how much downtime we need varies from person to person, but if "balance" means "a little of everything", I don't think we need it to be happy. We need to find the time to do what's most important to us.

  2. EB Snyder

    Wow. I was just debating whether or not I should blow off all my other responsibilities and write. I guess there's no use in fighting this one… (insert mischievous but satisfied smile)

  3. Pari Noskin

    So beautifully put.
    I think when many people talk about balance, they're talking about doing all of everything as much as they can — and somehow still maintaining this elusive calm — but your paradigm of doing what's most important to us and giving that priority and understanding that not everything can be done is, well, much more useful.

  4. JT Ellison

    I think balance is achievable. It's just a matter of letting some things go. Being in touch with yourself, doing what's right for you without the guilt and angst thrust upon you by society that there are certain things you MUST have or do or be… It's funny, I think back to some of the stories you told me, years ago, at my kitchen table, about the insouciant, freedom loving girl who was throwing herself at life without cares of balance.

    You'll figure it out. The things that are important get dealt with, the things that aren't go away.

  5. Louise Ure

    In the never to be forgotten words of my mother: "Happiness is having everything you want. And you CAN have everything you want, as long as you don't want anything you can't have."

  6. David Corbett

    Is chasing your tail in a perfect circle "balance?"

    Is perpetual motion putting-out-fires "balance?"

    If so, I am sooooooo balanced. Otherwise, I'm just tightrope walking over the abyss.

  7. Sarah W

    The thing about balance is that it can't be judged in the short term. Every day we reassess our priorities. Most days, my kids win. Some days, my job does. Some days, it’s writing and sometimes, it’s my husband. And every so often, collapsing in an insensible heap wins by a couple of lengths.

    Do I wish that writing would win more often? Sure. Does my husband wish he did? Probably. If I gave up on one or two, would the last one happen less frequently? No doubt.

    But this is sustainable, until the kids grow up and go, I reach retirement age, we win the lottery. Sp on a small, modest scale, I am doing it all, or all I want. And that’s enough for me right now.

    It’s all about keeping the pendulum centered.

    And getting up really, really early.

  8. Lisa Alber

    This blog post hit home. I feel like I'm always chasing the dream of balance–I'd never thought about it quite like that before. For me, you described the perfect overachiever–doing it all, well! I think it's part of our culture too, this striving for perfection in all areas of life at all times. Where did it come from, the Puritans?

    I look to my most consistently serene friends as examples. Many commenters mentioned prioritizing and letting some things go. Seems like allowing ourselves to be okay with letting some things go is part of the battle. My most serene friends have that ability. They're forgiving of themselves–which seems to me to be the biggest key of all.

  9. Alafair Burke

    Is any single moment balanced across every dimension? Of course not. That's impossible. But I have found that the deepest downs in my life have eventually led me to greater rewards in ways I never anticipated. Hard work makes it possible to play. Being blunt and pulling off a band aid eventually makes a situation more comfortable. I hope I'm not just making this all up, but I do believe it's possible to find balance.

  10. Pari Noskin

    Sorry I haven't been around to answer comments today . . . work came first.

    EB, go ahead and blow everything else off. Eventually you'll get tired or hungry.

    JT, this blog was written more out of observation than frustration. I've been tackling large issues in my life because of large things happening in it right now. I hope to embrace that girl again. It'll be so wonderful to see her in my life.

    Louise, I bet you can relate to that one too. What a great phrase to live by . . .

    David, I have the feeling your tightrope is pretty darn thick. May it always be so. OR . . . may the abyss actually be no larger than a coffee cup.

    Sarah, That pendulum . . . You know I keep trying and think that eventually I'm going to have to re-prioritize on a more frequent basis. Maybe that's what it's about, keeping the fancy footwork going like Mohammad Ali — dancing, dancing.

    Lisa, I'm glad the topic touched you and your life. You're lucky to have serene friends as role models. I think I'd like a few of them as well. The whole idea of letting some things go and being willing to be all right with that, well, it's very attractive, isn't it? I want to think about that one some more.

    Chris . . . Absolutely. I think that's what that yin-yang symbol tells us. Everything is evolving into something else and everything contains its opposite.

    Alafair, I'm glad you made such an eloquent argument for balance. I don't think I've completely abandoned the idea . . .

    . . . but I might need to reframe it for my own sense of well being.

    Again, thanks to everyone who commented today.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    The only thing constant is change.
    I've believed that for a very long time and it's the only thing that proves itself constantly true.

  12. Reine

    Hi Pari,

    Sorry to be so very late. Had to digest this a bit before responding.

    I don't see balance in life. I don't see it as a concept, even. What is it? Work/Play? Veggies/Candy? Road Trip/Air Flight?

    The Dalai Lama said that he gets angry at times. [Yes, I was there.]

    If achieving balance means metered-dose experience to provide equal amounts of different life activity, I prefer to be unbalanced. I would rather focus.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Balance is crossing some things off my daily To Do list and accepting that others were never realistically going to get done. Now I have a weekly To Do list instead. It gives me more chance not to disappoint myself. Just as I have a monthly word target for my writing – more chance for the good days and bad days to balance each other out.

    The media feeds us constant images of the 'perfect' life, where impossibly beautiful people (who always seem to wake up wearing full make-up, btw) live impossibly perfect lives. Have you noticed how James Bond never has to circle the block looking for a parking space?

    I try to have a little fun, enjoy the moments of peace (however brief), be grateful for what I have, and to accept that quality is never going to guarantee success.

    Life is too precious, and too short, to be spent chasing my own tail.

    Or, put another way – I'm too old to put up with this sh*t.

  14. Susan Shea

    "…as singing the Queen of the Night's aria…" PERIOD. Perfection? Never.

    Balance comes and goes – a perfect minute in the late afternoon sun, an infectious laugh by a child, a sentence you didn't know you could write. Wisps of perfection gone before you can name or frame them. Even for Buddhists.

    The balance part may come from knowing it's going to be like that and trying to roll with it!

  15. Reine

    Dear Pari,

    This post of yours is such a heavy weight it won't let go of me.

    While I believe that you are right in your mental struggle with the concept of balance, I don't accept the idea that striving is hopeless. I cannot. Persistence and focus keep me going. I have often had to change my goals, but every change has led to something good and usually better.

    If I didn't hack my way through the fog and rejection that accompany bi-temporal epilepsy and later quadriplegia, I would have done nothing. I would have nothing. I would be no one.

    Balance implies equality. There is no such thing in this life. Focus gives life to dreams through your ability. Do not give up.

  16. Jessica Scott

    Your post is absolutely timely for me. I'm coming out of my first year in command and I am absolutely drained. For the past year, I've been in charge of over 130 soldiers, mother to my two daughters, wife to a husband deployed on his fourth tour in Iraq, mom to 3 dogs and 3 cats and managed to get my first novel published by Random House.
    There is no balance. I agree completely. This past summer, there was no balance. My children barely saw me. Last year, there has been little to no me time. I've learned that something has got to give. Something is always suffering. If you leave work, someone's pay won't get fixed. If you don't get home on time, you'll miss kissing the kids at bedtime. And yet, somehow, we continue on, striving for that perfect time when everything will be in sync. Army life taught me a long time ago that it's not about the quantity of time, its the quality. So make the most of today, because tomorrow, you have one less day to make a difference. Enjoy today. Or, conversely, today shall pass and tomorrow will get better.
    Great post. If you have any suggestions about achieving, I welcome them!
    Jess Scott

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