Image credit: Alyss
Last week, I had what one would call a well-balanced day: I climbed out of bed at 5:15 a.m. for a 6-mile run, coming home just in time to make my kids a hot breakfast and send them off to school with a home-packed lunch. I tidied the house, attended a PTA meeting, called my sister, caught up with a friend at the local library, squeezed in a reading/piano lesson with my preschooler and spent a few hours on my latest manuscript. I rushed home in time to collect all the kids, usher them through homework/piano practice/violin practice and serve the family yet another homecooked meal with not one, but two vegetable side dishes. After everyone was in bed I tidied the house, prepped lunches for the next day, read my scriptures, and promptly collapsed in bed.
Before I went to sleep I texted my sister: “I’m exhausted.”
Her reply: “The price of perfection.”
We all love the idea of a well-balanced life. It looks just like that list above: Exercise! Service! Friendship! Self-fulfillment! Career! Family! Vegetable side-dishes!
But let’s be real here. It’s also draining, and nearly impossible to maintain for long.
I do think a balanced life is achievable. I don’t think it’s feasible in a 24-hour period. Rome was not built in a day. Perfection is not something attained on the short-term. Here is what I’ve learned, through many crash-and-burn sessions: Balance needs a zoom-out button, in which we look not at days, but at a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime.
For example, when I had lots of little, little kids, I didn’t run races. I missed it desperately, but it wasn’t feasible. I had a husband in grad school. My body was in recovery. I needed every ounce of energy for daily caretaking. My kids are older now, and self-sufficient. I have the time and energy for hardcore exercise and marathon training.
Likewise, I devote more time to writing than I did while my kids were young. On the flip side, I spend less time hanging at the park with my preschooler, and I spend less time cleaning my house. Is my life balanced? Sure, it’s good enough. I anticipate the day when my house will be cleaner and I have even more time to write. That might not happen until the kids are grown and gone, but I need to be content knowing that balance now looks different from balance five years from now.
Just like we can’t eat every fruit and vegetable our body needs in a single day, our lives need to be measured in broader terms. My balancing act doesn’t look the same day-to-day, and it probably looks very different from your balancing act. It changes with family circumstance, life circumstance, schooling, and even the time of year.
As women, it’s important to be determined and motivated, but we also need to be gentle with ourselves. When we get too many spinning plates, eventually a few will spin out of control. Then we know it’s time to reassess. Who can we ask for help? What can we eliminate from the schedule? What are the most needful things at this point in our lives?
It’s also important to realize our personal Top Priorities. For me, that means running and writing every single day. Those are the foundation of a successful day. I also like cooking good food for my family. This is one of those priorities that balances out over a week–some nights, it might just be scrambled eggs for dinner, while other nights it’s homemade chicken-rice soup. And I really do like spending time with friends, living in a clean home, and volunteering in school, but I’m more willing to let those tasks spread themselves over a few weeks, or even months.
When I think of my favorite races, they aren’t the ones where I stumbled across the finish line, heaving my last breath. They’re the ones where I finish on my feet, strong and capable and ready for more.
It’s all about pacing really, pacing ourselves through a day, a week, a life well run.