Equilibrium in Motion: The Mystique of the Balanced Life

Alaska Airlines Flight #2828 Seattle/San Francisco.  My morning started the way many of them do—logging off email. Gulping down a couple more ounces of French Roast.  Cramming an extra tee-shirt into a suit case. Racing down a freeway to yet another airport.  Zipping through a jumble of mental check-lists while maneuvering between SUV’s and eighteen-wheeler’s. 

Finally seat-belt-fastened into 23F, carry-on items securely stowed under the seat in front of me, that little voice that had been tapping on my awareness all morning finally got it’s message through—how about that “balanced life” thing you keep talking about in your keynotes?

“My personal best for work/life balance is about eight minutes,” reflects Nancy, a corporate meeting planner in Southern California. 

“Work/Life Balance,” has become the mythical Holy Grail of our time. Everybody, it seems, has something to say about how to get it, why we need it, the dangers of not having it.  However, I believe the balance we crave is best understood as equilibrium in response to the oscillations of life: work, family, health, relationships.  Coherence rather than control.  It is about making choices in motion that create the optimum alignment between what’s happening in the moment—and what you care about in the long term. 

“I met a women once who was the absolute embodiment of The Balanced Life.  She literally glided through Dallas Fort Worth airport with three babies in tow, Wednesday night before a Thanksgiving holiday, smiling serenely, taking it all in stride.  She has become something of an urban legend in my mind.”

 The folks I’ve met over the years who seem to be really good at this equilibrium phenomenon, possess a kind of ”inner compass,” that helps them keep track of where they are on their life path. Their internal mechanism is sensitive enough to keep them in touch with their inner wisdom, and rugged enough to be reliable in spite of life’s twists and turns. For those of us whose internal guidance systems are somewhat less sophisticated—we can look at some basic elements for creating our own world map.

 Mission—True North.  Defining theme for our actions: activities, decisions, resources, and relationships.  Key Question: What impact do I want to have? A strong sense of mission can help us determine those cross roads that are “mission critical,” and what crossed-wires just need to be ignored for now.  A mission can be very motivating—and it can also add performance stress unless it is balanced with its counterpart, Legacy, to help us gain perspective.

 Legacy—True South. What we leave behind: our gift to those who follow us.  Key Question: Who will follow in my footsteps?  When you picture the people who will be using you as the reference for their choices, what would you want them to understand as essential, lasting?

 Values—Compass Points.  Conclusions based on experience.  Values allow us to specify our direction.  Key Question: What degree of action do we take at this point? Is it time for an about-face, or just a ten-degree adjustment in our approach?  There are many ways to articulate your values, but there are a few keys area where what we really value shows up in our lives—

  1. Where does your time go?

  2. Where does your money go?

  3. Who are you in relationship with? Why?

  4. What would say are the three key events in your life?  Why do you consider them to be so?

 “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”  Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.