In the Margin book, Richard Swenson, M.D. talked about the tug-of-war in our everyday lives and the challenge of finding balance.
The Balancing Act
I don’t know about you, but I feel a constant tug-of-war between choices. Should I work now, or relax a bit? Should I take action, or should I think about it more? Should I take the lead in this decision, or be a good follower? Should I speak up, or just listen? Should I keep studying and researching and learning, or is it time to apply what I know? Should I judge and confront, or should I give grace here? Should I say yes to this gathering, or retire in much-needed solitude?
It’s no wonder we have difficulty finding balance!
There are so many decisions to make, minute by minute sometimes. Added to that, we know that life requires both. We need to both work and rest. Sometimes we need to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen. We need to both study and apply what we know. We need the company of other people, but writers also require a lot of solitude.
These are not either/or questions. “Balance has always been necessary and will always be necessary. It is just becoming more difficult,” says the author of Margin.
Balance or Excellence?
I believe in high standards. I believe in doing things in an excellent way. In many ways, especially in the past, I’ve gone overboard into perfectionism.
“Much is made today of the virtues of excellence. But what does this mean? Often the excellence described is only in one narrow corridor of life,” says Swenson. He talks of musicians who are virtuosos, executives who live at the office, and other passionate high achievers. Many are not so successful in the rest of their lives though.
Many writers – including myself – have dreamed of the day when they would have time to be passionately high achieving writers. While my children were smaller and I was also teaching, I dreamed of the day when I would have the hours to be one of those high achieving writers I read about. I have met a few of them at conferences, and I admire them a great deal. But each time, when talking to them, I discovered something that I knew I didn’t want in my own life. I didn’t want to ignore my community, give up my ministry at church, lose close contact with grandchildren, or be unhealthy and out of shape. I wanted it all!
“While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in a state of disorder,” says Swenson. You might excel at your career – like the famous surgeon or performer – yet fail as a parent or neglect personal health in order to achieve it.
I have found this to be true in my own life. I can push through when deadlines demand it. I can do it for months on end if necessary. But to my frustration, something always breaks down. Headaches get bad. I find that I’m out of touch with grown children or grandchildren. Or I put on five pounds because I stopped walking and feel like a slug.
What’s the Answer?
“Doing our best has limits,” says Swenson. “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.” Those who go “all out” for success in one area – even writing – risk failure in other important areas of life.
So what’s the answer? Come back Wednesday, and I’ll give you four tips for restoring balance in your life.