In a previous article I wrote about the need to propose a new definition of balance, in order for leaders to be truly able to achieve it. I proposed that a more valuable definition of balance is “consistently living life on the edge, without falling off the edge.” ‘Living life’ means truly living, not just simply existing. Experiencing life to the full! ‘Without falling off the edge’ means knowing one’s limitations and boundaries so that one can operate within them without falling off the edge and crashing.
Self-awareness is key to achieving true balance of life. But cultural awareness is also very important. There are things often present in our culture or surroundings, and sometimes present in ourselves, which affect the pursuit of balance, and often work against us. There are four significant categories:
1. The Tendency Toward Activity – The world is a busy place. More than ever our society, business, etc. is tending towards efficiency, activity, busyness, multi-tasking, over-time, and production. We live in this culture and must acknowledge that it can and will rub off on us even without us actively choosing it. There are two aspects of this area that I observe are quite common:
Multi-task Myth – Our culture tells us that we can easily do many things at once and do them all well. For example: work on our assignment, check on social media, reply to email, make a smoothie, listen to music, etc. In reality, this context switching actually hinders the quality and efficiency of our performance in all areas. We might also call this “the Distraction Addiction” where we become so used to needing to feel like we are doing a lot of things at once and lose the ability to focus on one key task. It leaves us feeling very unbalanced because we give a little focus to a lot of things at once.
Automatic Refill Response – People tend to automatically fill their lives with activities. They become very busy and have little to no free time. But what happens when an activity or commitment (like a weekly class) concludes? Instead of taking advantage of having unscheduled time, the natural response seems to be to automatically re-fill it with something new. So the tendency to being always busy and feeling over-leveraged continues.
Have Your Cake and Eat it Too – There can be a tendency for leaders to think that they need to try and be involved with as much as they can. Our culture tells us this: you can do anything you want to; you can have everything you ever dreamed of. Leaders often don’t realize that they have limitations and can’t be involved in, nor should they try to do everything. Yet they attempt to, which leads to a feeling of being stretched so thin that the quality of their involvement is quite diminished.
2. The Tendency to Define Our Value by What We Do – Our culture disposes us to define our self-worth by what we do. Thus ‘the more you can do and the better you can do it, the more valuable you are’. This can lead to a performance-oriented disposition where we seek to find our value in doing. This can also be transposed in an incorrect way to ministry or leadership. Since ministry and leadership are a gift of self and are often very much connected to one’s life purpose, leaders can mistakenly seek to define themselves and seek worth in the activities of ministry and leadership. They justify this as good since ministry and leadership are good. However, this will quickly lead to burn out, lack of fulfilment, frustration, and people-pleasing. Self-worth must always be found in our inherent dignity as a person and our identity as a child of God, and not in what we do. Yet our culture often tells us the opposite.
3. The Tendency For Compartmentalization of Our Lives – It is quite a common feature of our culture to live in a compartmentalized way. We act one way at work, one way at home, and another way with friends. The tendency is to arrange a number of “separate boxes” in our lives, all neat and tidy and independent from each other. However, this compartmentalization can lead to polarization or separation of family, friends and work. We find ourselves pulled in opposite directions, approaching our personal and work lives almost as enemies. This can create great tension. The reality of our culture causes us to feel pulled in multiple directions, never being able to find satisfaction in any of them. It is both tiring and very frustrating. While it can be useful at times to organize our lives into particular categories, we must always be aware that we are not compartmental beings. We are, each one of us, a whole person, and we need to think holistically about our lives, plans, hopes, goals, and dreams. Yet our culture tends to promote the opposite.
4. The Tendency to Not Recognize Seasons In Life – Where we are in life plays an important role in our pursuit of balance. For example, the early years of one’s career can be extremely busy and filled with activity, learning what and how to do the required work. This takes more time and energy than what may be needed from someone who has been working the job for a number of years. Think of new teachers. They need to prepare lesson plans and get into the rhythm of correcting assignments and tests and organizing extra-curricular activities, etc. The first few years can be extremely hectic. Or think of learning a new sport or skill. It requires much more practice and hard work at first, before it begins to come naturally. Balance requires a realistic vision of what stage you are at in any given activity in your life.
We also need to take into account the actual season in life: marriage, family, etc., as these have different requirements. Our state of life has an impact on us. Single people often have more available free time because of less family demands. But filling this time could lead to over-activity or unbalanced activity. Individuals who have other commitments such as family, community, etc. may face this issue differently. The transition from one state of life into another (such as going from having no children, to starting a family) also brings new challenges that need to be recognized. Different seasons of life carry different responsibilities. So not being aware of or able to acknowledge the season of life we are in, can have significant effects on our ability to find balance.
Looking at these four categories, does one come to the conclusion that these tendencies constitute a normal, healthy way to live? The answer is, or should be, an obvious ‘No’. Various aspects of our culture are unhealthy, but nonetheless they exist and can be difficult to avoid. In order to be able to live in the culture without it negatively affecting us, we need to recognize and understand the culture and these issues. When one can understand both that the culture is pulling them in certain directions, and that we are all affected by the culture to greater and lesser degrees, one can actively recognize inappropriate attitudes and behaviours. Before one can improve, one always needs to understand their present reality.
So what about you? As you look at your own life and these factors, which can you identify that affect you most? And why? How does recognizing these help to you to bring better balance to your life?