Debunking The Myth Of The Balanced Life
By: Jay Mitchell
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to find balance in your life? There’s a simple answer: The “balanced life” is a myth.
I realize this is a bold statement and know that it may sound surprising for those of us who think that achieving “balance” is the Holy Grail of life. In different times in my life, I’ve found myself thinking that if I could only adjust the knobs on the various segments of my life to get the levels just right, then I would arrive at a place of sustainable peace, fulfillment, and satisfaction in all the dimensions of my life.
I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to pull this off. Just when I get my professional life humming, my relational world gets out of whack. Just when I get my relational world running smoothly, the market crashes and financial stress affects my work and my relational world, and on and on it goes. My so-called “balanced life” seems to bob and shimmer just beyond my grasp.
Most of us think of our life as a kind of wheel with spokes emanating from a center point. These spokes create a pie chart consisting of anywhere from 4-12 different areas that make up what we call “our life” and include things like work, family, friends, physical health, social life, spiritual life, intellectual life, financial life, and hobbies, etc.
When we feel stressed or disappointed about the way our lives are going, we look at those pieces and try to figure out how to bring them all into balance with one another. If I am spending too much time at work, I’ll commit to taking more time off to spend with family or friends. If my physical life isn’t as healthy as I would like, I may take time from my family to exercise, or I’ll get up an hour earlier so I can squeeze in a run, but then I am too tired after work to be attentive to the important relationships in my life. With every knob we turn, instead of getting more balanced, we find ourselves feeling more stressed and more out of balance.
The problem with the concept of the “balanced life” is that we have our focus on the wrong things. We focus on the spokes of the wheel instead of the axle around which the wheel rotates. That axle represents our core that God has knitted together, which is made up of our values, character, and beliefs. Instead of focusing on the how to manage our time and energy based on where we are feeling stressed or out of balance, we need to focus on our core self, who God has created us to be.
This involves getting clarity about who we really are (our character), who we want to be (our values), and how we think the world actually works (our beliefs).
Here are some practical steps that I’ve found helpful in striving for focus in my own life after years of thinking I could balance all the pieces myself:
1. Gain clarity on who you are and whom God has made you to be. As Psalm 139:13 says, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Who has God uniquely made you to be? Here are some questions that may help you think through your personal gifts, stengths, and values. I recommend writing down these questions and your answers in a journal where you can reference them on a regular basis.
- What are you good at? What are you not good at?
- What energizes you? What sucks the life out of you?
- Which moments of life have made you feel the most alive? Which moments have made you feel depressed or defeated?
- If money wasn’t an issue, what would you spend your life doing for free?
Profiles like the Myers Briggs, Strengthsfinders, and DISC can be helpful tools to help you gain clarity. Because the work I do as an Executive Search Consultant at Vanderbloemen is perfectly aligned with my character, I don’t feel as though I’ve “worked” a day since I got here. I’m doing what I love and what I was made to do.
2. Determine what matters most to you. As Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters.” Jesus wasn’t just talking about God and money. Much of our burnout happens when we place value on the wrong things. Many pastors will stretch themselves too thin because of how they want people to perceive them – always available, a brilliant preacher, a Level 5 leader or … fill in the blank. It’s our human need to be affirmed and loved that often drives us. We are guilty of being driven by fear, failure, or the need to be in control, not the passion to serve the Audience of One.
Overcoming this one requires some “heart surgery.” Gather a few trusted friends around you. Ask them to give you honest feedback about what drives your decisions. Finding a good therapist who understands the nuances of ministry could be extremely helpful in identifying where your values went sideways.
3. Realign your beliefs. Many of us get sidetracked from the unique things God has called and equipped us to do because we operate under a belief system that functionally removes God and other people from the equation. We often believe that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. We also may live under the mistaken belief that our lives should be balanced and that we can live on that razors edge between peace and productivity. We must realign our thinking. If you’ve built a great team around you, remind yourself that the best way to lead is to trust them with the responsibility you’ve delegated to them. Remind yourself that God is in control and spend time with the Lord daily, asking Him to lead and guide you as you serve His Kingdom.
As I look at Scripture, and as I observe highly successful people who operate from a deep and weighted core, they experience seasons of hard work, long days, intense and focused ministry, but they never get burned out. Why? Because they know who they are, what matters most, and that they are not alone.
What about you? Do you ever get caught up in the myth of the balanced life?