Much ado about balance…


People often refer to “balance” in life or in work as if it was something pre-determined and concrete; a line-in-the-sand or a clearly defined goal that once reached, would produce such imagined “balanced” state of well-being.

The problem I have with this is that to me, the concept of “balance” isn’t fixed; rather, it is an ever changing “living” component of our individual lives whose definition is as diverse as we humans are and thus, any discourse about this “balance” – like with art –really is a highly subjective matter.

Who is to say that someone’s hectic and seemingly exhausting life isn’t really perfectly balanced… for them? Or that someone else’s highly organized seemingly moderated and diverse lifestyle isn’t really a nightmare of control and blandness to be avoided at all cost… for others?

In the past few years as “work-life balance” vision, objectives and words found their way into corporate statements and our own wistful vernacular, I have come to consider such as “unbalanced”; superficial “flannel”, which does little more than add noise and possible dissent into our corporate and private lives.

It is a relatively modern trend to view “work” as something singular and different from an individual’s “life”, but I’m reminded and offer that there should not be such a clear distinction between the two; that they are in-fact interdependent, each an integral part of the other and each – at times – requiring that more focus be given to one over the other.

For I can’t imagine living possible; in balanced ways or otherwise, without actually working at producing something in real-time; be it the pollen a flower produces for dissemination by bees and wind, to everyday necessities we acquire by the application and exchange of our life skills, to the contribution we make as we guide our babies to hopefully grow into the “next generation” of productive people.

All subject to daily external influences which impact and alter our lives and how we may have to modify our reactions to engage and deal with such influences moment by moment.

The idea that these and all other evergreen “productive life” components which together contribute to an overall life-on-the-planet balance of sorts, should each have and follow some form of prescribed self-balance – even if we could actually come to agree on what that “balance” should be for us as a species – is flawed and unreachable me thinks.

Have we – in our relative affluence – grown softer and more demanding of what is “due to us”?

Do airline pilots, typically regulated to fly about 40 hours per month, have more “balance” in their lives than the average Western individual working 60 hours per week… or a person working 18+ hours per day in an Asian factory? Which amount of work vs. “work-free” time, and/or “level” of balance within ourselves should we be striving for?

What about our poorer and distant neighbors… the folk elsewhere in Africa and India for example, scouring nearly around the clock for the means of basic survival such as finding relative safety, drinkable water and food of any kind that we, with our self-induced complicated lives, take for granted as a basic given? Do they need or even think about “work-life balance”… or is having the gift of actually waking-up breathing yet another day, hopeful of being able to make it all the way through to the evening with – perchance – some improvement, balance enough?

Perhaps our search for “balance” is a distracting cause; the wrong value to use when assessing ways to enhance our human existence holistically and in a sustainable productive manner. For all of us still breathing – in all of our wondrous diversity – manages to achieve our own reality based version of a “balanced life” if not on a daily basis, certainly over a period of time.

Remarkably, I believe our existential needs remain largely unchanged over the thousands of years our animal species has been around… regardless of gender and varying levels of modern day complexity, we are basically a “caves & commons” species; requiring security and solitude for self-reflection, healing and survival, as well as, communal engagement and interaction to give & take, lead & support, fight & love, reproduce & evolve to live another day.

The fact we may believe this ought to happen more gracefully or in a more even manner, albeit interesting, does not determine the overall worthiness; the blended achievement occurring in our current everyday lives… as “imperfect” as we may think such to be.

* Published in the Good Men Project: “Much Ado About Balance

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About JP
"There is nothing to be found in a beehive that is not submerged in a bee. Yet we may explore a bee forever and still never find a hive..." Kevin Kelly's - Out of Control

3 Responses to Much ado about balance…

  1. paulcarder says:

    JP,
    As ever, I love your thought-provoking blogs. I wrote about this topic recently, looking at ‘digital versus analogue life’, and the challenges that my children have (or in part at least) in relating to the ‘analogue’ side of life that I hold dear, and essential, for me.

    http://paulcarder.com/2012/02/13/digital-at-work-vs-analogue-off-work-balance/

    The blog attracted some interesting feedback – I think especially from my good friend (albeit we have only met a few times) Paul Griffiths ( http://www.is5.co.uk/about/our-people/ ) who wrote in reply about “life balance” saying that work is just one part of our life…. so true.

    You also raise some “Maslow’s hierarchy” points here in relation to what is important to people around the world, who have mostly never considered the concept of ‘work-life balance’, but have daily considered the threat of ‘work-or starve’ balance! I also wrote about that before Christmas: http://paulcarder.com/2011/12/20/maslows-hierarchy-and-the-festive-spirit/
    And again, got some detailed feedback on why Maslow was out of favour…!

    But I guess the bottom line here is, it is good to know that in large corporate environments like your ‘day job’ people are thinking about these issues.

    “balance IS an individual issue, and we can get it wrong – or we can be misaligned between our own view and our “stakeholders” who share our lives. “My wife doesn’t understand….”, a common tale…or, i never see my kids….etc.

    I am here writing at 2.15am in the UK, because I have just come off a “Board Meeting” call for my business, with partners in Hong Kong and California. But I am also spending a week with my parents, away from my wife and kids…because I can. THAT is work-life balance in action….

    Thanks JO, and keep up the blogging!, Paul

    • JP says:

      Hi Paul… you never cease to amaze me with your thought provoking comments and relational thinking.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share them with me.
      Like you, I find the “middle of the night” a very propitious time to expand my thinking beyond the cosntraints of our present day-to-day reality so, even in that we are kindred spirits.
      I felt compelled to challenge the idea of “balance” as presently aired in most corporate statements and individual’s vocabulary because – as far as I can tell – they are meaningless; a preverse “joke” as seemingly, neither corporations nor individuals have any firm and sustainable IDEAS on how to actually empower the words.
      Thus, leaving the concept of “balance” – finding and living it – where it truly resides and should always be; on the shoulders of individuals.
      The best that can be done is to continually work and support another important and often misunderstood concept – “open dialogue” – w/o preconcepts or negative consequences between those individuals that a) are seeking to reach their personal “balance” need and… b) those that can either facilitate or gate the process.
      I am looking forward to seeing you in my neck-of-the-woods my friend. :-) JP

    • JP says:

      Hello Paul… your spot-on observations on “Digital vs. Analogue” resonate well with me and I’m impressed – and left wondering – by all of the comments made on your good piece.

      http://paulcarder.com/2012/02/13/digital-at-work-vs-analogue-off-work-balance/

      I too had a childhood that relied almost exclusively on my abilities to entertain myself and, as far as I can remember, I managed to do it well enough on most days. Needless to say, my imagination; and the resulting problem solving skills needed to get out of the many tight-spots I physically got myself into, did much to shape the individual I am today.

      I remember thinking as I got older that someday, when I have kids, that I would make sure to give them a similar adventurous childhood. Of course, I lived in Portugal which at the time was about 50 years behind the rest of the developed world (perhaps still is some), I didn’t know then about the exciting world that I was about to discover, filled with so many growing possibilities, that the simple art of running around exploring and imagining would become in-fact a distraction in and of itself.

      To the point, I sort of given-up trying to get my daughters off their technology and on to their dusty bikes. Mostly because I’m just as imbedded (if not more) into the many interesting technology possibilities and would in-fact be a hypocrite, if I was to try to force them to do what I don’t easily practice myself. The social media, SimCity town building, online film making, interactive graphic development and homework, etc. they are engaged with is just too pressing and – in a way – constructive for them, to try and turn this into a regulated thing or a “tabu”.

      Nor would I let them roam free – as I did – so lightly nowadays… there are just too many more ominous risks now that I never had to worry about then.

      It is a different – not necessarily better – world we all live in. Relaxing, exercise and playing have taken new different forms. They (we) talk and interact more with others today than we ever did at their age. They can and do spend days walking/running/jumping in-packs, through the shops and malls of any city rather than fields and hills. They get involved in Community Theater and learn coordinated dances and performances that I wouldn’t be caught dead in when I was their age.

      The stage-set has changed forever but the script isn’t all that dramatically different.

      Thanks for your great piece Paul.
      Keep’em coming. JP

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