When I was in high school, there was a popular song by Jackson Browne called “The Pretender”. In it, he spoke of being “caught between the longing for love, and the struggle for the legal tender”. This week, while traveling on business, I was reminded of the song as I spoke to a middle-aged woman sitting next to me on a flight between Dallas and Austin. She explained that she was in pharmaceutical sales. She was very successful, but as she put it, “had sold her soul” over the past 20-years of her career. She was now between jobs and trying to “heal herself” since she was financially secure, but emotionally bankrupt.
Most of us struggle with this issue of balance in our life at some point. It may be work vs. family. It may be family vs. personal hobbies. It may be personal hobbies vs. spirituality. It could be any activity in our lives. The result may manifest itself in obvious ways such as an addiction (e.g., alcohol, drugs, work, exercise), or in more subtle ways such as suffering relationships or excessive stress. In most cases, it is simply a question of priorities. Is it worth missing my son’s basketball tournament to be present at my company’s sales conference? Are the physical and mental benefits of my exercise regimen worth giving up time I could be spending at the office or with my family? The answer is different for everyone.
We all strive to be the best spouse, parent, child, neighbor, provider, student, athlete, and so forth that we can be. However, the truth is that we can’t excel at everything. Something always suffers. There have been times when I put too much emphasis on certain aspects of my life and let those activities control me. As a result, other interests suffered. There have been times when my social life took precedence. There have been times when athletics – in my case cycling – has dominated. For years, my career was all consuming. In each case, I was lucky enough to recognize that I was out of balance and forced myself to re-center. My wife continues to remind me that the right answer is, “everything in moderation”.
We first learned this lesson when we were children. We quickly learned that too much ice cream or candy would lead to a stomach ache. We learned that too much television would give us a headache. Throughout our lives we are reminded that too much of anything is a bad idea. However, we live in a society that glorifies excess. The benchmark for what we consider “success” is often unachievable for most people. This causes many of us to stay on a treadmill and not only feel like a failure in our area of focus, but clearly feel like a failure in the areas that we have chosen to sacrifice and ignore.
It is interesting that while we all understand the issue and know the answer, we chose to ignore the solution. Most of us recognize we would be much happier having a healthy balance in our lives of work, family, education, spirituality, exercise, and so on. I would rather be good in all areas, then great in one and poor in all the others. The best answer is – almost always – a healthy balance.
I will close with a story attributed to the Dalai Lama that summarizes the point very well…
A question was posed to the Dalai Lama – “what one thing about human nature surprises you the most?” His answer – “Man”
”Because he sacrifices his health, in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices his money, to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future, that he doesn’t enjoy the present.
And as a result, he doesn’t live in the present or the future.
And he lives as if he’s never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”
Find your balance and enjoy the ride – all of it, not just one part of it.
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