Think about it. Who are the people who have achieved great things in life? Did they have balance in their lives? Do you get to be President of the United States by having balance in your life? Do Bill Gates or Warren Buffet have balance in their lives? Did Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Marie Curie, or Leonardo da Vinci have balance in their lives? Or our military leaders – McArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, Nimitz, Halsey, or today Patreaus or McChrystal? Do they talk about the balance in their lives? No. These are passionate and focused people.
Where does ‘balance’ fit in with Great Responsibility and Great Achievement? Do we refuse responsibility for the lives of others, the responsibility for the security of the nation, or to bring great talent to bear to move humanity forward in order to maintain balance in our lives? Do we abrogate great responsibility for life-balance? Sounds somewhat selfish, doesn’t it?
“Well, you may have a point, but …”
It seems that the only people who talk about ‘life-balance’ are people who have already achieved what they were going to achieve in life. They are ready to slow down, rest on their laurels, and then we have to listen to them sanctimoniously preach to the rest of us how important it is to have life balance. Are we to take them seriously? Sounds somewhat hypocritical doesn’t it?
“Well, yes but…”
Or we hear about ‘life-balance’ from people who have never really achieved anything of note, and chose ‘balance’ instead. They may even use balance as an excuse for never having made a real difference. They don’t acknowledge that their balanced lives were made possible by people who didn’t have balance in theirs. Sound somewhat short sighted, doesn’t it?
Isn’t life really about passion, commitment, and enthusiasm? People who achieve great things and move humanity forward do so by pursuing their passion with a single-minded focus. Remember that memorable quote from the movie The Highlander, “I’d rather burn out than fade away.” A German Philosopher (Hegel) once said that ‘the great are seldom good,’ meaning that those who dare to be great follow a different set of rules than conventional society demands of the rest of us. Balance works well for those who can’t stand the heat, who want to lope along in the outside lane, and cede the prize to those with the ambition, drive and energy to run hard on the inside. Slow down to smell the roses, and you better move to the outside lane or you’ll get run over. He who hesitates is lost. Balance is the consolation prize for those who don’t have the gumption to reach for the golden ring….
“Come on now. Aren’t we being a little harsh?”
Balance is boring. Who wants to watch a movie about someone who has his or her life in balance? Where is the story, the drama, excitement, passion, the thrills, the yucks? Isn’t the impulse to balance the impulse to be well-balanced ‘sheep?’ Wouldn’t you rather be one of the sheepdogs, committed and focused on protecting the sheep, or one of the wolves who go after our enemies and bring home the bacon? Let the well-balanced sheep hide in their pens, and/or be led to the slaughter….balance is for prey and herbivores. Choose instead to be a predator and a carnivore!
Ok! OK! We get your point…and yet…something just doesn’t feel completely right about all this fist pumping, testosterone-driven posturing….
The problem with the above pseudo-conversation is that one doesn’t choose between passion and balance. The good life has both – and how much of each will be different for each of us, at different times, in different contexts.
Yes, balance may be stasis, and yes, there are many who will seek and stay in the safe harbor. There are those who are afraid of the risk of putting one’s beliefs, one’s passions, oneself on the line. It is true that those who drive and lead society are risk takers, heroic, passionate, and driven. And we respect and admire them. And perhaps we are them. But is that all we want? All the time?
Balance DOES have its place, even for the ambitious and the driven. Imbalance (stress) can be a source of creative tension, and provide us motivation and energy to rise to a challenge and perform at our best. And when we feel that passion, or when we are fulfilling an important commitment, or serving a need for the greater good, passion, commitment, focus will certainly weigh more, and the fulcrum of the life-balance scale will shift dramatically toward meeting that need. There may be periods when the only weight on the other side of the scale may be sleep and infrequent, quiet periods with a friend or loved one.
And then we need to recover – consolidate our gains, assess our wins and losses, heal, and gird our loins for whatever comes next. For the heroic, and even for the more humble of us, I contend that life-balance is a temporary state that some of us are lucky enough to experience with some regularity in our lives. But it is a temporary state, when all is in synch…an interlude between periods of challenge, commitment and focus….even for those who choose to run in the slow lane. It is temporary….until the next challenge.
Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s most famous executive coaches, relates how many very successful CEO’s he coaches struggle to find balance and meaning in their lives after having achieved all the prestige, power, and money they want. It’s almost a caricature – overweight, high blood pressure, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th marriage, tons of money, homes and yachts around the country, and now what? Another yacht?
A well balanced life needs passion, commitment, and focus, as well as periods of quiet joy, a meaningful avocation, and relaxed time with friends and loved ones. The balance between passion and quiet or distracted relaxation is different for each of us, in different contexts and different times in our lives. Staying out of balance for too long has its price.
I see ‘life balance’ as an account into which we make deposits over a lifetime. There are (slower) periods when we can deposit more, and crazy periods when we struggle just to keep our heads above water, and have little left to put into our ‘life balance account.’ We all know, and know of, people who have needed to draw on a life balance account, and found it empty. It is sad to see. Whatever we are able to deposit into our life-balance account accrues interest over a lifetime, providing dividends that we can draw on when we need them – especially when we get older and seek to balance the energy and passion of our youth with the perspective and wisdom of experience.
And in the end, we all break even anyway.