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Is a Balanced Life a Myth?

“The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream. … The quest for balance between work and life, as we’ve come to think of it, isn’t just a losing proposition; it’s a hurtful, destructive one.”    ~ Keith H. Hammonds, FastCompany

Wow! Have we been lusting after a lie for lo these many years? Can we really not have a balanced life? Well … do you know anyone who does? I certainly don’t!

However, according to Gary Keller and Jay Papasan who wrote The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, “We hear about balance so much we automatically assume it’s exactly what we should be seeking. It’s not. Purpose, meaning, significance – these are what make a successful life. Seek them and you will most certainly live your life out of balance, crisscrossing an invisible middle line as you pursue your priorities. The act of living a full life by giving time to what matters is a balancing act. Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance possible.”

The belief we’ve been given is that we can have it all – a career, a family, be of service in the community, oh, and have time to take care of ourselves with exercise and fun, too. Hmm. Doesn’t seem quite doable, does it?

According to The One Thing, if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. Everything is mediocre because you can’t become a master of anything with your focus on everything. That’s no way to get purpose, meaning, and significance in your life! So, how do we have both – purpose, meaning, and significance, AND career, family, service, and self?

While we can’t have a balanced life, The One Thing says we can be in counterbalance. Being out of balance simply means not getting everything done we think “should” be done. The purposeful question you should ask is:

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Keller & Papasan’s thought is to choose the thing in which you want to gain extraordinary results and give the time you need to it in order to become a master. They say to ask the question, “Do you go short or long?” “Going short lets you stay connected to all the things that matter most and move them along together. In your professional life, go long and make peace with the idea that the pursuit of extraordinary results may require you to be out of balance for long periods. Going long allows you to focus on what matters most, even at the expense of other, lesser priorities. In your personal life, nothing gets left behind. At work it’s required.”

So shifting your paradigm from balancing to prioritizing enables you to more easily see the opportunities that align with your priorities in life – both the extraordinary ones and the non-negotiable ones. And it more easily allows you the opportunity to say no to the “good” ideas that aren’t part of your extraordinary or non-negotiable priorities.

James Patterson says in Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas: “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls – family, health, friends, integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

The One Thing suggests:

  •     Think about two balancing buckets – put your work and personal lives into two separate buckets in order to properly counterbalance (prioritize) them.
  •     Counterbalance your work bucket – determine what matters most and put all the energy and time required into this and be ok with what happens to the rest. Professional success requires it.
  •     Counterbalance your personal life bucket – determine the multiple areas in your personal life that require a minimum of attention for you to feel happy. (You’ll know these because if any of them are dropped you will feel the effects of it.) Be consistently aware of these areas. Your personal life requires it.

To sum it up – “Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can.”