Work-Life Balance: Part 1 of 5
Written by Karyn Patterson
Balance, the Great Enigma
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” – Alain de Botton
In this blog series, I’d like to talk about work-life balance and why it’s important for you, as a writer. For me, it has always been genuinely challenging to schedule writing into my life—or other interests I wanted to find time for but couldn’t. Since there were no deadlines to these “hobbies,” more urgent things kept getting in the way. I woke up every morning for years with a newly refreshed hope that today would be the day everything would get done early, and I’d be left with the rest of the afternoon to write.
I’m kind of a slow learner. Or hopelessly optimistic—take your pick. Either way, I want to save you years of frustration and simply tell you what I’ve learned.
Writing is never going to find time for itself. There was never going to be a bright beam of sunlight illuminating a straight, flower-lined path of an empty afternoon.
What I realized instead was kind of scary. This beautiful idea of balance is not really a thing, but something nebulous. Just when you think you can see a hint of its sphinx-like form, it changes again, and you have to change with it or get lost in its strange and enigmatic game, never accomplishing what you really hoped to do.
Unless, like Oedipus, you are ever vigilant and clever enough to outsmart the sphinx.
And I assure you, you are. Do you know what the answer to its riddle was? Man. The answer of “man” made the sphinx crumble and die. But a man (or woman) still needs to use all our wits and tools. In the next four posts, I will share some amazing tools I’ve learned to achieve balance and even increase productivity. But first, some tips.
Tip one: Carve out time to make your dreams happen. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve learned; unfortunately, it actually does require some brain. Carving is a skill that’s more difficult than, say, chopping. Carving requires tools, expertise, and patience (and, of course, balance comes into play). But, no worries, I got you. I have the tools that might just carve your golden ticket.
More on that later. But for now, suffice it to say you can’t just pencil “writing time” into your calendar and hope it will happen. It won’t. Trust me. Not unless you are amazing and have already forged your own tools by hand through a fiery furnace of try-fail cycles.
Tip two: Quit making excuses. I have ADHD and many other struggles that have presented constant obstacles on my path. I’m happy for them because a clear, accessible way ahead makes you—believe it or not—lazier.
This lesson first sunk into me when I used to run outside. Outdoor running appealed far more to me and was, ironically, easier than running on a flat, unvarying treadmill in a pleasant, temperature-controlled environment. I think the mixed bag of nature stimulated my ADHD brain by providing a variety of challenges such as hills, obstacles, weather, and wind.
The real light-bulb moment happened when I was running on a hilly path against a slight wind. Paradoxically, I found it easier to run than usual, and with greater joy both during and after the run.
On the other hand, I’d be running on fumes during times of no wind and a flat slope, urging every step with enormous willpower. I wanted to collapse. Why? It should have been easier, right? I pondered on this irrationality as I ran day after day, and had a sudden revelation one day: we might actually need challenges to drive us.
Think about it. If you have a day packed full of essential things, you jump at the sound of the alarm, full of fuel and energy (or at the very least, you resist pushing snooze too many times), and soon you are active and efficient.
But…if you have nothing planned and decide to indulge in a full day of relaxation, it’s nearly impossible to roll out of bed before noon, let alone accomplish anything. Even making dinner seems like too much of a chore to manage.
So, never use challenges as excuses. Instead, embrace them and let them fuel your drive. In fact, I think of trials as the price I have to pay for a superpower. The people who accomplish the most in life are usually the ones who’ve had to overcome the greatest obstacles.
Tip three: The power of habit. Since there’s a lot to say on this, I will make it the subject of my next post. For now, I just want to say HABITS ARE HUGE.
But let’s circle back to balance.
Say you’ve overcome your fear enough to begin. No more excuses, you say. Maybe you’ve managed to carve out the time and even stuck with it!
Well, good for you. You’re freaking awesome. But…
Is all well? Do you have any other questions? What about the ever-nagging thoughts of: Am I taking too little time for this? Not enough? Am I making the right priorities? Finding the exact right balance?
It can get way more existential, as well: Who am I? What am I here for? Do I realize my true potential? Do I imagine I have more potential than I do? Am I being too selfish, or am I not taking enough time for myself and my dreams?
This is why I said balance is enigmatic and sphinx-like. There is no bulls-eye, and anyway, the target moves.
I picture a yogi holding a dangerous and tricky pose of extreme balance at the edge of a cliff. As still and calm as that person may seem, you can bet he or she is working hard, continually adjusting this muscle or that against the pull of gravity to stay in alignment. If this person were to relax, he or she would undoubtedly fall.
Balance is constant work, yes. But do not be discouraged. Once it becomes a challenge—a game of sorts—it can actually become fun. And I promise you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible.
In the words of author Brandon Sanderson, “Somehow, we will find it. The balance between whom we wish to be and whom we need to be. But for now, we simply have to be satisfied with who we are.”