The Myth of Life Balance

In addition to reaching the top of our game in our careers, we feel crushing pressure to excel at nearly every other area of life.  The list of “shoulds” puts us in a pressure cooker that could turn coal into diamonds.  We should be have a sculpted body, be a perfect parent, be well-read and well-travelled, be a giving friend, have dozens of enriching hobbies, be involved at the church (or temple or mosque), be a loving spouse/partner, have a clean car and mowed lawn, play an instrument, master yoga, and volunteer in the community.  Oh… and don’t forget plenty of “me” time for reflection.

And we wonder why we are filled with anxiety about life balance.  But what’s the real cost to pursue it?

Sprinting toward unattainable desires is a major contributor to anxiety and depression.  The irony is that maniacally chasing life balance may drive you to feeling more off-balance than ever.

While unpopular to say, the facts are the facts.  The most successful people generally have horrible life balance.   Business leaders such as Jobs and Carnegie had a notoriously unbalanced life.  Edison slept four hours a day – in his lab.  It’s the rare exception to find a movie star or idolized musician with an intact family, let alone attending the neighborhood barbecue.

Reminds me of one of my favorite Chinese proverbs, “Chase two rabbits and both will escape.”

The point I’m making will fuel controversy, and I will undoubtedly be overwhelmed with angry feedback.  But the truth is that achieving at the highest levels requires sacrifice.  If your goal is to be world-class at something and break new ground, you should probably accept the fact that your romantic notion of life balance is about as likely as prompt and caring service at the DMV.

If you’re running a startup, a three-week trip to Italy to see your family probably isn’t in the cards.  If you have a dream of writing a bestselling novel, this goal will likely fizzle until you commit fully by backing off something else.

Think of the most powerful person in the world – the President of the United States.  While our president exercises and appears to be a good father, he’s certainly not at every little league game and dance recital.  By definition, great accomplishment requires tough choices.  Being perfect in all areas of life is a fantasy that will only cause you stress and deplete your ability to achieve.

You can be great at something, but it’s impossible to be great at everything.  Perhaps we can achieve better life balance by making thoughtful decisions on what matters most to us and not trying to do it all.  That decision is yours.  But for goodness sakes, stop driving yourself nuts trying to be a champion triathlete, award-winning chef, billionaire, and supermom all at the same time.  Saying no to some desires will enable you attain the ones that you prioritize.

Like it or not, it’s focus that trumps life balance when unlocking your fullest potential.