Lately, I’ve been pondering this whole notion of balance. There was a recent blog post taking jabs (yet again) at Gwyneth Paltrow, suggesting that maybe her comments are a reflection of our worst selves. A mirror of our own obnoxiousness. One such comment that took a beating was about how her daughter “gravitates toward fresh fruit and raw nuts but will inhale a bag of hot Cheetos at the airport.”
Then Paltrow added the modern mom mantra: It’s all about balance.
Balance. We all say it. Sometimes we substitute ‘moderation.’ But it seems that we are all on a quest to find equilibrium. In our diets. In our activities. In our relationships. In our daily routines.
I turned 31 last week. For some reason, it seems more ‘grown-up’ than turning 30. I’m not 30 anymore. I’m in my thirties. And as my 27-year-old stylist mentioned to me, I should really keep my hair longer because it ‘makes me look younger.’ Apparently you cross an invisible canyon between ‘twenties’ and ‘thirties’ when you turn 31.
You know what? 31 rocks.
Don’t worry. This really isn’t an aside. It’s my long winded way of saying I don’t believe in the ‘black and white’ pie chart that I envisioned was family-work-life balance in my twenties. Remember all those self-improvement articles you used to have time to read in the likes of Mademoiselle and Cosmo? If you devote 40% of your time to family, 20% of your time to work, 10% to yourself, 10% to doing good works, 10% to fitness and 20% to sleep, you’ll feel happy, fulfilled and …
Or was it 43% to family and 26% to sleep? The formula always changed depending on the author du jour.
But with three full decades of life experience (because you know, I’m old now) and the past six months of continuous unexpected hurdles on the track, I’m tossing that pie chart philosophy like an 80s sweater. Shoulder pads included.
There is no formula for balance. Life has too many unpredictable moments. Late nights worth being tired the next morning for. Moments that require you drop everything and take your kids to the park or out for ice cream. Unplanned (and certainly less-than-ideal) times when you have to turn on the television to occupy the pint-sizers when you need to get through a conference call. Or need a coffee break. Mom guilt pin pricks when you opt for a work meeting over a bedtime story — or work guilt when you blow off your boss to pick pumpkins with a class of three-year-olds. Peeling little hands off your wrist as you and your partner escape for a cartoon-free movie and glass of wine. Putting off cleaning out the basement one more weekend so you can all go for a hike. Or refusing your preschooler’s request to go to the playground because the garage has been so neglected you may soon be a candidate for Hoarders.
Moments when you just throw everything out the window and take a last minute road trip… because your four-year-old (and you) need a little adventure.
It’s not a pie chart formula.
It’s more like surfing.
You need a strong foundation of values, priorities and goals — but the freedom to shift your weight and pivot in order to ride the wave. Sometimes you just need to drop everything, bail and tread water for a bit. Always get back up.
To me, that’s a way easier philosophy to guide life than the rigid formation of a pie chart.
Life goal for age 31: more surfing lessons.