June 2015. It was my second time at EDC. I told my friends to wait for me, because I wanted to get closer to the stage. This was unusual of me, but maybe I was compelled to see Galantis or Above & Beyond up close. Halcyon days.
The crowd was thick. I took a deep breath and waded through the ocean of gyrating bodies. ’Scuse me. Coming through. Sorry.
At many points I thought of turning back. But every now and then, I’d hit an unexpected patch of space. Available dance floor that I couldn’t see from where I standing before.
Suddenly I was right in front of the stage. The visual was amazing. The sound of was deafening. I turned to my side, as if to exclaim to my friends can you believe this? But of course, no one was there.
This random memory taught me that without going deep enough, I’d never know for sure.
What does this have to do with balance?
I’ve often tried to balance all the things I wanted to do in life, without actually going deep enough in any one of those things.
I’ve experienced this deeply in my career. I’ve been messing with blogs for over a decade. But somehow I got it in my head that writing, blogging, or “artistic” endeavors would never make money.
So I never went deep enough with my writing…and tried to “balance” it out with other things in my life, like distracting side projects, working out, or even long trips abroad.
After every unique experience or thought, the first thing I wanted to do was write about it. Why couldn’t I take a hint?
Realization: I used balance as an excuse to avoid giving fully to what I actually wanted to do.
- Shall I work on that article about good and evil? Nah, I should work out.
- Should I try applying to a new job? Nah, I should earn more money doing what I know.
- One of my bucket list items is to write a book before I die. Cool, but maybe do that when you’re retired and chillin’.
Sometimes we tack on low-priority stuff to avoid going deep in high priority territory. This avoidance can be so subtle, so harmless in the beginning, that we begin to weigh the low priority and high priority items equally in our heads.
Then we get to a point of stress: “Ah, I’m having trouble balancing all these things!” When perhaps the answer isn’t to balance multiple things. It’s to cut away the unessential and to focus on that one core thing. Especially the thing that you want, but have been avoiding.
Far too often do people think they lack balance, when they actually lack focus and depth.
An exercise in un-balancing yourself
Whenever I catch myself trying to juggle too much, here’s the exercise that clears my head of B.S.:
- Account for all the things that you’re trying to balance in your life.
- Think about the ones that really matter to you. Consider the top 20% of activities that would affect 80% of your results or happiness.
- Ask yourself probing questions: Have you gone deep enough into any of the things you want to do? What does a world class effort look like? How have you been avoiding doing the thing you most want to do? Do you need help or assistance?
- Cut away and de-prioritize the less important things.
- Do the thing.
“Do one thing at a time” is one of those boring truisms I’ve learned for myself (the painful way) in life. But I there’s an exciting opportunity here that people don’t often talk about.
When you’re able to go deep and do one thing well, you get positive energy from accomplishing that thing. Life feels more in control, like progress is being made. Once sufficient action is made, that momentum can then be leveraged to develop depth in other areas.
Then perhaps you can go ride a bike while juggling persimmons, or something.
Don’t lose your marbles
Imagine three marbles, neatly lined up on a flat wood block.
Given any movement, the marbles will fall out of balance. It’s likely they’ll roll off the wood block. At a minimum, the marbles probably won’t be in a nice straight line anymore.
Now imagine that you’re able to carve in grooves into the wood block. This takes some time, but you create space for each of the wood blocks, one by one.
Given some movement, the marbles now have a better chance of staying put.
The marbles represent goals, the wood block is focus, and the grooves are the depth of that focus.
The more marbles you have, the more likely that they can be changed by even a slight breeze.
Without depth, goals fall off the wayside easily. Any slight external force – life changes, other priorities – can quickly make that goal forgotten. That’s why people often struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re trying to balance everything in life, then you probably haven’t gone deep enough in any of the things you’re trying to balance.
But there is hope. But focusing on one goal at a time, we can literally get into the groove of making the changes we want in our lives.
The part about this not being a silver bullet
It’s easy for me to say this as I am unmarried without kids, and live a relatively stable life. #entitled
This is no band-aid. Life throws curveballs. At some point parents will find themselves trying to balance non-negotiables like time with kids and their careers. And there’s no silver bullet for that.
It does take giving up something. Some people might have to give up their ego and asking for help. For others, it might mean giving up money to pay for assistance.
But if you’re trying to balance too many things, for too long, and it hasn’t been working for you…the answer might be simple.
Give up low priority goals, choose depth, and tackle life one goal at a time.
Also published on Medium.