The 7 Enemies of a Balanced Life (and why it’s worth fighting back)
(Preface: this is a long article but it could just save you years of life struggle.)
Wake up. Yawn. Stare at the palms already swaying obediently in 15mph trade winds. Grab phone. Scroll, scroll. Whoa… he’s bike touring in Iceland. She’s heli-skiing in Alaska. They just dropped their documentary about surfing the Chilean backcountry on horseback! What the hell am I doing here at home, about to make my morning coffee for the 186th day in a row?
Jump in the van. Scroll, scroll. Searching for a podcast for my drive… to Costco. I surf too much so I eat too much. 48 eggs every two weeks. Click play on “Green Light,” an episode of my favorite podcast, Dirtbag Diaries. The narrator’s soft voice starts…
“I don’t believe in Balance. I think it’s the modern version of snake oil, pushed by magazine covers and sponsored blog posts on Facebook, dragging you in with promises of life hacks and great solutions. Balance is the mythical remedy for the fast-paced, ever-shifting footing of the modern world. Not a single successful person I know… they wouldn’t say they’re balanced. They merely embrace every aspect of their life, commit to it all, and ride it out by sleeping less and living more. By doing that they find a state that from the outside might look like a measure life, but internally feels like Chaos. And they accept that.”
Really? All my down-time activities (except reading) are making feel super behind. Everything is a pissing contest (look at me!). Everything is chaos, or else failure. I don’t want to be a failure, so I need to accept chaos. For what? So I can show off my next feat on Instagram to get enough likes so the algorithm doesn’t punish me. #AllTheFeels.
Seriously, people, when is enough, enough?
I’m 34, and I’m starting to believe we’re leaders of the Generation of Discontents. From middle-schoolers to middle-aged moms, anxiety is high, rents are high, income inequality is high, social media usage is high, pill and alcohol use is high, FOMO is at its highest. Boiled down: discontent is off the charts. And we’re doing it to ourselves.
Remember: not a single successful person would say they’re balanced. I’m calling BS. I still believe in balance, now more than ever. Balance is possible and it is necessary. Necessary for our species to regain its sanity.
What is Balance?
Balance is a noun: an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady, stability of one’s mind or feelings.
That’s snake oil? A fake remedy? Balance sounds a lot like a human need.
Let me be clear. I am just like the Dirtbag Diaries’ narrator. I am a maniac. I’m restless – I always need to be working on something and planning something big. I love the extremes of life. Which makes balance an even more important objective for me. It’s impossible to achieve 100% balance, however I need it more than chaos, or I’ll come crashing down. And you probably will too. We all know the feeling – anxious, tired, spun out, completely ineffective in life, work, and relationships. That’s when chaos is dragging you by the hand.
Balance, the Simple Way
If you want to live a balanced life, you just have to make it a top priority. What?!? That can’t be the answer! Oh but it is. It will work some days and won’t others. The simplest things are often the hardest things.
Everything around us is working against balance, so finding it means committing again and again to something we don’t do very well – listening. Listening hard to your mind and your body. Knowing when to hit the gas and when to pump the brakes. You were born with this instinct.
When is Enough, Enough? Some Examples
When you’re making your 3rd cup of coffee at 3:30PM to make it through the rest of your day, balance is saying you won’t sleep well tonight. While chaos is egging you on… yeah, do it, get the rush, crush that project, who cares about tomorrow?
When you’re starting the 3rd episode of that new show at 11:30PM, balance is the one whispering oooff, tomorrow is going to feel a little foggy. And chaos says yeah, do it… more drama! Get it now! God, Matthew McConaughey is brilliant.
When you’re on a regular-ish schedule, sleeping enough, waking up early, putting in solid (but not exhausting) work, play, and time with your friends and family… and you still feel ready to do it again tomorrow, balance is patting you on the back, now that’s the feeling. And chaos is taunting you – wow, you’re so boring.
Balance is kinda boring. But only at first. We’re so used to running on chaos, which gives us a few big highs that allow us to forget a lot of lows. We’re not used to balance and its enduring high. It’s not an EPIC high, but it’s a good, sustainable high.
Finding balance (slowing down) is significantly harder than finding chaos (ramping up). Chaos is choosing to be constantly busy, the easiest way through modern life. Balance is slowing down, and addressing things you’d rather not to deal with (see 7 things below). That’s why balance is so hard, and why people say it’s fake.
The 7 Enemies of a Balanced Life
These are the big things (there are definitely more) that you’ll have to master balance. Remember, no person is free who is not a master of himself (Epictetus).
1. Lack of Clarity of Life Purpose
You’re at a party, meeting new people, and here comes the question – so what do you do? I hate this question, because it hits squarely at what the hell is your purpose? And perhaps you have some value to mine? So American.
I’m still working on my purpose, and perhaps you are too. That’s OK. However, zoning in on purpose is important to balance; otherwise, it’s easy to get sucked into the chaos of chasing every shiny object – every person that could help you, every idea that could get you closer to something. What something? I don’t know, just something! Having a massive, unfocused to-do list produces a feeling of productivity and achievement. But, ultimately, it’s fake, and over time it’s draining. You should constantly be filtering your to-do list through your life vision.
The best way I’ve found to put some parameters around purpose is to ask yourself these questions. Don’t cheat.
- What am I most interested in? (What do I find myself most curious about, unable to put down in my free time?)
- What kind of lifestyle do I want (i.e. work somewhere 5 days/week and have my weekends, or start my own business and work every day)?
- How much money do I want to make?
Does #1 align with #2 and #3? If not right now, can it? Blending those answers should get you close to your purpose. If your life is a massive deviation from your answers, you have a problem to address. If you can’t answer these questions yet, figure out how to answer them. Talk to mentors, try new things, fail, learn. Otherwise your life is going to be an out-of-balance, energy draining circus.
2. Constant Comparison
Social media is ruining us. Mostly. You’re reading this article because of social media, so that’s good. But it’s mostly bad. And we’re out-of-control addicted. I’m a user too (must brand myself!) and thus conflicted (and a hypocrite) BUT I know my life was happier (and more balanced) when I couldn’t compare my day to everyone else’s. My day was just my day, and most were pretty good. Unless you’re suffering from depression, loss of a loved one, breakup, etc., most of our days are pretty damn good.
That is until you open your phone and start looking at everyone else’s Greatest Hits. It can feel crappy! It can make slow, upward progress (read: life) feel lame. I should be adventuring more, losing more weight, buying more stuff, putting my bikini further up my butt, etc. My life should be more EPIC.
Fighting the disease of modern comparison starts with awareness. Next time you find yourself comparing, notice it. Then look away from your phone (or person or object) and think of a few good things about yourself, your surroundings, or your last good meal. Anything.
3. Alcohol, Pills, Drugs
This is a tough one for me to discuss because I’ve never been addicted to any substance and will never understand the depth of hell that is. But, I know people who have been addicted, and I know people who have recovered, and those who have recovered talk about it like they got their life back.
Our generation’s drugs – alcohol, adderall, oxy, klonopin, etc. – are legalized (and promoted) by the system. We’ve accepted so much societal chaos (remember: successful people always accept it) that we believe we need these drugs to get through it. To keep us awake, to make us productive, to feel less-anxious… to numb the pain of the day and help us sleep. Uppers need downers, downers need uppers. Chaos. A big up, a big down. What about the steady high of balance? Is balance still in the house?
So many lives are being lost; so many nervous systems are being shot. If you are using too much of a substance you shouldn’t be, please consider checking into an inpatient or outpatient rehab clinic right now. I know this just got heavy, but this is your one and only life. Don’t lose it to a pharmaceutical or alcohol company padding its stock price with your addiction. Suits in high buildings shouldn’t be rewarded by your suffering.
4. Pace of Digital Life
We will never be robots. We have flesh and bone and brains that wear out and need adequate rest. Yet we expect ourselves to operate at a robotic pace now. Cheers, Silicon Valley! I viscerally feel my brain and body spinning out when I spend too much time on my devices. If I need to charge my phone during the day, that’s a sure sign I’ll feel spun out that night. Yet we’ve accepted (even embraced) this feeling. Always on, always in the know! At what price? We’ll know in a few decades (or sooner).
Collectively, we have to set boundaries with our digital lives and hold each other to it. For example: only checking Instagram twice per day, not feeling the need to text back immediately, letting an email hang for a day without a response. Reading instead of Netflix’ing before bed. Going on Airplane Mode for a few hours a day. I challenge you right now to make two digital rules for yourself and follow them. Then see how you feel after a week. Slow. It. Down. It’s a human revolution. And if you succeed, share your methods far and wide.
5. Lack of Gratitude
If you lack gratitude (n. the quality of being thankful), you’re always going to want something else, and thus be chained to the conveyor belt of chaos.
I’m a never satisfied person. This pushes me to create, but it must be actively managed by gratitude. Otherwise, well, I’m never satisfied, and that doesn’t feel very good. Whenever I’m feeling less than thankful, again, I identify all the things that are going right (you can always find one). And a calm feeling sets over me. Gratitude.
6. Lack of Connection to a Community
It’s been proven, connection to a community (small or large) is a savior for depression, anxiety, and addiction. Yet, it’s so easy to just be alone (with our own devices) these days. It’s shocking to read about what’s happening to young people, who never knew life before the internet.
All of us need a group, sport, club, cause, or something else to dig into. In this case, it can be online or offline, the important thing is that you feel a consistent connection to something larger than yourself.
7. Modern Nomadic Admiration
I’ve traveled all over, chasing the extremes. Cold, hard, dangerous places and people. Traveling and extremes make for a lot of “This post is performing better than 95% of your other posts. Promote it?” Thanks Facebook.
Our generation has an extreme admiration for nomadism. Every Insta-famous photographer seems to be on the road, racking up 50,000 likes per post.
Just Travel. It’s our mantra.
Don’t know what to do with your life? Travel. Don’t want to address your problems. Travel. I’m super guilty of it. My whole brand was built on traveling. But, ultimately, I know traveling to be a chaos activity. It gives you a super high, but then you need recovery. And you still need the answers to the questions you left home with.
Hell yeah, travel! But if you’re running from something, address it with your travels. Travel because there’s a personal calling or a journey you need to take, not because it’s popular on the internet. And every now and then, stay put (when you want to travel) just to see how it feels. I bet it’ll feel better than you imagine.
These are your seven (at least) enemies to finding balance in life. If you can imagine your place in them, you can change them, and you’ll have a much better chance of feeling content and balanced.
Make no mistake, great learnings can be found in periods of our lives that are out of balance, however, we should always aim to come back to ourselves.
So let me ask you: do you want to be a successful person living with chaos, or a successful person living with balance? Both options exist, and it’s up to you to make your choice. Don’t let them make it for you.
- Matt McDonald