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The Myth of Balance and What to Aim for Instead

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In the personal growth industry the word “balance” is thrown around a lot.

I get what it’s supposed to mean – not putting all of our time and attention on work or other obligations so that we can also attend to our families, health, relationships, communities, and the planet.

But here’s what I think of when I think of balance: stagnation.

It’s true. To me, the word feels boring.

A balanced life to me is a life where everything is equal. And everything being equal feels like nothing is moving.

Hence, stagnation.

When I think of balance I see the scales where the idea is to get things of the same weight on both sides so that one is not higher than the other.

But that’s not how life works.

Some days my work gets more attention than my kid. Some days my husband gets more attention than my health.

Some days my kid gets all the attention, and I don’t shower and I eat mostly potato chips.

Some days my friend calls in a crisis, and the things I thought were going to get my attention don’t get it.

Some days I chuck it all and lay around and nothing but rest gets my attention.

Depending on the season we’re in, be it parenting tiny ones, launching a business, sending kids out of the nest, scaling our venture to set it free one day, or scrapping it all and starting over, life will look very different.

There’s nothing balanced about it. But it is, indeed, beautiful.

Life is not static. We are not meant to give the same weight to everything in our lives every day.

Every day is not meant to be the same. As the moon waxes and wanes and the tides ebb and flow, we are different every day. And thus, our lives are different every day.

Aiming for balance assumes that there will be a day in the future where everything in your life will get the exact same amount of your time and energy and it will all be even and still and equal.

Sorry, honey. Ain’t gonna happen.

The pursuit of a balanced life leaves us feeling like we’re failing because it’s the pursuit of the impossible. twitter-logo

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And I don’t even think it sounds desirable.

Instead, I want a dynamic life. I want a life that flows. I want to feel excited about my choices to spend more time and energy on one thing one day and more time and energy on another thing another day. And maybe no time and energy on housework and gardening any day.

Balance is a sister of Perfection. And these two ladies, you gotta watch out for them. They’ll act like they’re really there for you and you’ll get all aspirational and excited. Then they’ll always walk a few steps ahead of you, never letting you catch up. Always leaving you feeling left out and behind.

So, ditch them. Who needs ‘em. Your real friends, Mess and Truth and Vulnerability, have always been right there with you. They don’t care if your house is a disaster when they come over. They just want to know what’s really going on, what really matters to you, and how you really are. Like, really.

So, wanna let go of the whole balance thing with me? Let’s live full out instead! Getting everything in our lives to be equal isn’t what we actually wanted anyway.

We want to live. We want to feel. We want our hearts to expand and our minds to be elevated and our bodies to feel ecstasy. We want our kids to be happy and our homes to be warm and our loved ones to know that we love them. And we want to do work that matters and do our part to leave the world better than we found it.

But we don’t want the same amount of each of these things each day. Because there’s no movement there.

We want to live and move and for our lives to breathe.

Let go of even and welcome movement. Let go of balance and embrace beauty.

Want to hear what five of the most amazing women I know who are growing businesses and families at the same time have to say about balance and thriving?

You’re invited to:

The Myth of Balance: How to Thrive as an Entrepreneurial, Change-Making Mother

An intimate, revealing conversation with Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Danielle LaPorte, Meggan Watterson, Sarah Jenks, and Liz Long, hosted by me!

This conversation with change-making, thought-leading, entrepreneurial mothers will open your eyes and heart to a whole new way of approaching motherhood and business that is radical, restorative, and really needed in this time.

This live, online video event will take place Tuesday, February 7th, from 3-5pm ET (plus it will be recorded if you can’t join us live). 

Register here.

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OVER TO YOU:

How do you feel about balance? What do you think of when you hear the word? What are you aiming for in life? I’d like to hear about in the comments below!

  • Yvonne says:

    My favourite blog yet! I love the bit about perfection and balance being one step ahead and also mess and truth and vulnerability being real friends. I spent years trying to ‘get it right’ and now at the age of 60 I’m all about responding to the demands and joys of each day as they come. I love your soft touch and honesty on your blog.

  • Vanessa says:

    Balance is a word, and words mean different things to different people. When I hear the word balance, I think of nature — a divine dance between all living things. Too much of one sends another off kilter. I don’t see balance as something to strive for on a daily basis, but as a measure — a tool — that helps us keep our bodies and minds in alignment with Source over time.

    When my daughter began eating “real” food, my goal for her was to enjoy a balanced diet. Rather than squeeze every food group into her body each day, I’d zoom out and make sure she got everything she needed over the course of a week. Maybe on Monday, bananas ruled her day; but on Tuesday she indulged in meatballs and spinach, Wednesday she tried red peppers and pasta, and so forth.

    As an entrepreneur, I live by that same philosophy. Some days are for inventing, some days are for connecting, some days are for bookkeeping, some days are for teaching, some days are for learning, some days are for planning, some days are for wondering, some days are for writing, some days are for marketing, some days are for dancing, some days are for screaming, some days are for hiding. Put them all together and I end up with something — in the long term — that feels far from perfection, but a whole lot like balance.

    xoV

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I like it! Taking a macro view of our lives helps so much so that we don’t feeling like we’re failing on the macro!

  • Madeleine Childers says:

    This was absolutely the most liberating thing to read! Thank You for putting truth to what all of us momma and entrepreneurs really feel.

  • Nicole Rodriguez says:

    As an artist and a Libra, I feel the term “balance”, as it applies to our lives, has become demonized because too many of us have a narrow view of what balance is. It isn’t about becoming static or applying identical traits and equal energy to all parts of our lives. Balance is not a destination, it’s an ever-changing state of being. It’s give and take, ebb and flow, movement and stillness. Balance is integrating the various aspects of our lives and appreciating how those pieces all influence and inform one another. Informal balance often makes for the most beautiful compositions in art because there are areas of stillness to pause from the areas of movement, little bits of complementary color to keep an entire field of color from overwhelming a piece, or contrasts in shapes and textures that become more interesting when used together. I think of mobiles hanging in the air and how the ALL of those pieces matter, in their different shapes and arrangements and locations. What you add to one area, you must counterbalance in another area, although not necessarily in an identical manner. A large piece close to the center can be balanced by a smaller piece placed farther out. Sometimes that large piece is work, other times it’s your family, friends, downtime for yourself, etc. And each piece, big or small, has its place and is necessary to maintain the beauty and balance of a life that exists in this space and time.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      So beautifully said Nicole! Thank you for bringing your Libra-ness to the conversation and for articulating another view of balance so perfectly!

  • I LOVE the easy, smooth way you write on the concept of balance <3 I really enjoyed the space and breath you gave to acceptance…you know the kind that doesn't imply tolerating pain but allows BEING in the here and now, in all of it's messy brilliance…I have become quite the fan of the word messy, it gives so much permission doesn't it?!?

    I recently tackled breaking down how I thought of balance and here's what I have come up with…

    It’s the world's most well-known secret and, to most, the concept seems as elusive as a unicorn…balance. Most wonder: What is it? How does one obtain it? And is it even real? Yes, I believe it does…just not in the way it's often thrown around…

    First, to break this babe apart, to understand it in bite size pieces.

    Ok so here’s the first vase to smash into bits to start forming a real sturdy base. Balance is NOT a consistent state of uninterrupted bliss & if it is, I’ve got it all wrong & I’d love for anyone to teach me how the hell to find that shit!

    As far as I can tell, balance is just what its definition says, “A means of judging or deciding…the ability to retain one's balance.”* (site https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/balance) It’s not about finding it and not breathing due to a fear of losing it; it’s about losing it & then finding it over & over again.

    So what the hell does that look like in real, messy reality? It means eating a gluttonous meal, occasionally skipping a day or week of exercise, and finding yourself slipping back into that self/other (because they go hand-in-hand) critical groove. Balance isn’t turning on yourself & saying “I suck,” or “I can’t seem to stay on track,” or even “I’m a failure.”

    Rocking your authentic balance sounds like: “I’ve really been splurging lately.” and “now it’s time to get back on track my Dear,” because “My baseline is healthy, that was just a detour from my norm.”

    I know balance can sounds like a lot of work but, you know, I found that sitting on the sofa, watching TV, and shaming the shit out of myself, felt a heck of a lot worse. So if you’re ready to kick the shame habit I get back on that frickin’ unicorn!

    Finding an authentic balance has been one of the most continuously challenging & rewarding (& when I say rewarding I really mean, I’d lose my shit without it) skills. One reasons why it can sound easier to chew and swallow glass, than find and maintain balance, is that it requires boatloads of self-development. In the form of self/other compassion, trust, respect, & vulnerability. All of which, I have found to be, respectively challenging to rock on their own!

    But the climb can be just as magnificent as the peaks, better when I let them. So thank you for sharing your ideas on balance, they help us all know we are not alone in this.

    @peace&inlove
    Heather CHoye

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I love your expansion on this topic. I agree – it’s like how an airplane or boat are never steered precisely on course – they are constantly Course-correcting to stay heading generally in the right direction.

      • mary bingham says:

        You got it Darlin’ ! Balance is a gyroscope. Some days rest and mundane chores, the next exciting new ideas and baby steps, it’s the all together big picture because our minds can go much faster then our bodies do. I think this ties into what happened with your improved business results while you were ‘just’ busy with life. I also think ballance includes excluding those who would exploit, pollute,and with hold the means of a decent livelihood. I think this is where personal values and The Law of Atraction meet. You could also call it The Law of Right Place. Some people will never be able to express their authentic values around those who want no part of those ‘values’. We may all live on the same planet but we are not created equal. Personally, I like simplicity and freedom. Other prefer a guilded cage.

      • Yes, as Marianne Williamson put it “Much like a GPS, love re-calibrates itself if you’ve made a wrong turn.”

        In this case, the GPS is the soul and the recalibration is to balance or as you have put it, “let go of balance and embrace beauty.”

        Thanks for all the insights!
        xo
        H

  • I love it! Thank you Kate. I suck at balance. I am chucking that guilt out the freaking window!

  • Miriam Breuer says:

    Wow. This is so great to read. Y’know… Sometimes you don’t realize what the problem is until someone says something and it just all makes total sense… I always strive for balance… and now that you are pointing it out, that is really not something to strive for at all! Instead, embracing life in its real and raw entirety, with all the ups and downs and choices of life, as normal and okay and good and expected is really the way to go! When we expect life to run perfectly smoothly and of course, it will not be so, we will be left sorely disappointed! Expecting life to be new and different each day can give us the space to follow the momentum of the day! Thanks for the permission to live fully!

  • Dan Watts says:

    I just wanted to say that it might be a good idea to keep veggie or sweet potato chips laying around for those exhausted days, because they offer a slightly healthier alternative than plain old potato chips.

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