I am always hearing complaints from my high achieving friends about their struggles with balancing their lives. Trying to juggle home, work, friends, achievement, personal downtime, etc. can definitely take its toll and make you feel pulled in all sorts of directions.
It doesn't have to be this way. The very concept of achieving balance is a big part of the problem. The idea of balance means that all of our activities must get equivalent time and attention to be perfect. Life is just not that way and you really don't want it to be. You want to do the things that give you the most gratification and reward and you want to stop doing the things that drain you and make you feel bad. Balancing these will force you to give equal time to all activity regardless of reason. In his book, Built to Last, Jim Collins addresses this problem with his concept of the "Tyranny of the OR" as in I can have this or that.
I prefer to live my life with "The Genius of the AND." I like to figure out how to always have at least some of this and that. My approach is not balance, but integration. I look at each opportunity and then figure out how to integrate it into all the desirable aspects of my life. Below are the guidelines in my process. They require some thought and discipline, but hopefully they'll work for you as well.
1. Decide What Really Matters to You
So many people try to serve the needs of those around them without considering their own minimal needs. Soon they find themselves drained and exhausted. In the big picture, you can give more from being strong and happy then you can from being weak and bitter. Make a list of the activities that give you energy and strength. Make these a priority in your life. It doesn't matter that others may expect you to put money, family, or service high on your importance scale. You have to be true to your own priorities. Once you reach basic contentment you will have more to give and share with those around you. Sure some may consider you selfish, but better to receive their scorn and be happy, than receive their pity and be miserable.
2. Edit, Don't Sacrifice
Often people over indulge in activity that sounds good at first but is truly more than needed. Think before you commit. Your time is limited and you can't do everything. Once you identify the activities of importance, structure them so you are getting just enough to satisfy your needs. Schedule your time to fit the actual number of hours in a week. Take into consideration that you need elective hours and downtime. So if you need six hours of sleep and two hours of down time per day, that means you only have 98 hours per week. Adjust your career path and success choices to fit what is possible in that time frame with your other activities. By taking this proactive approach you won't feel you are giving up activities, because they never were actually an option.
3. Harness Your Creativity
I know some of you read No. 2 and wondered what happens when the numbers don't add up. That is where you have to be creative in your life. Find ways to integrate the social aspects of your life with work and family if those things are important. Combine activity and create new opportunities that will serve multiple needs rather than going with options that were created by others.
4. Take Full Personal Responsibility
There are few hard and fast rules in life. People suffer mostly from self-imposed limits and stigmas even though they are apt to blame it on family, spouses, bosses, etc. Certainly major change can bring pain and hardship, but it can also bring growth and freedom. Design your preferred future and set the plan to achieve it. Then most importantly, make your happiness the priority and take action. You are the only one who can ultimately create satisfaction or dissatisfaction in your life.
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