I would love to say that this week things have felt less rushed, but if anything I think I may feel a bit more stretched than ever. I am still quite busy with work-related things and I’ve compounded that by not managing to take as much time as I’d like for ‘me’ activities like exercise and creative pursuits. As a result, somewhat inevitably, I’ve been unwell (with a 2 day migraine and a neck injury) which has left me feeling tired and frustrated. But I also know the signs well enough to know that I need to take note and be careful.
And so it seems fitting that as today is the vernal equinox my post is about balance. Today is a special day for me and noticing it, marking it, is important. Today winter ends and spring begins. The day and night are balanced in this moment. And from here, for the next 3 months, the days begin to edge out over the night time and light returns to our lives. For someone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder the shift from dark to light has a massive effect. I’m not sure if that’s purely psychological – it definitely helps to know, as a fact, that the days are getting longer – but I know I feel different mentally and physically this week.
I have been getting itchy feet to spring clean and to have a big clear out. The dust bunnies under my wardrobe have suddenly become very visible and that weird sticky patch in my baking cupboard in the kitchen can’t be ignored anymore! I have started to gather objects that I no longer need or have reached the end of their lives and can’t be fixed. Clearing space helps me to clear my mind. I’m sure everyone feels this urge at this time of year. But what I’d like to focus on today is more than just having a bit of a tidy up to reassert some order. I’d like to talk about balance as a dynamic process rather than a sporadic lurch from side to side.
Getting the balance right in our lives is something we know is important. ‘Work/life balance’ is a modern mantra. But I’ve noticed that when I think of balance in these terms, it all gets a bit binary, as if work and life are opposing forces and they are always antagonistic. The visual image I get of ‘work/life balance’ is of a see-saw with work at one end and life at the other. When one takes over or gets out of balance the other is affected – work is rooted on the ground while life hangs, legs dangling, waiting to be let down. This metaphor is not useful because the whole point of a see-saw is the wild up and down motion. It’s not fun to be on a see-saw with someone who is perfectly balanced with us, we want the rush as we fly up or thud down. But we don’t want that in our lives.
I’ve found that my ‘work/life balance’ actually has 3 parts: work/life and creative practice. I’m sure many people would roll creative practice into either work or life depending on what their job is, but for me it’s a distinct element which crosses over into both but also demands its own space. And so, the see-saw metaphor can’t work here. Instead, when I think of trying to maintain balance between these 3 elements I’m reminded of a toy I had when I was younger: It was a bizarre looking thing, a large brightly coloured ball surrounded by a plastic disc, which made it look like the planet Saturn. The trick was to tilt it to one side, step on the disc, put your other foot on the other side of the ball sticking up out of the top, grip with your feet and bounce about. I think it was called a PogoBall or something like that. I loved mine. It was luminous pink and yellow. I had a lot of fun bouncing around on it (until the day we over-exerted ourselves and the ball popped out of the disc and we couldn’t get it back in. A sad day.) What I remember about that toy was that unlike a see-saw, the balance was the most important element. If you couldn’t stay upright and balanced there was no way you could bounce up and down on that thing. I’d practice standing on it, wobbling but not falling over, to see how long I could stay on it. And, this is how I see my work/life/creative practice balance: a self-adjusting, responsive act of balancing.
I don’t want to live a life where one aspect dominates. I don’t want to lurch from being exhausted by work and hardly living or being creative to the other extreme of needing to take time off work to re-adjust. I’d like to live in a way that all 3 elements are working together, and responding to each other. I’m not perfect, so there will always be times where one aspect takes over and the others are neglected, but the aim is not to get to that place, so often; it’s to notice when the balance is slightly off and do the things that help me return to a neutral state. When I took time at the beginning of the year to reflect and to plan for this year, as well as setting some broad goals I also set a theme or word for the year, and it was balance. I only just remembered that in the shower this morning, and I suppose that’s a symptom of how far out of balance I might be right now. So – with daylight on my side today, I’m intending to be mindful of how I can shift the focus away from work for a bit, and to reclaim some of the life/creative space I most need.
Do you need to regain some balance? Now is the perfect time! Here are some things you could be contemplating:
- What is the model of balance like for you? Is it the typical work/life or are there other elements that need to be acknowledged?
- How do you see this balance? What images or metaphors work for you? Is there something you can bring to mind to remind you of that when things get out of kilter?
- How are you doing right now? How balanced are things for you? Do you know which areas of your life are getting most of your attention and energy? Are you doing too much of something, and is this affecting other things?
- If you are feeling out of balance, what could you do today or within this week to help?
We’re not talking big things, but little acts that will just alleviate the mental see-saw for a bit. If you’re finding it hard to know what will help try asking yourself: what is causing me the most worry right now? Is it a work task I have been putting off (distracting myself with making or cleaning) or is there something creative I’ve been neglecting, or an opportunity to spend time with friends or family that I’ve been putting off? Doing this activity, with its associated worry, will automatically bring balance back. Sometimes even the small adjustments have a big effect, so don't despair if you feel you have lost your way a bit.