What is balance?: a metaphor

Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a see-saw, trying to keep either end from hitting the ground.

There’s a huge range of places to stand.  Not just one.  You don’t have to be at some mythical unstable sweetspot where the seats are perfectly even.

It’s the same way with balance in life.  There’s a large continuum of places to stand, ways to be.  There’s not just one optimal sweet-spot.  There’s a lot of room for doing things differently and for trying things out.

17 Responses to “What is balance?: a metaphor”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    I know the idea of “balance” works for some people, but for reasons you point out and more, I dislike that metaphor a lot: http://miser-mom.blogspot.com/2012/04/surviving-busy-spell-my-unbalanced.html

    “For me, it sounds like this: two different, important things, that you need to keep as far away from each other as possible.”

    People could chose different places to stand, as you point out, or they could even bring the two end closer together so they don’t constantly have to adjust their stance!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s true! Though both people have to be really trustworthy or one of them can really get hurt when the other gets off suddenly.

      Oops misread, thought you were talking about two people not work/life.

      • Miser Mom Says:

        Yeah, although I wasn’t actually necessarily talking about different people at the end. How do you “balance” teaching and family life, for example? For me, I try to bring them together. My kids are all well-known fixtures on our small campus, and my students sometimes come to dinner or office hours at my home. I don’t keep school at one end of some board and my home life at some other end, and try to figure out where to stand between the two.

  2. CG Says:

    Grrr. This touched a nerve. From the university’s health and wellness program yesterday (after I reported on their quiz that I’m perfectly satisfied with my life and don’t have any major stressors (at the moment): “Even if you are satisfied with your life, there are ways to avoid an unbalanced life. Balancing your life leads to better health and higher life satisfaction.”
    So…even if I’m satisfied I should be concerned that I might not have a balanced life and therefore be unsatisfied? In case you’re wondering how to achieve balance, they have some helpful tips:

    Positive thinking is good for your physical and mental well-being.
    Set some priorities, and do what you can when you can.
    Find ways to continuously improve the quality of your relationships with family and with others.

    That second piece of advice is just priceless. Okay, gotta go continuously improve the quality of my relationships.

  3. crazy grad mama Says:

    I love the tags on this one.

  4. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I hate the idea of balance as a seesaw. It actually makes me feel like both things I want in balance have to be far away from each other, and out of reach in some way. Perhaps I take the metaphor too literally.

    My version of balance isn’t a seesaw, it’s a park or a merry go round. I hop on, get that thing done, get off. Do another thing that I need to do, rinse, repeat. I like being present for and invested in the thing that I’m focusing on, rather than constantly shifting around trying to find a way not to fall off and failing at the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Again, perhaps, with taking the metaphor too literally. But the point is that yeah, there are a lot of ways to achieve balance.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Or maybe we should just get rid of the whole idea of balance entirely. Like, who cares? Maybe it’s fine to have half the seesaw resting on the ground.

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

        Hm. This made me think – why do we care about the idea so much? Or why does it seem to be important? My idea of success and happiness is more about getting things done, whether it’s work or home or food, getting enough rest to survive, and enjoying the time we’re spending alive. I don’t typically apply percentages to that.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I blame the maternal guilt industry.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    My notion of balance comes straight from its physical meaning in the context of dancing (or, to a lesser extent, yoga). It’s about being sufficiently centered to change direction quickly, or to absorb unexpected forces, without falling over and without dragging anyone else out of position.

    I’ve certainly used “balance” in other contexts, like work-life balance, or a balanced diet, but the truth is I think it’s inaccurate and potentially frustrating. Because it implies the see-saw. Put another way, it implies that you can put all the bits of your life on the outer rim of a plate that rests on a center point, and you have to distribute them in such a perfect way that the plate doesn’t tip and let things slide off.

    It’s impossible; the different bits of a life (or of a nutritionally-sound diet, for that matter) don’t all “weigh” the same, and they don’t all occur in the same quantities. Even as a metaphor, it doesn’t really work.

    • Anu Says:

      Part of my frustration with the notion of a “balanced” diet is that there isn’t such a thing that makes sense for every single person. My ideal diet includes a lot less starch and sugar than my husband’s – so maybe you think it’s unbalanced, but really our notions of what is balanced and unbalanced are pretty recent, historically speaking. Plus I don’t like this idea that we have to balance every single meal.

  6. ProdigalAcademic Says:

    The useful thing about the balance metaphor is that it is common enough that people understand you are talking about ways to divide up some limited resource (usually time). Of course, one person’s idea of a happy time allocation between various life requirements and desires (job/home/family/hobbies/personal growth) will never be the same as another’s, but that doesn’t make the shorthand useless, as long as the metaphor isn’t taken too literally.

  7. First Gen American Says:

    I see my life more like the plate spinning acrobat person. You’re just constantly running to the wobbliest plate to keep it from crashing down. When they are all spinning, it looks magnificent and people often marvel: “How do you do everything you do?” but once in a while, a plate does fall and crash and it can get a little ugly and the cleanup is a mess.

  8. Cloud Says:

    I’ve been playing (in my head) of having the idea of harmony among the various aspects of my life, instead of balance. When all the pieces are “in tune” the result is beautiful. Like a conductor leading an orchestra, when one part is out of whack, I pay more attention to it until it is back in tune. Also, it is natural for some parts to be the lead melody for awhile, then be more in the background while another part leads.

    But I don’t know. I also sometimes think we expect life to be more harmonious than is reasonable. Stuff happens. You just improvise and try to get back to a place that you’re OK with. So maybe jazz is a better metaphor than a symphony!

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