Balance – wtf is it

I’ve always hated this word.


Its always been something I haven’t quite been able to get a grasp of until now.

I know I’ve never really had it, at least not for any sustained period of time. It feels like its always been elusive.

I used to think there was some pre-determined, universally-defined concept of what a balanced lifestyle actually was. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

So what exactly IS it? As i’ve come to realize, I can’t define what a balanced life would look like to you, but I can suggest a couple things that might be components of what people tend to incorporate in their lives. In a discussion with my therapist, she noted that from her experience she considers there to be five aspects of life that one tries to keep in proportion. (There could obviously be more of less depending on what values you hold or how you like to live). In discussing this with her I realized prior to this I had very little concept of what I thought a well-rounded life even looked like in practice. Its clear to me that I frequently neglect several pieces of this “Fab Five” pie.

The Fab Five:

  1. Intellectual
  2. Social
  3. Physical
  4. Spiritual
  5. Creativity

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So, now to examine my erroneous preconceptions about “balance”. Naturally, my perfectionistic tendencies take over and I assume that true balance is when everything is equal and everything is equally perfect. Somewhere I thought there was a guide on how much time I needed to invest in different aspects of my life to be objectively “successful”. I realize now that the only guide I need to determine this is myself. After so long denying myself what I wanted in favour of things I thought I should do, its natural that it takes time and effort to get used to listening to myself again. Its time to re-evaluate what I truly need and want.

This is where the fab five comes in.

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Personally, I know have a high need for cognition and like to be intellectually challenged. So maybe this takes up a larger part of my Life Pie.

I also know I am a relatively introverted person. I dearly care about my friends and family but need to ensure that I have time for myself to decompress and recompose my thoughts. This piece of my pie might be smaller than someone who is more extroverted and may tend to get lonely for example.

As an athlete I grew up having physical activity play a central role in my life. Unfortunately, as someone also recovering from an eating disorder, I have a bit of a more complicated relationship with exercise. I value being able to move my body and truly enjoy being active and getting my heart rate up, but I also know that there’s a fine line between a healthy and unhealthy amount of movement for me. Some people may enjoy doing less physical activity, others might make a living off of it. I think as long as you’re happy there’s no right or wrong. I also think that the relative size of this piece of pie will change across many stages of life. Right now I’m trying to re-introduce light activity to my life: like going on walks, occasional light swimming, and maybe some restorative yoga.

I’ve never considered myself a very spiritual person, largely because I’m in no way traditionally religious. I would have drawn this piece of my pie incredibly small, if I ever recognized that I should include it. Interestingly however, my therapist pointed out that this aspect of your life has a broader meaning than I originally thought – and can be defined more in terms of fostering a feeling of “oneness” or connection. Things of value to me along these lines include experiencing nature and getting outside, as well as meditating, actively trying to be more present, and living in the moment.

In a similar way, I never thought I was “traditionally” creative. But I realize now, much like how I defined balance in one particular way, that creativity also can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. For me I love listening to good music. I like to cook and bake. I like to take photos and write and blog. Maybe you like to garden, watch movies, or sing, dance, or draw, or maybe you like finding clever ways to cut costs or organize the apartment. Maybe you like scrapbooking (I do!). Or writing thoughtful birthday cards to friends or coming up with novel solutions to tricky problems.

This makes a good segue to the thing I realized about this so-called balance thing.

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What I’ve realized:

  • It can be (and likely is) different for everyone

There’s no right or wrong! Just more socially-condoned “normal”s.

  • Your pie can (and will) change at different points of your life

I think it would be weird if it didn’t.

You just have to learn to listen to yourself.

  • Success and balance don’t have to be at odds.

Society would paint you a pretty, yet incredibly toxic picture, of what a “balanced life” looks like. Our culture puts people on pedestals for being the most successful and “doing everything”. Being a “go-getter”, a “doer”, “well-rounded”, and “everything-man” etc. etc. etc.

Cosmetic companies will tell you balance means putting more time in to your skin care routine.

The fitness industry will tell you that “working out X times a week” means you’re living your best life.

The economy doesn’t benefit off of people being satisfied with ourselves, where we are, or what we have. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Its no wonder people end up “baking their pies” based on external influence and end up feeling drained and unhappy. Yes, its hard to be at odds with what society seems to want you to do, but the discomfort of going against cultural expectations may be in part relieved by comfort you find in achieving your own sort of freedom and peace. At least I’m hoping so…

Maybe we just have to redefine “success”. I’m going to praise people for listening to themselves, for taking time to relax and recuperate. For setting boundaries. For refusing to “do it all”. Its admirable for people to say yes to rest and relaxation in a society that prioritizes running yourself in to the ground in pursuit of “success”.

  • Defining your balance requires reflecting on what your true values are.

For me, the “Fab Five” has been a good starting point to consider how I want to prioritize my life. Maybe you have a “Fab four” or even a “Special Six” or whatever dorky way you want to put it. Whatever, or however many it may be, I hope you find it. I hope you make the choice to prioritize yourself in all this.

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