The Myth of Balance

Andrea Chilcote

This week, join Andrea, as she shares some perspective on the idea of “balance” and “what matters most” in life.

by Andrea Chilcote

Remember when we used to talk about balanced lives, especially work-life “balance?” Well, perhaps we still do, even though most would admit the idea of “balance” is really an ideal, even a myth. For me, a life well lived consists of constant prioritization of what matters in the moment.

I’m planning for a workshop I’ve led many times, though not so much in recent years. (Wondering why not, and why now?) It’s called “What Matters Most,” and its purpose is to identify and examine core values. At the same time, the week has consisted of talking to people who lead very full lives – yet still they say they seek “balance.”

The demands for our time and the need for our service are never-ending. We know the way to be in charge of our destiny is to declare what’s important, what matters most (what we value), and then prioritize. A simple concept, not easy in practice.

Personally, I seek to constantly prioritize the things that are most important, and this does not always produce “balance.” While I am certainly not perfect in my practice, I seek to invest my time in ways that feed my goals or my soul. It’s a moment-by-moment choice that builds a habit – a habit that gets tested when the big decisions come along.

Before you say yes or move forward on some task, request or chore, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it give you a sense of joy, fulfillment or accomplishment?
  • Do you feel satisfied that you left someone in a better place (without manipulation or control)?
  • Are you doing or giving out of pure love?
  • Is the value of your service greater than its cost?
  • Is this the highest and best contribution you can be making at this time?

If you answer “yes,” perhaps balance is irrelevant. If you answer “no,” your personal balance, that of giving and receiving or sowing and harvesting, may need consideration.

That’s a balance I seek to strike.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!


Take It Easy

by Andrea Chilcote

This week, I’m having an adverse reaction to things that are “hard,” and so I’m practicing ease. This encore post seems appropriate today. It appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

I’m struck by how many of my friends and colleagues have been touched by my resolve to not look back. We all know it’s an obviously sensible ambition to remain present and move forward moment by moment – there’s nothing that can change the past – but so many of you have said “It’s hard.”

“Hard” is a concept, a familiar state of being we’ve conditioned our minds to believe. Oh, I get it … in fact, a dear friend commented on one of my recent posts saying,  “See how easy it is …” and I immediately wanted to reply: “That was not at all easy! In fact getting to that realization was very hard!”

But I realized that “hard” can be a mental concept focused on the presumed future vs. the moment (“It will be difficult to remain present when my husband’s children visit.”) or it can be literally true (“This jar is hard to open.”)

What we need are tools for escaping from the mental concept of “hard” when it bears down, eclipsing the beauty of right now.

So how do we make being present “easy?” Many before me have written of and taught tools and techniques. I offer you mine in simple form.

Breathe. Attention to the breath brings attention to the body. When we focus on (or obsess on) what happened before, we are literally out of our physical bodies and in our mental bodies. Practical tool: When you feel fear, anxiety, or guilt – take a breath, then another. Notice it. The result? Your attention will re-focus on now, if even for a second.

Empathize. This one works if you can’t get clear on how you yourself are feeling in this very moment. How is a significant other experiencing it right now? Caution – it’s against the rules to consider what he or she thought or felt moments or days before. This is about now.

Focus. I know this may be the hardest one…oops! There’s that word again. But really, it is the most liberating thing we can do. Stop right now and focus – ask yourself, “What is true now?” and really pay attention. I’m betting it’s not as bad as your mind might have conjured up. If it’s not, enjoy the break. If it is, then you just got a dose of reality to use to take remedial action. Now.

Do what you can (not what you can’t). A friend reminded me of this piece of wisdom she learned in a workshop many years ago. I had told her that while I know that not looking back is a practice we all can manage, I do not know how to advise those who have suffered tragic losses. Who am I to suggest that they leave the past behind, if the past contained love and life that is literally not here today? What I realized is this. When one practices presence in small ways (staying focused amidst life’s small irritations, for example), the “big” things become easier because of habit, not because we worked on them specifically. We never lose the memories but we care for ourselves by experiencing them in the context of this very moment.

Think about the ways in which you work to stay present in your daily lives. What do you do when “showing up” here and now is essential? If you have a practice for times like that, it can work at all times.

Right now

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

It has been a good and busy week. For me, a being who prefers a somewhat unstructured though intense schedule, structure has been an important tool in the last few days. Some matter of discipline has been required to manage the diverse and numerous tasks, duties and commitments at hand.

All of this has me thinking (as usual), though even my thinking is limited by my attention to the task at hand. Hmmm. The task at hand is all there is, yes?

This morning I had breakfast with a group of friends; colleagues who were attending a workshop designed to help them prioritize what matters. Each had her own stories, none of them without many personal challenges. Prioritization is a simple concept of course, yet its one we often long to embrace while trying to do and be everything that is asked of us.

I went about my day after that meeting, vaguely reflecting back on the ideas the group shared, and feeling (for the most part) in balance. Then I met other friends for dinner. A story they shared brought the lesson to life.

Two relatively young colleagues close to them were recovering from near-death crises, both apparently brought on by work stress. They appeared to be relentless in attempting to do more than is possible or healthy, and were literally stopped in their tracks.

Suddenly, I realized how many people I work with day to day live on this edge, pushing body, mind and spirit to their very limits. The red line, if you will.

If you are operating on the red line, ask yourself one question now: Is this effort and energy directed at what matters now? If the answer is yes, keep moving (and sleep well). If you hesitate or answer “No,” stop. Reassess the task at hand. Ask yourself what’s important right now, and allow the answer to be your guide.