What does a “balanced” life look like?
I think we all — at least those of us in Western societies — have the same general picture of what life balance means. When I picture a perfectly balanced life, I picture someone who gets seven hours of sleep, cooks all their meals, works out, has a healthy relationship with their partner and/or friends, takes good care of their kids (or guiltlessly has none), excels at their day job, keeps up with the reading for their book club, volunteers, and spends a little time each day on their hobby. Maybe they play an instrument or build birdhouses or write books in their spare time.
Basically, I envision someone who does it all and doesn’t struggle (much). They make time for everything, they don’t complain, and when they feel overwhelmed, they always have some kind of support system to swoop in and relieve them of some of the pressure.
This is what we all want. But very few of us — if any — have figured out how to achieve it.
Maybe that’s because we’re doing it wrong,
I must confess, even I have yet to “master” this phenomenon they call work-life balance. There are days I feel as if I have it figured out, and plenty more weeks and months when I feel I’m failing miserably trying to juggle everything — my day job, this blog, my personal writing projects, freelancing, staying healthy, and of course, catering to the many endless needs of my dog.
When I talk about balance, I never intend to do it from the perspective of someone who has it figured out, because I don’t. I’m still learning right along with you. Actually, my theory is that no one has ever figured out how to achieve true balance in their lives, and anyone who claims they have is just saying words.
The truth is, “balance” looks like something different for everyone. Everyone is only capable of so much at once — never everything simultaneously. And while there are stretches of time everything will seem like it’s turning into the picture I described at the beginning of this post, that will almost never last, no matter how much you might want it to.
The reason there are days you feel on top of it all and days you don’t is because our lives are always shifting, our routines are always adjusting and our days are much more unpredictable than we’d like to think they are. Things are almost never going to go the way we plan. But as much as we can, we still need to have plans in place and stick to them whenever possible.
For writers, this does mean scheduling out your writing time. If you want to take your writing more seriously, it’s a good time to let go of the notion that writing should only happen when you’re feeling motivated and/or inspired to write. That paints a nice picture of the ideal writing life, but it’s far from realistic.
Writing must happen. You can’t wait until all your outside stressors are gone. You can’t wait until your mind is free of clutter and everything else is checked off your to-do list. You must sit down and do it as often and as consistently as you can, because if you don’t, it won’t happen. You’ll spend all your time worrying and feeling guilty about not writing when you could prevent this by — yes! — writing!
I know it’s hard. I, too, work full-time, have stuff to clean and people to please and energy that gets spent. I still get my writing done anyway. It doesn’t always happen — I’m human, there are things you can’t ignore in favor of sitting down to continue a good story.
But every day I plan on writing, I figure out when it is going to happen, where it is going to happen, and how much needs to get done. It doesn’t matter if I am tired, frustrated, or overwhelmed. At five or six or whatever time I have specified beforehand, nine times out of 10, I sit down and I do the writing.
Why does this work? Because I can plan ahead what needs to happen before and after my writing time. I need to make sure the dog is walked and fed. The dishes need to be in the dishwasher, most if not all of the small things on my to-do list need to be checked off. And because I’ve automatically created a deadline for myself, most of the time, these things are done before five or six because — in my mind — they have to be.
That is how I make my various attempts to balance everything. I make plans. I keep schedules, I write lists. If this isn’t your natural way of doing things, maybe that needs to change. I’m not saying writing can’t be fun or you’re not allowed to do it freely when it suits you, but if there isn’t some form of stability in your life, you’re going to spend all your years saying “I’ll do it tomorrow.” But you never will.
There is no such thing as a “perfect” life. Even a writer who sits at home and writes all day has a hard time managing everything. We are expected to be able to put on a smile and do all the things, but why? Because all of our family and friends have figured it out? Hardly. Everyone is struggling in their own way. There’s no point in trying to make it look like you can write books and bake cakes and run marathons and attend every single one of your kids’ soccer games and concerts without having the occasional bad day.
WE ALL STRUGGLE. We all want to find balance even though we’re not quite sure what that means. To me, it means doing the best you can, and spreading your responsibilities and commitments out by day. Maybe there’s only one night a week that’s ideal for writing. Well hey — that one night is better than none. To you, that is balance. You’re making time for one night of writing. Go you!
Stop trying to do it all, all the time. You can’t. Make writing a priority, make sure it happens, but don’t let yourself worry that other things are going to fall apart because of it. There are times you’re going to do a good job and times you aren’t. Guess what? That makes you human. Welcome to reality. You got this. We all do.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.