Why I’m Reassessing the Balance of Life
Seeking simplicity, balance and inner peace over relentless growth and improvement
If I were to describe my approach to life over the last few years in a single word, it’d be intense.
Driven sounds too self-important — like trying to portray a self-congratulatory image of myself as a high flyer. The same goes for focused, purposeful or even motivated.
Describing it as intense is the best way I can find of capturing the feeling of doing anything and everything I could to try and achieve my goals for personal growth and development.
For years now, I’ve been doing everything I thought I needed to do to bring about the results that I felt compelled to strive for. Doing what I thought I should be doing instead of what I wanted to be doing (or even allowing myself to contemplate what I wanted to be doing).
I now feel like I’ve been trying too hard. Taking it too seriously. Missing the point.
Intense seems an apt descriptor. It encapsulates how I’ve tried (and often failed) to do everything possible to bring about certain outcomes in my life, without ever letting the pressure release.
I’ve never wanted to feel like I was half-assing anything. Consequently I’ve driven myself to achieve and maintain impossible standards. Often things have fallen apart catastrophically when I encountered the inevitable obstacles and disappointments that life serves up.
I’ve been so fixated on achieving perfect that in many aspects of life I’ve overlooked good-enough.
In my work I’ve underestimated and undervalued my accomplishments choosing to downplay my contribution and value to the business. I’ve taken job-security and favourable working conditions for granted.
I’ve focused instead on feeling frustrated that my side-projects haven’t been successful enough to release me from my day job. I’ve allowed so much enjoyment I could have taken from my work to be diminished by the petty frustrations of daily life.
Ruining a hobby
I’ve endangered the enjoyment I take from writing by trying to turn it into a business. Too often I’ve fixated on nailing the killer title and unlocking the formula for creating viral posts rather than writing with genuine enthusiasm and wholehearted creativity. I’ve lost sight of the fact that I started writing as a creative outlet and a source of enjoyment and have instead turned it into a chore, a second job that in recent times I’ve resented.
I’ve become fixated on stats, growing income and following, often writing on subjects about which I was dispassionate in hopes of achieving the desired numbers of reads. In my writing I’ve espoused philosophies, given advice and offered strategies for life which I believe in whole-heartedly but have often struggled to employ consistently in my own life, resulting in imposter syndrome.
I’ve held myself to impossible standards of productivity and tied my future success to unreasonable goals that were beyond my reach or influence.
Holding impossible standards and expectations
In my diet, exercise and fitness I’ve zigged and zagged between discipline and abandon. When I’ve committed to a regime it wasn’t good enough to take a moderate approach or be satisfied with maintaining a baseline of fitness and a modest diet. Instead I’ve been fanatically driven, working out daily, pushing myself to new limits and often beyond the point of injury. Then I’ve lost interest, burnt out and crashed, ending up in worse shape than when I started.
Moderation has been illusive. A foreign concept equated with weakness and akin to leaving potential on the table.
Putting life on hold
The retort to ‘get a life’ is often used in argument but in many ways I haven’t had a life for years. That’s not meant to sound martyr-like — it’s a simple fact that I believe many around me would attest to.
I don’t allow myself much in the way of leisure time.
Until very recently I’d watch little to no TV. My daughter recently remarked that she was pleased to see me taking the time to watch a Netflix boxset of my own choosing — should that be a remarkable event?
I’ve felt guilty for listening to music if there were a worthy book or podcast I could listen to instead. I’ve felt obligated to finish a book that I’d started, terrified to abandon it in case I missed out on some gem of wisdom.
I’ve spent little money on myself feeling guilty if it would be better deployed towards my family or in support of my goals.
Ironically I’ve been so focused on doing what I thought I needed to do to best serve my family, to be successful enough that I neglected to ensure that I was happy in myself and in what I was doing — I ignored that this is a big part of meeting their needs too.
A case for change
None of this is said to prompt sympathy or pity — certainly not praise for trying to do the right thing, even if my intentions were good.
It is what it is.
This is a confessional of the ways that I had got it wrong. It’s an acknowledgment of the many things that I want to change. Things that I need to change.
I’m sure that many (like me) have been prompted to examine their lives in 2020 — to evaluate what’s working for them and what isn’t, in the harsh light of a radically changing world. The recent premature death of my father-in-law has been a further catalyst for change and evaluation of priorities. It’s in trying to navigate the mental-funk brought on by the recent past that I’ve concluded that I need an urgent and potentially radical course correction.
I need to find a better balance. Moderation in all things.
I need to take action for the right reasons and not feel guilty about cutting myself some slack when I want to. Knowing that my heart is in the right place, I need to abandon goals that I have set merely because they seem worthy. Doing what I think I should, or what I think others expect of me has been proven not to serve anyone.
When I write it should be as a means of expressing myself creatively and as a positive and life-enriching activity, not a chore or a trial. Any money that I make from it has to be seen as a bonus — it cannot be the reason for doing it in the first place. I can no longer sour the experience for myself out of misguided attachment to hopes of success and riches.
I will no longer spend time trying to write what I think will be worthy or viral articles if I don’t have a genuine interest in the subject matter or a relevant story or experience of my own to share. No more evangelising about what others should be doing if I’ve not managed to do them consistently for myself.
I’ll stop scouring my life and my memories for teachable moments to share — at least I won’t share them if I haven’t truly learnt the lessons myself.
In my health and fitness I remain focused on doing the right things to preserve my health and live as active a life as possible. I need to give myself a pat on the back when I make a good choice or take positive action rather than berating or punishing myself when I don’t. I need to cease aspiring to unrealistic fitness goals that set me up for failure or bring forth the risk of injury, fatigue or disappointment.
Making more positive choices than negative ones is good enough, and will hopefully pave a road to consistency in my health and wellbeing.
I’ve long recognised conceptually the merits of traits such as resilience, gratitude, taking action, building momentum and treating others with empathy. Aspiring to practice these in my life isn’t a futile intention, but faltering in the execution doesn’t need to trigger outright failure or feelings of guilt. My inner response to faltering may not be so fatalistic if I’ve spent less time eulogising about such practices to others.
Forgive me that this piece is so self-centered. I guess that if you’ve made it this far as a reader then perhaps there’s something in my experiences thus far that echo with your own.
If that’s the case then maybe you too are ready to alter your approach to life a little — to recalibrate, to alter the focus of your efforts onto a more measured set of actions that are more likely to bring happiness to your life rather than further means of beating yourself up.
That’s certainly my hope as far as my life goes.
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