Why is balance so hard to achieve?

We seek it, yet it often seems elusive: “balance.” A state of equilibrium. Like a law of thermodynamics, it is cancellation of one set of influences by equal opposing forces. Sorry, but life just ain’t like that (at least not very often).

This notion struck me because I have been struggling (until recently not all that effectively) to adapt. Circumstances are once again in “transition.” I experienced this when I left the military. Now, the march towards “retirement” has brought its own set of issues. When you leave the profession to which you have dedicated decades of your life, it creates holes. A loss of comradeship. A foregone sense of purpose. Stress on relationships. Each of them is a struggle; combined they can be overwhelming. We are thrown out of balance.

Yet, this is nothing new. In the sentiment of Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire; It was always burning since the world’s been turning…” We face such trials at every stage of life.

Our first experiences are externally driven (motive forces from the outside). As a kid, your view rarely matters. Parents – teachers – coaches dictate our actions. We may have influence around the periphery, but the fundamentals are in another’s hands. Happiness perhaps, but no balance.

We slowly gain “control” of our destiny (or so we think). The world can be a cruel mistress, and this feeling is often fleeting. We may not get our first choice (in jobs, college, or romance). There always seems to be someone more talented, smarter, or better looking. We get a break, then just as quickly it is lost (as is our sense of balance).

Even when we get to make the decisions, things may go awry. I had “two freshman years,” and almost changed a third time. I started in engineering, changed to economics, studied and taught national security policy, became a contractor, dabbled in politics, and am now working with entrepreneurs (along the way I have been a principal or founder of over 20 companies). Clearly a guy who can’t keep a steady job (or find balance).

I recently had a conversation with a friend about our children. They are reaching a point in their lives where things “mature” (dare I say they are reaching “middle age”). It is becoming apparent where their jobs are going (and whether that is where they want to go). Their relationships solidify (or sometimes don’t). Their next generation is entering the pipeline. Any one of these things can be challenging. Multiples, exponentially ratchet up the stress and compound the difficulty in deriving clarity (much less achieving balance).

Making a decision under duress when every step is like entering a fog bank can be downright debilitating. Execution is even more difficult. It is the uncertainty inherent in such situations that makes change so difficult to manage (and balance so elusive).

However, it is not just their own lives they have to deal with. They must look both forward and back. On the one hand their parents (us) are reaching the age where things get a bit uncertain. Once we reach our 60s, health, longevity and all too frequently finances can weigh on them. They have their own issues and must now potentially deal with ours.

Likewise, they begin to be absorbed in their own offspring. Parenting is not just a participatory sport; it can be a battle. As the number of kids increase, the more you likely you will have to move from “man-to-man” to “zone defense.” Diapers, day care, sports, school, saving for college (and their own retirement).

All the while, other opportunities or adversity roll one on top of another: new job, new location, new relationship, and/or a new generation. Wow…and I thought my life was complicated! It is (to me). Our lives are always complicated. While there may not be anything new in this, it is “new” to us.

The challenges of finding one’s way are continual, sinusoidal and sometimes brutal (no matter one’s age). Our lives seem almost bipolar at times. Everything is great; no, now it’s a catastrophe. Middle ground (balance) seems elusive.

I may have made this sound like a terrible place. I suppose it can be if one only focuses only on the “here and now.” So, what helps us cope with the onslaught of outside forces that define the temporal world? Faith. “Living as if the world you believe will come already exists today.” It helps us understand (and believe) that life has a way of working out (although perhaps not as we plan).

Unless by pure happenstance, I do not know any other way to find an equilibrium. And for at least a fleeting moment…my own life seems in balance.

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1 Response

  1. Beth Frazier says: