A little over a month ago, I read a brief but very interesting post on Maria Shriver’s blog. Check it out before reading the rest of this; doesn’t take much time at all, really!
I’ve spent the past month absorbing the words in that post, and reflecting on the “balanced life” versus “integrated life” concept she refers to. I would agree that the term has become something of a cliche. More appropriate for an HR newsletter than practical application. And very difficult for any single person to achieve. You need a village around you to do it, more often than not.
While there may be a million different definitions for it, everyone is driven to find a balance – that sense of feeling on top of enough things that the sun may set and rise the next day with you feeling all the more prepared to tackle it. The word “balance” itself is limiting, as Maria points out. It is achieved, meaning that you find the point where all the parts of your life you tend to have received the care and attention they need and there’s still enough of you left at the end of the day to perhaps enjoy a little quiet conversation with a good friend over a glass of wine. Balance can also be lost, though. In ways small and hugely spectacular. Finding a balance is almost a setup for failure, because there are points where you have to lose your balance. Where you give much more of yourself to one part of you life because that is the part of life that needs it most. And if another part of your life suddenly needs just as much time and effort, you’re pretty much screwed.
I didn’t grow up with any pretentions to the idea of “having it all.” I always figured I would have whatever I could handle at the time. And there have been plenty of moments where I have to remind myself that God would not give me more than I could handle. It was simply a matter of determining the way in which I could handle it. Part of the problem is that I have a type-A personality. I like knowing that there’s a place for everything and everything is in its’ place. So learning to let go and go with the flow has been a painful lesson for me over the past5 – no, more like 15 – years.
I haven’t figured it out yet. I get conflicting feedback, which doesn’t help. There are some days in life where I’m called too rigid, inflexible. But that ridigidy, and lack of flexibility is what enables me to accomplish what is expected of me that day. There are some days in life where I respond only to the moment and let the day direct me rather than try and direct the day. Only to hear the question asked at least once during the day, “were you ever going to [insert task or action item here]?” The answer could be as simple as my own poor choice of how to embrace that particular day. But I’d feel awfully depressed about my own life instincts if that were true.
There’s something about the word “integrated.” It appeals to me because there is nothing finite about it. Integration is open, accommodating of what’s passing by. And I think a truer reflection of living a life than balance ever could be. While it is no less of a challenge to accomplish, I think, it is easier to recognize. And easier to do.