Out of Control (or why balance is overrated)

Out of ControlIf there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that balance is overrated.

Sometimes your life will be highly out of balance, and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes you will be particularly enamored (or obsessed) with one thing, and the rest of your life is thrown off its axis.

When you become hyper-focused, for a few months your career may be your primary focus (which can be the case if you’re working toward quitting your job and doing something you love for a living). You might go into a cave to work on a project to take your success to a new level and intentionally neglect the other areas of your life.

Maybe your relationships will be your primary focus for a period of life, as well as learning how to cultivate them more intimately and intelligently.

At another time, your attention might be concentrated on overhauling your diet and changing your fitness habits.

At different periods of my life, I’ve found it necessary to become highly unbalanced in order to find a greater equilibrium. At certain times I’ve focused mostly on self development, confidence and reclaiming ownership of my mind. There have been periods where I’ve intentionally neglected different areas of my life and worked on building my business so I could quit my job and work for myself. At the beginning of 2009, my main focus was on changing my relationship to food and moving toward eating more raw foods. Most recently, I’ve become more focused on the physical expression of self development: martial arts, gymnastics, trail-running.

From the outside, it would be very easy for someone to look at the way I live and conclude that I live a highly unbalanced life. They might even think that’s it out of control. And that’s perfectly fine with me. My aim is not to live a balanced life. My aim is to do what excites me, and follow the path that makes me come alive.

Unbalanced success

I’ve become highly unbalanced to accomplish much of the success I’ve had with this website and my business.

When I wrote Reclaim Your Dreams and The Zero Hour Workweek, that was the only thing I did. I didn’t work on building traffic, I didn’t try to write blog posts, tweak the design, or work on social media. I just wrote until I was done. It was highly unbalanced. And extremely effective.

When I created Paid to Exist, that’s all that I worked on.

When I decided to become a life coach, I completely immersed myself in learning everything I could to become a coach.

At any given point during these times, my life might have looked seriously unbalanced. I would call it something else… full engagement.

You could perpetually toe-dip and divide each endeavor into perfectly partitioned portions. That would be safe. That would probably feel pretty comfortable. And you’d have the approval of the majority of those around you.

But chances are, that wouldn’t be very exciting, and it most certainly won’t lead to greatness.

Being truly exceptional requires complete immersion. Becoming great demands that you give yourself to your practice fully.

I think that too much weight can be put on finding the perfect balance. If you’re highly balanced and highly bored, what’s the point? I would rather do what makes me fulfilled.

Perhaps this elusive balance doesn’t really exist. The greatest equilibrium might be found off-center.

So, maybe it makes more sense to do what makes you come alive, and leave it for others to decide whether you’re balanced or not.

photo courtesy of milesizz

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Darin Persinger December 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Niiice! Agree!

I call it counter-balancing. There is no such thing as a true balance. From back in my wakeboarding days I know that my body was constantly making slight adjustments to try to keep me centered, but I was off-balance majority of the time.

Some people can stay off balance longer then others, so everyone has to find those limits them self.

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Karl Staib - Work Happy Now December 30, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Balance is a great concept, but everybody’s balance is different, so really there is no perfect balance point.

I like what you said, “So, maybe it makes more sense to do what makes you come alive, and leave it for others to decide whether you’re balanced or not.” Great last line.

I like to think of it as harmony. When we are in harmony with ourselves then at times we go to far to take our skills to the next level. If I was so balanced then I would never become a great writer. I would be too worried about not sitting for too long or not spending enough time with my family. We need to find harmony with our desires and that means being out of balance for bursts to get to where we can truly change our world.

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Matt December 30, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Very interesting article. I have caught myself more than once talking about my “life balance” and “equilibrium” in life. I have often said that my happiness lies in my self-discipline to live a well-balanced life. But after reading your post, and reflecting a little bit on the subject, I’m leaning more towards your way of thought.

If anything, I would argue that at times having a balance can help if the elements are right. For instance, I can spend a majority of my time writing a book. Or, I can spend most of my time writing a book, and experiencing nature on long walks at sunset, where nature possibly influences my creativity/thought with the book.

Is it safe to say there is a balance in finding a balance? :) Then there is the argument of focus, dedication. “Full engagement.” You say it well: “Being truly exceptional requires complete immersion.” I agree with this too.

So, I’m still a little on the fence, but this post definitely helped me to get off the whole “balance” thing. Thanks for changing my perspective. :)

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Henri @ Wake Up Cloud December 30, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I can completely relate to the unbalancedness of life. I go from one thing to another almost in an obsessive frenzy and I love it, it is how I learn.

Balance is overrated, why do things just for balance’s sake if you don’t want to. Focus on the thing you’re interested in and then go on the next thing. In the end you create balance by being unbalanced.

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Dave Doolin December 30, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Yes, balance is definitely overrated.

I’ve gotten tired of being preached at about the whole issue.

I’d rather learn how to use intense -”unbalanced” – focus for leverage.

-d

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Mrs. Micah December 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

The older I get (I’m 24 now), the more I can look back at patterns of obsession. Whether it was something like watching/reading/learning all I could about some TV series or whether it was quilting or writing or blogging, I’d become obsessed with it for a year or two and then let it slide for something else. I used to be ashamed of those habits because they weren’t balanced. But when I look back, I realize I was happy. And if I was happy and wasn’t somehow wrecking my life/future, I figure those were good times.

So now I plunge wholeheartedly into things and enjoy them while the interest lasts–not making lifelong commitments to a particular project and not punishing myself when my ideas change.

Or that’s what I’m working on, anyway. :)

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michael cardus December 30, 2009 at 2:28 pm

This unbalanced life is a life of passion, passion in the sense of not drunken wastes of lost time – you described focus and intensity on flourishing. While working to be the best person you can be you are giving the focus and talent all you have and achieving happiness in the process.

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Evan December 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Have you read Success Built to Last – the enduringly successful don’t lead balanced lives (and some people may not care about being successful either)?

It’s possible to have balance even while spinning!

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Tomas Stonkus December 30, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I can relate to this, but I am not sure I agree. I spent 8 moths of the 2009 studying for the CPA exam. That was the only thing that was on my mind when I woke in the morning and when I went to sleep.

It was very destructive to my mind and my health. I have learned a lot. One of the main things I learned was that I value balance and that I need balance.

Here is why: because I focused on the CPA so much, my relationships suffered, my fitness level went down by 500% or something like that. I was not able to get a job.

Now, I am playing catch up. And it sucks. Especially the fitness and relationship part.

I agree that at times we will need to spend more time on certain things in our life, but never ever should you neglect other areas in your life. It’s very inefficient and ineffective. There are way to shift focus to one area of your life while eliminating the less important tasks, but each and every one of our lives contains key pillars that hold us together.

For me they are nutrition, fitness, spirituality, and rest. For others it might be different. But if you do not have a solid foundation, shifting balance towards a particular goal can be destructive to ones life.

Best,
Tomas

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floreta December 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Create perspective shift! I try really hard to live a balanced life, in terms of spiritually, mentally, emotionally that I forget that living life “unbalanced” can actually lead to more balance, or at least living how you want.

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Colin Wright December 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm

You strike a lot of chords with this one.

As much as I try to maintain balance and a sort of ‘middle path’ in life, I also find myself getting crazy unbalanced from time to time, usually for the same reasons you mentioned.

What’s nice is that the unbalance can help you make your life as a whole more balanced in the long-term, and honestly it makes life more fun, too. Who wants a completely safe, non-dynamic lifestyle? Not I.

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Wendy December 30, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I wonder if this would apply to parents. Well, not just any parent, but the main caregiver. I see that all of you are men, and not to generalize, but how many of you spend the majority of your time caring for children?

Wait, that sounded snippy and it’s not what I meant. My point is that I, myself, tend to get out of balance. Often. I get obsessed with a project and we end up having popcorn for dinner. That’s fine every once in awhile, but it isn’t acceptable day after day. So I’m going to take your advice. But only up to the 20% of my time that is the bare minimum for maintaining a happy and healthy home. Which I guess, in itself, is a sort of balance.

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Meg December 30, 2009 at 4:34 pm

I’m afraid I’m still a balance-seeker at the moment, but as soon as I clear up some of these bigger commitments (school & current job), I plan on throwing myself fully into some endeavors.

As it is, I really only have one hobby, so I do spend what time I’ve got now on that. I just can’t wait to have the time to really figure out how to make a living from it and then I won’t ever have to worry about not enjoying my time again… For the most part. :)

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Dawn December 30, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Wow! I cannot believe how you basically have just summed up everything that I have been fighting myself about over the last several months. I basically was punishing myself for not being able to “juggle” all of the different aspects of my life all with the same intensity. I definitely live my life in different blocks of focus and intensity and seem to neglect others. I am trying to find a better balance and by that I mean something that I am comfortable with-not the normal standard of balance. I enjoy the intensity of diving into things with all of my heart and soul and am worried that by taking on another aspect I will lose that intensity for something else. Reading this made me feel so much better about my unbalanced life that will always be that way!

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Catus Lee December 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Totally agree with you. When we are highly motivated to do something, “full engagement” and “complete immersion” are the natural ways of being, and they contribute to success (according to your own definitions).

The concept of “balance” do has its use. It serves to remind people if they are trading off something they really treasure in their pursuit of “full engagement”. Some people immerse themselves in work while leaving their loved ones becoming practically invisible to their minds. They may need to think about “balance” then.

However, putting “balance” in the first place is like putting the cart before the horse. Balance is not the purpose, it is just a maintenance factor.

I’ve seen people putting too much emphasis on “balance” and spend their days calculating/thinking/talking about how to balance their lives. They divided their lives in different units in the hope that their lives would be in balance. Well, the results were divided attention to and lack of full engagement in their work and life. Why? Because they spent too much time worrying about “balance”.

I believe that your mind will remind you of this. Just commit yourself to your life, go with the flow, and listen to your heart. Your heart will help you do the balancing.

Again, thank you for the great post.

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James December 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Solid. What jumps at me is that many things have an upfront learning curve — a time commitment that pulls you out of balance, but necessarily. Get over that hump, and a much smaller amount of maintenance is all that’s necessary to maintain the skill. There the balance comes back in — neglect to circle back to your maintenance from time to time, and you could lose the skill.

But I agree with your premise; if we were all way balanced from the get-go, nothing major would ever get done, either within our selves or within humanity. There’s magic in putting in a boatload of upfront effort on something.

James

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S.Smith December 30, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Whoah…there’s a lot of agreeing going on here. I’m tempted to disagree to reign bring things back to balance, but that would be against the spirit of the idea here, eh?

So… I agree too. And I crave big unbalances sometimes.

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Usha December 31, 2009 at 12:06 am

It depends on lot of factors and situations of life of a person at a given point in time. Real life scenarios are not straight forward. There are few basic things to fulfill every day and few with in some timeframe which will be unavoidable.

I think most of us do not understand the meaning of balance in life. Do not take it literarily. It does not mean we are to behave like robots and aim at equilibrium at every given point in time, stressing ourselves out.

It means do the needful in best way possible aiming for harmony. And being in harmony requires one to fulfill his positive impacting interests too. While doing so just try not to contribute to negative impact.

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Rebecca December 31, 2009 at 1:36 am

Interesting point-of-view on balance. I guess there is no “true balance” because we’re all different. You may have to focus 80% on your career to get where you want to go. Or, you could focus 80% of your time on developing your relationships. In any event, do what you must to bring your life into order.

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Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com December 31, 2009 at 2:48 am

I think we get unbalanced to eventually gain balance. The aim is never to work 10% of the time on business for example, it’s usually to work hard now for balance later if you catch my drift. Unbalance and huge exposure in the short term can teach us quickly with repeated failures and we can then get balance. Nice simple post :)

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Michael Michalowski December 31, 2009 at 5:51 am

You are expressing your soul’s creativity through your immersion into one thing without trying to balance it. Great job you did. A rolemodel.

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Gary Bamberger December 31, 2009 at 7:19 am

Your post is very thought provoking! I have 2 separate thoughts on this.

First, I recently read a blog by Corinne McElroy (http://www.edgeofchange.com/flip) that highlighted a truth for me about emerging myself into something. That truth is that I share my life with family, friends, and colleagues, and every bit of growth and change that occurs in my life impacts the lives of those people that I choose to surround myself with. By extension, choosing to immerse myself in one particular area of my life will involve trade-offs that will impact other people in my life that are important to me. Having a dialog with these people about my plans gives us a chance to figure out how to keep connected and keep these relationships healthy.

My second point is that I’ve found immersion into one aspect of my life at the expense of others does actually work for me to achieve my goals. The trick for me is to do so while also honoring my core values. For example, as I went through training and certification to become a certified coach over the past year, I made sure that I kept some semblance of balance in my life. I chose to give some things up for a period, while others I trimmed back in order to make room for my pursuit. I noticed that when I began to get irritable or cranky, it was a warning sign for me that I was stepping on one of my core values. This really helped me to keep a healthy level of balance in my own life.

Thanks for posting this topic!

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David Spinks December 31, 2009 at 9:18 am

I think it’s important to always seek some sort of balance.

Becoming immersed in something will certainly help you master it, but at the sacrifice of other things that may be equally important in the long run. Balance is a “holy grail”, that we all seek, but never fully accomplish.

Which is fine right? As long as we’re seeking a balance throughout our life according to our priorities at the time.

David
Community Manager, Scribnia.com

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Srinivas Rao December 31, 2009 at 10:32 am

Thanks for sharing this. I think that people who become obsessed with accomplishing a goal or finishing something have a huge advantage because they have inertia. As somebody with ADHD, I get flow states and have to leverage them when they hit, but I definitely am with you on being unbalanced. I spent 6 hours a day surfing this summer because I didn’t know what else to do. Sure it was unbalanced, but ironically it made me extremely centered.

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RoX December 31, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Thank you!!

First time I find somebody who can put in words my “answer” to my parent’s “you don’t really know what you want!”.

You almost made me cry!!

Have a great day!

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GM December 31, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Great article and something everyone should apply to their life.

Jonathan, I’d love to here about your experience becoming alife coach and I think many others would like to hear it too. Particularly about your training and certification choices.

All the best
GM

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Jon December 31, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Balance or Harmony really depends on our perception and timing of things.

Take Perfection, essentially most would say perfection is the absense of the imperfect. Yet is that really perfection?

How many times have you heard someone look at a baby and say, he or she is perfect and you look and see one damn ugly baby :)

Or someone say, ah my life couldn’t get more perfect and then the very next day the shit hits the fan in that persons life.

What might appear out of whack/balance to one person in an area of someones life might be completely balanced or in harmony

Each of us has a different rhythm to our lives, and it’s that I focus on, my personal rhythm

Life itself will balance out the rest.

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Tanner @LifeDestiny.net December 31, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Wow this post rings so true to me lately. Since I started LifeDestiny.net a couple weeks ago that is all I have been focused on. I have been putting in 18 hour days focusing on it to the point where I thought something was wrong. But reading this is a huge fresh breath of air!
I love putting in these hours because I am passionate in what I am doing and think the same way as you. Total immersion is one of the biggest keys to becoming great. Thanks Jonathan

Tanner

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Travis | iStorm Training January 1, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Many times you can also work with your sense of “out-of-balance” and bring yourself back into balance by working with your current momentum (thoughts, feelings, actions, etc.)

I could also generalize and say that there are some people who tend to be more developed across multiple intelligences (look at the research by Howard Gardner & the likes of Daniel Goleman) that are fairly good at everything. Kind of average across the board, almost plateau-like. Plateau people – those who have average skills across multiple lines of intelligences.

Then there are also people who tend to excel in one line of intelligence (i.e. gifted athletically/kinesthetically, cognitively, etc.) but are low in others. These people have more of a peak-like balance. Peak people.

Plateau people tend to have more overall balance in their life while peak people tend to have a lot of unbalance in their life. No praise or blame to either they are just different paths.

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Steve-Personal Success Factors January 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I was watching a guy who is on the Olympic speed skating team. When he starts dating a girl, he lets them know up front that skating is his ‘thing.’ The girl says, “That’s fine.” Then a couple weeks later reality hits, and she’s gone. That’s the way it is when you are really focused.

Having said that, I am a married guy, and I have focused so much on business the last two years, that I can say my main focus is going to be family this year :)

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Jon Prial January 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Great post. The key is to recognize that an individual’s focus does shift – and that it can be a good thing to be totally focused on a single part of your work-life. Balance really just describes that there are choices to be made. It shouldn’t be 50/50 all the time

What is important is that each of us have the perspective of what we are doing and the choices we make. Too much of any one thing on any side of the work-life spectrum for too long probably isn’t healthy.

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bloominglater January 1, 2010 at 7:47 pm

i’ve never in a million years looked at it this way. all my life i’ve either been “on or off,” which has created quite a bit of trouble for me. i have always felt like i could never find balance, and now i have a new frame through which to see my obsessive behaviors. :) thanks for this post – it has changed my paradigm, well – at least it’s tilted. as i embark on my own self-improvement in 2010, i have this to fall back on. singlemindness is the goal to reach my goals. Thanks a lot.

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Keith O'Brien January 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

Great Post amigo. This is so right on. I find it virtually impossible to equally milk four or five cows at the same time. Perhaps some people can, but intense focus for me not only is more effective, but it’s far more enjoyable.

Getting lost in the passionate throws of something is one of the real pleasures of life. Unfortunately, most people do this unconsciously and then can’t give the other areas of their lives at least enough oxygen to survive. When we are conscious about our choices, we can completely lose ourselves in something while honoring our other priorities enough to keep them at least on life support.

Thanks for the great post.

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Graham Phoenix January 2, 2010 at 6:53 pm

At any one time I am always unbalanced, that’s part of my focus as a man. It drives my partner mad the way everything else is gone from my mind. But the trick is to create balance over a period of time. The way your life turns out depends on what length of time you look at. I find a year is long enough, although thinking over a decade is very tempting.

I weave my life in and out of my passions and projects knowing that there are always things I am not paying attention to. But that’s fine I enjoy who I am and what I do. If others get a kick out of it as well, then great.

Br passionate, be unpredictable but never be boring.

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Mosotomoss January 4, 2010 at 10:16 am

Great and interesting post. I think balance is knowing when to stop and to take a breather. Not making what you are doing your whole life.

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Laura Lee Bloor of Tenacious Me January 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Thanks — I like the fresh perspective and say I have to agree. Being highly unbalanced for a while can ultimately enhance your overall balance.

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Anilia January 4, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I just blogged that I didn’t get the results I wanted last year, because I tried to focus on too many things at one time — that balance thing that you’ve found a way around. All of us personal development bloggers are finding our own way through this forest, but its still validating to read something and realize that going against ‘conventional’ wisdom ain’t so bad after all.

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Arsene Hodali January 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Wow. I can’t believe how right you are… Again.

Honestly, this blog stands out from the rest mainly because you have different ideas and skeptics about what they are saying.

Other blogs say “go for personal growth”, you write a brilliant post about fake growth.

Other blogs talk about “balance and schedule everything”, you say in order to accomplish what you desire you most likely become unbalanced.

On both points you are right, and more importantly to me, I feel that you are right. Thanx for clearing my head up for me. =)

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Jamie Lee January 6, 2010 at 10:08 am

Great post.

My dad is fond of telling me, “You can have ANYthing you want, you just can’t have EVERYthing.” I actually hate it when he says that – mostly because I know it to be true. In order to attain any goal – I don’t care how small – you must sacrifice something else – might be time, money, privileges, your favorite food … whatever.

The only thing that makes me feel better about this reality is adding “… at least not at the same time” to the saying. Like many of your readers, I often find myself spread way too thin over way too many projects. The result is that I end up doing a half-assed (or worse) job on all or most of my endeavors … and then beat myself up for the mediocrity of my performance.

If only I let my passionate obsession take hold and let myself set aside some things in favor of others. That’s the way to make big strides and accomplish big things.

Last November, I took the entire month to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Along with over 140K other participants worldwide, I set out to do a really dumb thing – write a 50,000-word novel in 30-days. The way I accomplished this, for me, Herculean task was to dedicate myself to the cause and let other things go. I stopped reading blogs, working out, going for walks. I took every offer of childcare that came my way. For one month I shifted my priorities in order to reach my goal.

There’s a saying about well-behaved women rarely making history. I think the idea of living an unbalanced life shares a certain sentiment. Sometimes playing it safe and keeping that boat from rocking does nothing but give you a one-way ticket to boredom-ville. If that’s what you’re after – power to you. But if what you’re after is an amazing experience that helps you grow as a person – you’d better be prepared to get a little unbalanced and maybe even misbehave some.

Happy 2010, everyone!

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Vania Tashjian Frank January 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I really enjoyed reading this. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my process and how I work. I’ve noticed that I tend to get a bug up my butt about something and just go with it until I think that something else needs my attention more. I tend to get immersed in something, to the point where I feel completely connected to what I’m doing. If anything, this immersion – off-balance – helps me create from a more authentic and inspired place.

I’m spending this year focusing on playing to my strengths and appreciating my natural skills and tendencies more. It’s not that I think there’s no room for improvement, but I’d like to fight myself less. I’d like to spend less time trying to “fix” myself and more time improving my inherent strengths. Ever since I’ve chosen this as an intention for this year, I’ve been feeling healthier, happier and more present.

Thank you for the reminder that one formula doesn’t fit all, and that forcing ourselves into a mold can actually be detrimental (speaking for myself, of course).

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Brad January 7, 2010 at 10:00 pm

So much truth in here. Thanks for sharing! I loved this article. Incredibly validating.

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John McLachlan January 9, 2010 at 8:53 am

I think balance is overrated. If the universe were balanced, we’d all still be living in a black hole.

We talk about balance all the time with so many things. “Nature’s Balance” – no, nature is not balanced. “work-life balance” – that’s ones companies tell their employees they must employ, but they don’t really mean it and don’t seem to mind when people kill themselves working for the company.

Maybe the only balance is accepting that there is no balance.

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Rebecca MacDonald January 12, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I love the experience of diving into something new wholeheartedly, then coming up for air, then being drawn into something else again – like you did with your ebooks. I call it “serial reinvention.” Others might call it a lack of focus or balance. But like anything, balance becomes overrated when someone takes an idea that works for some people and pushes it as gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen. We all need to find our own way.

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Slinky January 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm

There are two kinds of balance – the homogeneous kind where there’s a little bit of everything and the kind where two opposing forces negate each other. Alternating between different passions is it’s own kind of balance. When I’ve had an excess of working and my mind is tired, I tend to do an excess of things like reading which are restful to me. Doing so much of these things at once are extremes, but they balance me when combined. It’s like opposites attracting – extremes, but they balance.

I also look at some things as ways of balancing yourself and aspects of your personality. An introvert balances the fatigue of interacting with others by spending more time alone. Spending more time alone seems unbalanced, but for them it brings them into balance.

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Kristy Charlton February 16, 2010 at 3:15 pm

You’re a very wise man!! I love this article – it has given me permission to be me….. and that’s ok. I’m very rarely in balance,,, but I get a lot more shit done than my friends that are in ‘balance’…. :)

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Jeff Anderson December 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm

That seriously just blew my mind!

I’ve been highly career and goal-focused for the last few years and I’ve heard it over and over again…. As long as your life is balanced it’s ok! This came from people who weren’t business oriented, nor were they focused on becoming big successes in their chosen fields.

So I wanted to say thanks, because this is the first time I’ve heard someone tell me it’s ok to be unbalanced and focused on what you care about!

Awesome!
Jeff

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