In defense of an unbalanced life

30358445I have believed for years that balance and moderation were the ideal way to live my life. I haven’t necessarily always lived it that way, but I always strove for balance and I always bowed to the wise ones among us who preached it as the roadmap to a sane and happy life. For too many years, I accepted as law and right the idea that your diet should be balanced—not too much chocolate or bacon, just the right amount of greens and protein—your work/family life for sure should be balanced: you might work the odd weekend now and then but you always had it drilled into your head that your kids’ after-school events were at least as important and needed to be put on the scale right up there with the thing that paid the mortgage and put food on the table.

I read somewhere that you should keep your writing schedule consistent in your writing week and if you missed a day, it would be noticeable in the absence of flow in your prose and your storyline. I believed this! I would create these complex schedules that squeezed a good ninety minutes a day of writing into a schedule that contained a full time job and all the stuff I’ve already mentioned and even so no matter when I scheduled it, I rarely made it there two days in a row. And because conventional wisdom said my writing would suffer as a result, I would become discouraged and think, well, what’s the point? YOU try continuing to get up at five a.m. every day to create magic on a page when ALL the experts say if you miss a day you might as well not bother!

For years, I had trouble going to my fulltime job and then coming home and writing novels and setting the table for dinner and properly feathering the nest for my one and only child the way I wanted to. My solution to it, after years of frustration and outright failure, was to throw one of the balls in the juggling mess out of rotation and when you’re a writing parent with a paycheck that’s needed, the ball that gets tossed is writing.

When my fledgling flew the coop last fall and I was concomitantly catapulted from my latest adventure in corporate communications, I thought I would have an easier time fitting in all the things I needed to do in order to have a balanced life: exercise, my writing, time with my husband, keeping an eye on my elderly mother, maintaining my friendships and all of that.  But I was wrong. Even without the annoying full time job hanging around my neck, I still struggled to get the daily word count done for my writing projects.  And the laundry? Fuh-ged-about-it.

Which is why I was stunned to discover that, for me, the key to my productivity was not a matter of balance. Never was.

I learned this last year when I came off a week’s vacation with my husband and son and, without knowing what I was doing, plunged myself into an impromptu writing marathon. We even got a brand new puppy to add to the mix and it made not a whit’s bit of difference to the fact that I was compelled to sit down and write and did so pretty much nonstop for about three weeks.

16342405For three weeks there was no exercising. No grocery shopping. No making meals. No TV. Half the time, I didn’t even climb out of my pajamas before three in the afternoon and wouldn’t have even then if my husband hadn’t started to look worried. I didn’t write to a word goal, I just wrote until my back hurt and I couldn’t sit up at the desk or until my husband called to me to mention it was after one in the morning. I wrote without any sense or desire or attention to balance of any kind.

And I loved it.

When the book was finished, I did laundry and made lasagna and drove my son to his college and visited with my mother in Florida and picked up the threads on a few other things that had gotten dropped during those three weeks.  I didn’t write a single word during this time. And when I was all caught up and the house was clean again?

I sat down and did it all again the very same way: in one exuberant, happy, obsessed gush of words and story, tumbling out of me with no time to mind yoga schedules or laundry or any other so-called necessities to maintain a balanced life.

I figured it out way too late but at least I know now: for me, a balanced life is overrated.

I grant you she's balanced, but she looks miserable.

I grant you she’s balanced, but she looks miserable.

I know if I added an hour of yoga to my daily round, I would likely add health and see diminished pounds on my 5’3 frame. I know the merits of balance and moderation, I do. But I now see that it’s not the full story. It works sometimes and for some people. But there’s something very big to be said for indulgence and impulse and immoderation and being at the mercy of your passions and your drives.

I like living this way. Bottom line, it makes me feel alive. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the best kind of balance there is.

18 thoughts on “In defense of an unbalanced life

  1. I cannot tell you how much I needed to hear your words today Susan! I have two boys – 16 and 14; my mother who travels but also lives with us; and a hubby who travels a lot both interstate and overseas and somehow I write music and a blog and have a list of goals to achieve. The past couple of weeks have been simply madness and just last night, while trying to fall asleep, I was praying about feeling so overwhelmed and out of balance, so in need of a sign that things will be ok and in popped your email just now to my inbox. I too have strived for balance, am a little overweight for my 5 foot 2 inch frame and hate the pressure of expectation yet sometimes can write an entire album of music in a week, produce, master and release it. Now I don’t feel like I am some kind of alien!! Thanks so much for sharing, you’ve made my day 😀

  2. Balance is good in general, but what a sense of accomplishment when the marthon is finally completed. Too much balance can make ones life simply boring. On the other hand your piece has a smooth flow of balance if you will.

  3. Good morning, so glad to see you’re back, missed your comments, my father lived the balanced life to perfection, the proof of the pudding being the morning he died, the morning after celebrating new years day with family and friends, I was back at my studio over the bar, in Santa Barbara,
    the phone rang and I answered, it was my mother, my father had died. he woke up at 6:00 like every morning said a few words, turned his head to one side and died. I closed the studio, and drove the hundred miles back to the white brick ranch house I’d grown up in, hugged my mom. and listened to her tell the story again, as family and friends gathered, two days earlier my father had completed the fiftieth year end inventory at the Chemical Company he’d worked at since he was 19, I went down stairs to his home office, the room I grew up in, looked at his old desk, as always everything was put away or in it’s place, lined up across the back of the desk were binders, each one named and cataloged, one with the information, parts list and guarantees for every appliance, electric can opener to air conditioning, another with property maps, deeds and dates for every piece of property including the home stead Canyon where My Mom and Dad had spent nearly every week-end for the last twenty years.
    and then there was the red binder marked income tax, this was on the second day of January, I opened it and on the second page was his completed tax forms, including stamped mailing envelopes, and a note to my Mom, giving her directions to inter the check she would receive from the two acres they’d sold last month in line (8) and add it to the total on line twelve and mail it to the IRS, all figured out and done. one might say the perfectly balanced life, then again, how many perfectly balanced people do you know that at sixty buy a homestead canyon that required driving a four wheel drive jeep as far as it could go up a desert canyon, then putting every thing you needed on your back and hiking through a rugged canyon for three miles before you reached the gate, and then through a desert pasture to a one room cabin almost every weekend for fifteen years. maybe you could call my dad’s life balanced? I’d describe his life as one lived well “taking big bites” all the way.

  4. I think everyone has to find their own way in life. Maybe it’s by trial and error. If someone could write a book, oh wait, they already have, on how to live your life and all you had to do was follow the steps, it would be pretty boring. You wouldn’t wander off the path and find what is truly right for yourself. After all, we are unique individuals and the journey is what it’s all about, not the destination. It sounds like you have found what works for you and that is all that matters. Have a great weekend, Susan.

  5. Thanks for putting this in words, struggling the same struggle. Writing, full time job, hobbies, work outs and now planning a wedding for my daughter, I am going to listen to my body and mind, and do what the tell me. Cheers, a toast to you and to my crazy unbalanced life.

  6. Great post – and absolutely sensible. I’ve heard it said ‘moderation in everything…including moderation’. But in any case, I suspect that for writers especially – ‘balance’ actually means blocking out time to focus – time to absolutely concentrate, at the exclusion of everything else. Others see it as unbalanced, but of course, writers know better!

  7. Pingback: The Pursuit of Happiness… is what exactly? | Miriam Miles

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