A few years ago on a particularly busy Sunday afternoon, I was rushing across town from one set of meetings to another. As I hurried down the road a homeless man caught my eye. He was seated on a bench leisurely reading a newspaper. I thought to myself, “Man, that guy has it made. It would be so great to have no obligations or appointments—just sit and read the paper.” A mile or so down the road I suddenly heard the echoes of my own comment–was I crazy?! My life is pretty ideal. I have the dream job, a great marriage, a wonderful family, and a comfortable home. But there I was, wishing I could trade places with a man who was living on the street. Something was wrong. Somehow my life had gotten out of balance.
Shortly after that experience, I began an intensive study about the concept of balance. What does having a “balanced life” actually mean? I sorted through many definitions of balance and finally came across one that spoke to my situation; “Balance: a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.”¹ Mine was a problem of incorrect proportions.
To really understand the idea of “balancing” our lives, we must first come to terms with the “elements” we are trying to balance. I, along with many others who have written or lectured on
the topic, have observed that mankind’s ultimate desire is happiness. Just about everything we do, say, or possess, is calculated to make us happy. It should come as no surprise, then, that as humans we spend a lot of our time trying to obtain things we believe will bring happiness. These things, or “elements,” come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and categories. For example, most of us spend a lot of time working on relationships. Some are intimate and eternal, others are temporary and casual. For most people, relationships are a key source of happiness. We also spend a lot of time obtaining actual physical objects. Some of these are intended to fulfill our basic human needs like food, water and shelter. Others are designed to provide comfort, fun, or diversion. Finally, we seek for experiences. This is perhaps the most complex category. We seek some experiences, like schooling, to help obtain more things and additional opportunities. Other experiences, like a family vacation, can provide feelings of happiness in the moment and memories for the future. Although our collections may vary significantly in content, our categories are quite the same.
Back to the story: I had obtained a lot of great things. I had a wonderful relationship with a my wife. I had great relationships with my six children. I had a job that provided a lot satisfaction and financial support. I had a comfortable home. I had collected many experiences like an education, dozens of vacations, and much, much more. So why, with all of that, wasn’t I feeling happy?
The answer: I had gotten my “elements” out of “balance.” Or, in other words, the different elements of my life were not “in correct proportion.” Now that I had obtained all of these pieces of life, I needed to learn some lessons about placing them in a correct and balanced proportion. The bulk of this lesson came in an experience I had on the beach in San Diego.
One morning while celebrating our wedding anniversary, my wife and I strolled along the boardwalk in San Diego, California. We stopped to watch a man behind a roped off area. He was combing through a large pile of rocks, picking up rocks of all shapes and sizes. Although he spent a great deal of time selecting the rocks, they appeared to be a totally random sampling. Then the magic began. He made a little pile of his dozen or so rocks and began to balance the first two, one on top of the other. Neither rock was at all flat, actually they couldn’t have been more different in size, and yet, he managed to find a point of connection between them. He added an equally strange shaped third rock, then another and another. It appeared that there was no order. At one point a pebble was sitting atop a boulder and holding another boulder above it. His ability to find a balance point between the rocks was amazing.
I turned with excitement to my wife and I could see she knew what was coming next; a lesson! She says that years of being married to a teacher has taught her that, “When the lesson begins, the romance ends.” We spent the next hour or two talking about how much we could learn about balancing life from this man and his rocks. He had so very carefully chosen which rocks would make up his life that day. Each one chosen for what it could add to his personal monument. He spent time getting to know each rock and confirming in his mind that it would fit with the others. He must have seen beforehand what he wanted to build. It was awesome. That evening we returned on the same boardwalk and to my shock the man had taken down his rock monuments and had scattered the rocks back across the pile. Of course, I couldn’t help but contemplate how we must re-balance our lives each day.
I guess my wife believed that this magical display of rock balancing had been a “one-day event,” because she walked me right past the same rock pile the next morning! There he was again. It was obvious to her that I was delighted to see him again scanning over the pile of rocks. She patted my hand and said, “You stay and watch the man and his rocks. I’m going to look for souvenirs for the kids in the shop behind you.”(a match made in heaven!) After a prolonged selection process, he again began the balancing magic. Things went well until the last pair of rocks. He worked on the second to last rock for a long-time. Longer than the rest put together. Then finally, shaking his head, he put the rock aside and finished with the last rock. I could have jumped up and shouted hallelujah. What a lesson! Sometimes even the most carefully planned rocks just won’t fit and have to be set aside.
Let me conclude with a “now what?” I have learned five important things about living a balanced life: (1) Know what you want to build before you begin. What do you want out of life? What will constitute a “happy life” for you? Live a destination driven life! (2) Choose the rocks in your pile carefully. Which “elements” of life will truly bring you the most happiness? Which rocks will build the life you are hoping for? That may include things of every shape and size and from every category. Sometimes a “small pebble” of free-time is what we need to hold it all together. (3) Be careful not to add too many rocks to your pile. Even for those who are professionals in the balancing department, there will be a point where there are just too many elements to keep balanced. James Dobson recommends that we ask ourselves 3 questions anytime we consider adding something to our lives: (a) Is it worthy of our time, (b) What will be eliminated if it is added, and (c) What will be its impact on our family life? (4) For most people it is much easier to balance life when they put the bigger rocks on the bottom. As Stephen Covey recommended, “Put first things first.” Finally, (5) We must be willing to discard a rock, even one we have become really attached to, if it just doesn’t fit. It may be the thing that brings your whole pile down.
Ryan K Eggett
- What wives wish their Husband’s knew about women. James Dobson
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen Covey