There are three holes in my boat, but I only have two hands. Water is flooding in and I'm beginning to sink, but every time I try to stop the stream, another hole is left unattended. Thus I'm endlessly switching in an attempt to keep myself afloat. To keep my head above the water. To find the balance.
"You just need to find the right balance", we're often told, when work becomes too stressful and we haven't spent a Friday night at home in weeks. "You just need to find the right amount of work time, the right amount of social time, and the right amount of you time." It's advice that we're all accustomed to giving out, as if locating this ever-elusive balance is as easy as breaking your promise to never drunk text your ex again. It's become part of our vocabulary when we share with one another, to always promote balance as the be-all and end-all to a happy life.
Tracking down this ultimate answer, however, seems slightly more difficult than just saying it and hoping it's the best encouragement. It's difficult, nigh on impossible to strike the perfect balance. I mean, what even is balance?
One of the definitions of balance is as "a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions". Sounds fair enough, doesn't it? When thinking of our lives, we want to have just the right amount of work and play to keep ourselves happy. We want to grind our arses off in our 9-5 so that we can share and enjoy our evenings and weekends with our friends and families. We want to save enough money so that we aren't perpetually stuck in those awkward, houseless, Millennial twenties, but we also want to spend enough so that we aren't wasting our youth. We want to go to gigs, smoke cigarettes outside of pubs at 2am in the morning and travel the world, but we also want to meditate and practice self-care and write a poem. We want to find the middle ground between all of these different facets of living fulfilled lives and becoming good human beings, because in that sweet, sweet spot, we're promised, is happiness.
But newsflash: I'm not sure that it exists.
Trying to find the perfect balance is wise in theory, but it requires an impossible expansion of never-ending time. Think about it: you're killing it at your job, you're enjoying weekly cocktails at Tonight Josephine with your tight-knit girl group, and you're also finding the time to exercise and properly read a book. Then someone pops up in your life who sets your loins ablaze and your senses unglued. All you want to do is ask them what their favourite Doritos flavour is, breathe in their smell and make sure that they are thoroughly well-fed throughout the day (ah, the weird corners of love). All of a sudden your perfect balance has been unsettled, and you have to introduce a huge new element into your life without disrupting the success or smooth running of your other duties.
Does time suddenly expand to allow you to do this? Are there suddenly 28 hours on the clock instead of 24, with only 3 of those being necessary rest slots? No, the days and weeks continue as normal, and instead, you have to blindly bungle through as each thing gets a bit shit before you improve it and let something else get a bit shit in turn. Somebody instructing you to find the perfect balance is someone instructing you to do the impossible - to make time. And of course it's possible to get close, but this only lasts so long as nothing unpredictable pops up and sets the whole arrangement askew, at which point you're right back at square one, trying to figure it out all over again.
I don't think that advising someone to find balance is necessarily bad advice, either, because in doing so you learn how to make the most of your time, how to prioritise and how to take a step back when things aren't working. I do, however, think it's unhelpful to suggest that proper balance is ever attainable for more than short, fleeting periods of time, at least between your early twenties and whenever you retire. This idea of the "perfect balance" only leads us to believe that we're still chasing a practicable end goal, when in actual fact, what we're doing is already it.
It's just an endless juggling act that, admittedly, I'm sure we all get better at, but that ultimately, what with life being the fickle and erratic beast that it is, we kind of have to do forever.
We can't plot out our hours and days and weeks, hoping that if we dedicate a little bit of time to everything that we'll have achieved that golden formula, because none of us know what fuckery a random Wednesday in September can bring. None of us know when the washing machine will finally break and flood the entire rented flat (which we can't afford to pay damages for), and none of us know when we might fall ill or pregnant or lose the person that we love the most. Balance is only useful so long as the time remains to allow it, and only so long as it remains uninterrupted. As soon as something changes - boop, there we are, chasing it again.
And to be fair to ourselves, we have a lot of stuff to factor in to not a lot of time. There's work, relationships, friendships, self-care (maintaining what is), self-improvement (encouraging what could be), travel, fun, passions and dreams, all different in their own ways, all requiring their own attention and all with multiple elements interwoven into each one.
Finding balance, for me, is less about achieving that perfect harmony, and more about making life manageable and accepting that some elements have to be sacrificed in order to do so. Towards the end of last year I put a lot of my time and energy into working, which meant that seeing friends and being a fun and interesting 20-something drunk-person had to be put on hold. Post-Christmas break and as the New Year rolled around, I slowed down on the work front and started spending more time chilling out, looking after myself and being sociable. I'm now struggling to re-introduce work in the same way as I did before, and I'm realising that, yep, what they say is true - you can't have it all (and neither should you try to - it's exhausting).
Finding balance is more about admitting that for all the holes in my boat, I do only have two hands. And for all the tasks on my list, I do only have so many hours in which to achieve them. It's more about balancing my expectations of what's attainable in a normal, unpredictable, shit-doesn't-always-go-to-plan-life, and accepting that if I'm focusing intently on one thing at one time, then other elements will suffer. And that's okay. That's to be expected. I can't try and cram limitless new elements into my life without running out of time and energy, the same way that I can't expect to keep buying check blazers without running out of rail space (still gonna try though). Something's gotta give.
The next time you're stressing about deadlines, and your partner is complaining about not having wined, dined, and sixty-nined in a while, and you still haven't written that latest blog post or read that book or even painted your nails, remember that expecting yourself to expertly manage everything is asking yourself to do too much. This elusive balance that you're trying to achieve - this golden formula for happiness and contentment and the perfect temperature of life - well, I don't think it exists. So just enjoy yourself, accept the ebb and flow of life, and make the most of whatever moment you happen to be in right now. Sounds philosophical and fluffy and cliche, but it might just make you feel a little freer.
Until next time lovelies x