To be honest, when I think about the times when I have felt the most alive, I can’t say that balance is the first word that comes to mind.
Balance is typically referred to in terms of equilibrium, meaning all things being equal. These days we hear a lot of talk about the importance of work/life balance. I guess back when the women stayed home and the men went to their 9 to 5 jobs in the city, that was seen as balance. Now that (at least here in the US and in NYC in particular) more and more people of (both sexes) are becoming their own bosses and transforming passion projects into full-blown careers, (while simultaneously having access to communication to any location in the world at anytime from anywhere), there is a backlash from those who claim that we have a become a society of workaholics.
Hence the recent proclamations of the necessities of reclaiming balance.
I understand this decree to a degree. After all, in a time when digital products reign supreme, I, along with everyone at Team Holstee, am an avid proponent of gathering around the dinner table, sans cell phones, and talking in real time about ideas that matter.
But I wouldn’t say that the fact I can often be found working on Sundays or daydreaming about projects when I’m not at the office as being out of balance. In fact, when I try to “unplug” and not think about work for too long, I feel less balanced and more unsettled. The reason is simple: I love what I do. If I won the lottery tomorrow I would still choose to work and create the vast majority of what I’m currently doing. Just perhaps with a better wardrobe.
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” - Alain de Botton
There is, however, another purpose of balance, which is less about keeping things even and more about preventing us from falling down. Or if (and when) we do, balance helps us get back up again.
Let’s take a look at nature. Sure, in some places it’s 72 degrees and sunny all the time. But here in New York City, we have clearly defined seasons. It's true that I’d prefer a longer autumn and a shorter winter, but it is in looking at the cycle of the entire year, not the individual day or month, that we see the balance in nature restored.
This past year I started viewing my own life in seasons as well. This perspective has helped me get through some dark times and have a greater appreciation for times of joy. By viewing my activities, emotions and relationships in this way, I’m more motivated and focused when the pressure is on, and less anxious when I find myself without the foggiest idea of what is coming next.
For example, right now at Holstee we are gearing up to launch some amazing events, including the Holstee Learning Lab. There are hundreds of to-dos on the list that require check-marks between now and then. I guarantee I’ll sacrifice some dates in the park (and probably some sleep) to get this thing off the ground. That’s what happens before any big launch or project.
In my acting days, I remember vividly that before the opening of any show there was at least one rehearsal known as the ten-out-of-twelve in which the actors are contractually allowed to be kept for 10 hours out of a maximum of 12. Those are some long days, but they are often some of the fondest memories of the cast and crew. And the opening night (and new season) becomes all the more enjoyable because of the painstaking work that came before.
We often see the quote: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” - Confucious
But I don’t entirely agree with that (sorry, Confucious!). Yes, when you love what you do you’ll feel alive in your work. But it’s still work. That work isn’t always fun. And sometimes, especially when you are trying to create something that matters to you, the work is all-consuming, at least for a time.
After all, there are seasons to roll up our sleeves and there are seasons to let down our hair.
We don’t have to do both at once.
Instead we can find balance by asking ourselves what makes us feel most alive, and then doing that, or at least taking the initial steps to make that happen.
Seasons change, and with them so do we. Therein lies the balance.
Written by Monica McCarthy , Experience & Culture Impresario at Holstee.
Monica McCarthy brings people and ideas together as the Experience Impresario of Holstee. A veteran Broadway and television actress, she is passionate about the arts, philosophy, and travel, which she muses about here. Her favorite splurge is membership passes to NYC museums.