Robert Vernon’s, Pointman Leadership Institute’s Fourth Ancient Principle is to Pursue a Balanced Life. There are two distinctions, the balance of rest vs. work and a balance between the “three aspects of human life”: physical, intellectual and spiritual. Having a “balanced lifestyle” seems to be a very popular goal. A quick Google search on the keywords will find scores of books, websites, toolboxes, scorecards, videos, life coaches and aids of all sorts to help you achieve balance in the various elements of your life. I agree with Vernon’s first distinction, a healthy balance between work and rest is essential, but I am not convinced that balance in all “aspects of human life” should be the ultimate goal.
Just trying to identify the elements of a balanced life opens up a debate. In that 60 second Google-hunt I found five internet gurus with these suggestions:
- Spirituality, physical, emotional, financial and relationships/family
- Career, Money, Health, Friends, Family, Personal Growth, Recreation & Fun, Spirituality
- Health, Wealth and Family (or any close relationship)
- Creativity, Relationships, Community, Work, Spirituality, Physical Health, Learning
- Love/Companionship, Work, Something apart from work, Health, Peace & Spirituality
Spending a few more minutes could easily expand this list to a dozen or more, but you get the idea. Many use the illustration of a wheel divided like a pizza where each slice represents an element in your life to be kept in balance. The aim is to divide your time, attention, effort and energy in appropriate measure toward each slice. The result; a balanced, happy and comfortable life. Which leads to the first problem, the pursuit of balance is really a design for our convenience to satisfy our own comfort. What about a life lived for a greater purpose, or for a life that is in crisis? Is balance even possible in crisis?
It becomes clearer when you consider how absurd it would be to encourage the pursuit of a balanced lifestyle in the streets of Haiti right now. What if you were to suggest balance to the parent of a terminally ill child? To someone who just lost their job? The truth is life throws us situations that throw balance out the window. And what about someone living their life for a purpose greater than themself? Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, it is not hard to continue the list of people who sacrifice balance, at least for a time, to achieve something greater. John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted describes a conversation between the Apostle Paul and a Time Management Consultant where he says,
“Paul, if you take a look at this pie chart, I think you’ll agree with me that your spiritual life is going pretty well. But vocationally, your tent-making has seriously fallen off. This has led to some downsizing in you financial portfolio.”
If the answer is not balance, what is it? The answer is not to live a life ‘out of balance’ but to see there is something better to aim for. There is another way to look at prioritizing and ordering that John Ortberg calls a life with a well-ordered heart.
More about that next time.