Let’s face it—it seems impossible to live a balanced life. Everyone has some angle on why and how you should go about living a balanced life. Better relationships. Less conflict. More productivity. Improved health. Yes – all good reasons for balanced living! But how do you go about reaching these goals? Let me be very clear: Balance is NOT the key—leading a balanced life is a fallacy!
A Google search on “balanced life” produces 54,700,000 hits! WebMD offers “5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance.” You can read Balanced Life Magazine and Lifewise – A Balanced Life Magazine. There are Web sites called Designing a Balanced Life and Living the Balanced Life and Balanced Life Systems. Barnes and Noble lists 471 current titles related to the balanced life. As a leader, you’ve received mailings for seminars and conferences on balanced living. Professional coaches, counselors, and pastors all extol the virtues of a balanced life. With all this help available to us, we should be able to point to many examples of balanced living, right?
I will bet, though, that only a few percent of my readers feel they actually live a balanced life and that all of you are somehow frustrated in achieving this elusive goal. I am going to give you permission, right now, to stop playing this game. Stop beating yourself up about feeling unbalanced.
However, I am not giving you permission to ignore unhealthy relationships, unaddressed conflict, lack of productivity, poor health, and other serious problems. These are important issues that must be addressed, but I say again, “balance” is not the solution.
What, then, is the solution?
Alignment is the solution. I teach my clients to ignore the idea of balance and to instead develop alignment. You ask, “Alignment on what?” Values. Align your life on values – those ideas and things that are most important to you.
The “aligned living” approach presumes you know what your values are. Unfortunately, just as only a small portion of my audience feels they live a balanced life, very few of you can quickly name your top three or four values. (Mine, in no particular order, are: excellence, faith, family, integrity, and learning.) So the problem of not knowing your values needs to be addressed, too. For now, though, my purpose is to help you stop failing by pursuing the “balanced living” approach.
The reason that aligned living is more effective than balanced living is that balance does not address the ultimate issues of “why?” Approaches to balanced living imply that somehow we need to be able to do it all. Balance suggests that we are supposed to be able to juggle all the balls that life throws our way. Each ball becomes competition for the others and balanced living does not provide a means to assess which balls to juggle and for how long.
Aligned living, on the other hand, is an approach that helps you integrate various responsibilities of life around a core set of values. We each have very diverse responsibilities: work, school, family, community, etc.. When these are aligned around a set of values, they become integrated into a whole-life model. No balls to juggle! I live my values. Conflicts in time and resources still arise, but, in aligned living, the question focuses on how to best express my values – not on how to maintain balance.
After identifying your values, you first need to assess whether your current responsibilities are aligned as an expression of those values. You will find some conflicts – and you will have to find a way to bring some responsibilities to a close. Focus on your values and it will be easier to explain to others why you have to step out of that role. Once your life becomes more aligned to your values, you will begin to realize all those benefits you’ve been trying to achieve with balanced living!
As you encounter new opportunities (“Please help on this team” or “Can you lead this project”), the first step is to assess alignment to your values. For example, I might ask whether the project is led by others who value excellence, and if I will be able to express excellence? Will the project conflict with my family value? And so on …
The next step is to assess how the opportunity impacts your other responsibilities and their ability to express your values. With values alignment you might find new synergies among different responsibilities (with a balance focus, it is difficult to realize such synergies). You might also find that a new, very good opportunity impedes a previous responsibility. It is time to make some choices. What is the nature of your responsibility and which is better aligned with your values? With time and practice, you will become proficient at assessing your responsibilities through values.
Stop trying to balance life. Instead, align life. Align on values and commit to expressing your values in living.