Take One More Thing Seriously

Photo: Philip Brewer

When time and money are tight, it's natural to try to narrow down what you're trying to get done. I suggest experimenting with the reverse. (See also: Reverse Engineer the Best Time of Your Life)

You've probably done this. When you feel over-stretched, your first inclination is to pitch over a couple of things that are using whatever resource seems most burdened. Not just big things, like that volunteer gig that turned out to be way more work than you'd expected, but even things as small as a magazine subscription can find themselves on the chopping block when you're looking to free up a little money or a little time.

It's not necessarily a bad strategy. If your problem really is that you're letting yourself be spread too thin, then it's the right thing to do. (There's good sense in the strategy of voluntary simplicity.) But a lot of people do this over and over again. They start with a list of the things that are supposed to be important — your family, your job, your health, your God — and then pare away anything that doesn't relate directly back to one of those priorities. And then, when their life still seems unbalanced, they do the same again. And again.

If you've tried this a few times, and you're still feeling stressed and burdened, here's something to consider — maybe you're not trying to do too much. Maybe the solution to finding balance will not be found by subtracting yet another thing, but by adding one.

Here's my suggestion — take one more thing seriously.

  • Maybe it's something artistic — track down your watercolor brushes or start back up with the community theater group that used to be so much fun. Or, if your artistic inclinations are more toward appreciation than production, then go appreciate — check out the local music scene, attend a poetry slam, visit an art museum.
  • Maybe it's a hobby — go bird-watching, get out your old stamp collection, find out if there's a chess club in town.
  • Maybe it's something handy — woodworking or repairing classic cars.
  • Maybe it's something civic-minded — volunteering at a soup kitchen or getting involved with a community group that's working to improve the local bicycling infrastructure.
  • Maybe it's an activity — skiing or hiking or gardening or fishing or running.

It should be something that fills a gap. Something that feeds your soul or exercises your body or stretches your mind in a different way than the stuff you're already doing can be regenerative.

This is key — it needs to be something that's important to you. Just picking some hobby at random is unlikely to help. It needs to be something hefty enough to balance the other priorities in your life.

The point is not to have another thing you need to do or another way to spend money. The point is that when you only have a couple of priorities in life, it's hard to keep them balanced. It's like a metaphorical washing machine. If your whole load is just one or two big things, it's bound to get unbalanced. You're not going to fix that by putting in a sock.

At some point, it becomes counterproductive to try to achieve balance by pitching out stuff that's important to you. You achieve balance by, well, keeping the things that are important to you in balance. Part of that is taking them seriously, even the ones that aren't work or family.

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Guest's picture

What does it for me is travel -- even a day trip. We're fortunate to live close to the Rockies, so we have a plethora of route/destination options in our backyard.

When we went through a stressful time (the closing of a business) we took long road trips to California or Utah, and you're right. It was like rebalancing a washing load.

Now that our lives are less stressful, a sock does the trick, so to speak, and a two hour road trip into the mountains is all it takes to reset the balance.

Good perspective....

Meg Favreau's picture

I love this. Most of my friends both have jobs and are trying to pursue another career part- or full-time in addition to that, and this reminds me of when everyone started posting this article around:http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

There's a lot I don't agree with there, but it did also seem to set off a universal light bulb about how a well-rounded, happy life is about more than work (even if you are working on something you love).

Guest's picture

This is definitely a fresh perspective. As one of those over-busy people, I have done a lot of dumping what's important to me, especially as I pursued things other that I wanted (i.e. I pursued a non-conventional business, but gave up my love for playwriting and sports.) I think it's a great idea to add something you love that doesn't directly correlate with those "have to do's" in our lives.

Guest's picture

These are all really great ides for someone looking to enrich their life in some way. I took a painting and design class in college, and it's always stuck with me as a way to feel creative and expand my thinking. I used to write poetry, but using paints and a blank canvas to just do whatever I want is a lot more fulfilling and satisfying.