There are no rules of balance

Film still from  Princess Cyd

Film still from Princess Cyd

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss 

Balance. It’s something that is often described as missing from our life, or the key to a happy one.

We search and strive for this thing called work-life balance. We put it on our New Year’s resolution list, we follow other people’s instructions on how to find it, we experiment with our lives in order to get the right balance. Until we reach this elusive state of balance, we feel as if we have it all wrong.

When we look closely at what balance means – the process of achieving or maintaining equilibrium – it seems simple. When there is too much work, then we must add some life. Voilà – we have work life balance!

But it’s not that simple because of the two parts we are trying to define – work and life. How do we define our life when our interior and exterior selves are ever-changing?

In the film Princess Cyd, sixteen-year-old Cyd visits her aunt in Chicago for the summer and both face challenges of the spirit.

In one scene, Cyd and her Aunt Miranda, a novelist, are in the kitchen tidying up after a dinner party. Miranda reaches for a piece of leftover cake, offering Cyd a slice, only to hear the retort: “Maybe if you had more sex, you wouldn’t eat so much cake.”

The words from Cyd are accidently cruel, but they also imply there are rules to the balance of ‘life’ – we should add pleasure to help us counteract the apparent monotony of our working lives, but it must be the right kind of pleasure.

“I need you to listen to me, okay?” says Miranda, taking the opportunity to impart wisdom for Cyd, but comment on a society that is caught up in standards and perfectionism.

“… I wish that I could share with you the utter joy it brings me to spend three hours on a Saturday afternoon reading Emerson or Melville or Virginia Woolf. Or discussing T. S. Eliot or James Baldwin with a dear friend until dawn. The fulfilment that I get from going to church, or from reading theology, from reading science, from praying. But I can’t, because I am me, and you are you.”

Where one individual draws fulfilment or pleasure – the ‘life’ part of the balance scale – is different to another, making it impossible to find a formula for balance for everyone. What keeps one individual steady is not going to be a perfect fit for another.

“I can’t relate to you the total fulfilment that I get from these things. It’s impossible. And I understand you’re finding your own joy, you’re engaging your own stuff, that is how it should be and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Perhaps it’s not the lack of balance that worries us, but the perceived judgement that comes from others for not fitting neatly into a prescription of what a happy or joyful life looks like.

Miranda continues, “But hear me – it is not a handicap to have one thing but not another, to be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.”

That’s it right there – the are no rules to balance, no rules to life, and more and more, there are no rules to work as we define our own careers, side gigs, creative pursuits and projects.

Like life, work isn’t easy to define as people are afforded the luxury of doing ‘what they love’. When you do for work what you would also do for pleasure – as many creatives often do – the lines become almost invisible to the eye. This can be a symptom of both delight as well as a cause for burnout, making this idea of balance even more amorphous.

It is not a handicap to have one thing but not another, to be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.

It can also take a long time to find what offers you total fulfilment and utter joy – some of us may be lucky enough to stumble upon that thing early on in life, or maybe we discovered it in our childhood years but lost it, maybe we didn’t think we deserved it, or maybe we need to live our lives and grow into the things that give us joy, experiment and rediscover.

Mostly, we need to find it for ourselves, instead of looking to another person’s definition or a general rule, because there are none. Rather than striving for balance, we can strive to master the art balancing, which allows for more flux and change.

Life is movement, not a perfect or stagnant balance. Enjoy the slice of leftover cake, enjoy the talks till dawn, enjoy the moments by yourself, enjoy the work, enjoy it all, or none of it – if that’s not for you.

Again, there are no rules. As Miranda concludes, “Let’s just enjoy ourselves. Let’s just thank and respect each other’s selves.”

Early next year, I'll be on a panel discussing work-life balance (or the next best thing) as part of the Makers & Shakers Conference alongside Professor Susan Luckman, Kate Berry, and Tiff Manuell. Super early bird tickets now available! 

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Madeleine Dore