One summer, when one of my kids was a preschooler, I discovered she liked macaroni and cheese; in fact, she liked it so much, I started serving it almost every day for lunch. It was easy, she never complained, and things that reduce stress in everyday life tend to look amazingly appealing. Then one day, maybe around the middle of summer, I plunked the plate of macaroni down and I thought she was going to cry. Her face looked a little green as she fought back tears, finally telling me she was really sick of macaroni and cheese, and could she please have something else for lunch? Turns out in my haste to keep a good thing going, I forgot how important it is to balance a favorite item with other options; otherwise, what was once beloved can literally make our stomachs turn. This idea can be extended beyond the realm of lunchtime, as there are many areas of life where paying attention to balance helps us be happier people.
We live in a world where many jobs are increasingly demanding and it is difficult to achieve a good work/life balance. Often, it seems the more we give, the more companies might be willing to take. It is not only paid employment where we can exhaust ourselves: challenging schoolwork, parenting, housework, etc. can sap our energy if we do not carve out time for purposeful relaxation. Too much obligation can cause us to build up resentment and negativity. We are not made of endless energy and motivation, and even the most dedicated worker needs mental and physical breaks from work. Finding ways to balance hard work with things that we choose for enjoyment helps us be better employees, students, and parents.
Balancing the time we spend thinking and the time we spend acting helps us achieve clarity and accomplish our goals. At times, we are faced with making decisions and without an eye toward balance, we might stay stuck in contemplation mode well beyond a reasonable time frame. Of course, it is beneficial to weigh pros and cons and carefully consider different scenarios; however, spending too much time thinking before acting often creates more doubt and diminishes our confidence. As someone who has been known to linger excessively on a decision as simple as what type of pizza to order, I can attest to the frustration this creates for myself and the hungry people around me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, taking action without weighing different alternatives can lead to impulsive actions and regret, especially if the decisions involve more important matters than pizza. Paying attention to the balance between thought and action helps us make decisions we feel good about and conserve precious energy needed in other areas.
Balance can help us improve our perspective. I remember times when our kids would ask why they had to be physically sick; why they got left out of a party invitation; why a dating relationship had to end. Basically, they wanted to know why they had to go through hard times. As a parent, there are certainly no easy answers, and I often struggled with the same tough questions. At times, the only answer seemed to be, “maybe the difficult times help you appreciate the good times that much more.” These are the stretches when life itself reminds us of the necessity of balance, when we prove to ourselves that we can persevere through hardship and gain a new gratitude for times of more enjoyment and less struggles.
In our household, preschoolers are now college students, usually eating lunch away from home. We do not think nearly as much about balancing food options. Instead, we try to balance family time with time spent running in all different directions. It is up to us to prioritize family activities in order to try and even the scales out a bit better. We can all benefit from taking a step or two in the right direction instead of worrying about achieving perfect balance. It also helps to elevate the enjoyment of more rare moments to the highest level possible. That means some days we treat ourselves to something besides “the usual” for lunch, hopefully savoring every bite while enjoying time spent with the important people in our lives.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.