Balance your tires. Or drive your car off the road.

My Dad is an extremely intelligent guy.  He’s one of those people that is always teaching you things and you don’t even realize it. He drives his cars forever. “Jeff, at 100,000 miles, it’s just getting broken in!” was one of many “Dad-ism’s”. To him, it never made sense to buy something new when his 10 year old car drives perfectly. “Change your oil and balance your tires, and your car will last forever”, he would say.

I am pretty sure that, like most things, my Dad wasn’t just talking about the car. My Dad didn’t just balance his tires, he balanced his life.  He used to tell me that when a car’s tires are out of balance, the car will quickly veer off the road.  When a person’s life is out of balance, their life can run off the road pretty quickly too.

The whole world wants to achieve balance in their lives, and so many people spend the majority of their time fighting their car from veering off the road.   So many people that I have worked with have uttered those desperate words, “my life is out of balance”.   That’s the ultimate red flag, and some challenging stuff lies ahead.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, what you do for a living, how many kids you have, or how much you travel for work. People want life balance, and they are challenged to find it in their lives. The reason it’s hard to find is because it’s not something that can be “found”. You don’t stumble on it. You go get it.

Balance is not out of reach, and when you attain some sense of balance in your life, the positive effect on all areas of your life is profound. I’ve been in balance, and I’ve been out of balance, and I have found that balance is a whole lot more fun. As we wrap up 2017, and as each of us begin to plan for 2018 with a renewed commitment to life balance, allow me to share my top 5 thoughts on the subject.

1. Stop saying “work-life balance” because it shortchanges your life.

When people think about their life, the statement “work-life balance” sounds like there are only two parts to your existence: Work and everything else.  That’s ridiculous because because your life is far more complex than that, and far more important.  Work is a part of your life, not separated from it. Along with work, you have your faith, family, community, finances, and your physical health. It’s all part of the balance equation. If you lump all of the “non work” elements of your life into one big bucket, you will shortchange something.  Stop striving for work-life balance and strive for life balance.  This is not just semantics……it’s the real deal.

2. What is life balance?

I have spent the better part of my life studying, observing, learning about and striving for life balance. It just intrigues me. I have read so many definitions of life balance, and quite frankly, most of them miss the mark. Life balance is when your actions match your values.  That’s it.  Do you spend your time doing things that are directly aligned to your values? When you do, you are in balance. When you don’t, your life gets out of whack. Notice I said “values”, not priorities.   The reason is because priorities change and values don’t.   In other words, on any given day, you might have to put in a 16 hour day due to work priorities. That’s fine, because that’s life.  In brief moments of time, certain areas of your life will get the short end of the stick. But if you work 16 hour days every day for 5 years, that is a statement of your values and the disconnect is not sustainable. And the family that you tell yourself you value will take notice when you always Facetime them on their birthday.

3. Balance is not a state of being; it’s a constant state of active decision-making.

The people in my life that are the most “balanced” are the ones that are constantly balancing.   It never ends.  It’s the constant balancing that makes their balance sustainable over decades.  It’s just like the tires….you have to rotate them every 10,000 miles.  Our lives are so dynamic and active that unless we are constantly assessing whether our actions are matching our values, we run the risk of getting out of touch with our own lives.  Challenge yourself to constantly assess. And adjust.

4. Balance is not a zero sum game.

I spoke with someone the other day who was faced with a job opportunity that would require Monday through Friday travel.  I told him that after traveling for a career,  I found that extensive travel doesn’t lead to greater productivity, it leads to less productivity and burn out. People think that when you dedicate more energy to work, you will dedicate less time to your family. And when you dedicate more time to your family, you dedicate less time to Church. And when you dedicate more time to working out by yourself, you dedicate less time to your community.  Balance doesn’t work that way.  When the car is in balance, it runs better. When your life is in balance, your life runs better.

5. You need to admit that you always have what you want.

I realize this is a controversial statement, (tragedies and misfortunes excluded).  But, please think it through.  What you do with your life is a function of the decisions you make. So if you believe you have the capacity to make the decisions in your life to affect the areas of your life, stop telling yourself you want one thing, and doing another.   In other words, if you tell yourself every year that you need to lose weight and get in shape, then stop eating cheeseburgers for lunch. What you are telling yourself is that you want the cheeseburger more than you want the health.  Don’t lie to yourself, it’s a bad habit that leads to bigger pants.

I would suggest that before you head into 2018, that you do two things before you set your “New Year’s resolutions” or “annual goals”.

  1. Ask yourself what your true values are and rank them. If you don’t know your values, you can’t balance your actions.
  2. Ask yourself where you spent your time in 2017.  Be honest.

There are many well documented ways to quantitatively assess your life balance, but I believe if you ask yourself those two questions, you will get a fairly good feel for the state of your balance.  After that, you know what to do. Balance the tires and enjoy the road in 2018.

Next Mountain Up.