Of course, finding balance has always been a part of the human condition, at least since the industrial revolution, if not before—many recorded and Biblical accounts acknowledge this. Our imbalance plight accelerated in the ’80s, however, after we entered the information age.
Why does more imbalance exist in America than anywhere else?
First, we’re industrious. In fact, 70% of Americans say they would keep on working even if rich, which is more than other industrious countries like Germany would say. The same percentage says hard work determines success, not luck or connections, so we usually put in overtime. Second, we’re inventive and optimistic dreamers. And dreamers often chase things at all costs.
Next, Americans are fiercely independent. Since we believe we have to do everything by ourselves, this makes us work extra hard. Lastly, Americans stand alone as the most religious developed country in the world—by far. Like dreamers, believers have strong convictions. And when you have as firm beliefs as we do, you don’t let up easy, even in light of convincing data telling you it’s okay.
So we’re often overworked. Not involuntary, mind you. We’re work-a-holics by our own free will and choice.
But people can change, Americans very much included.
Six years after finding balance in my Montana moment—this after mostly overworking in my ’20s—here are two things anyone can do to overcome imbalance and self-induced ill-being:
- Set boundaries on your time. This goes for work (career and ambitions) and personal (i.e. maintenance) time, as well as media and tech use at all hours. By all means, embrace an unconventional schedule if you like. But set and respect boundaries. Understand that work can wait until your next shift, and that play can wait until playtime. It’s okay to break the rules sometimes. Although I rarely use them, I allot 3–4 “emergency” work sessions on nights or weekends each year, based on the opportunity stakes. Similarly, I play hooky quite often during the work week, more so after immediate goals and client needs have been met. Some will argue you can have it all with a blended life, but you can’t. Trade-offs are real. Boundaries must be set. This is the #1 thing you can do to find balance.
- Use downtime to relax, explore, and better yourself. In the 16 hours each day you’re not working—assuming you enjoy the first world luxury of an eight hour work day, which data shows is the most sustainable amount—you should foster the following: sleep (95% of people require eight hours), eating, relaxation, pleasure, leisure, social development (i.e. you’re never too busy for people), perpetual education, self-mastery, and spiritual development (if you don’t believe in life after death, at least meditate upon your existence). Doing all that requires its own level of delicate balance. But in my experience, just attempting and nurturing each of the above is enough to feel good about oneself, especially if you’re already respecting crucial work/lifestyle boundaries.
Obviously, finding balance is a life-long pursuit that can’t be defined with two easy principles. And I’m in no way the model example. Just some guy that’s in the 50% balanced pool, attempting to help others find their version of balance. When that happens, I believe humans lead even more enriched lives, which makes them more sympathetic, more loving, more productive, more awesome, and more satisfied.