The secret to happiness is a balanced life, right?
Achieving that perfect combination – the rewarding career, the wonderful loving family, the fulfilling hobbies and passions (equal parts replenishing and thrilling, relaxing and invigorating) and of course a large house full of pretty stuff. That’s the route to happiness, isn’t it?
Despite my original training as a “Life Coach”, which had at its core this pursuit of the perfect work/life balance, as I’ve read about, written about, worked with, coached, and been inspired and taught by more and more amazing creative artists over the years, I’ve realised that this is an impossible dream. News Flash, eh?
The plump red cherry on the top of this sweet little cake of enlightenment that’s slowly been baking within me, came in the form of a comment from my good friend Courtney Carver.
You know how some people have a habit of taking something you’ve been pondering and wrestling with for weeks, months, even years, and are able to encapsulate it in a single line of simple, searing truth?
Well Courtney does that pretty often. On this occasion she said:
“Balance does not exist when you have too much to balance.”
Something went off in me that was not so much a lightbulb, but more akin to a gigantic mile high lighthouse that can be seen from space.
This phrase, this idea, helped me finally realise that it’s ok to not try to do absolutely everything, and have all parts of life in order at the same time.
Yes of course we want to strive to be the best partner, parent, friend, employee, employer, artist we can be. It’s natural.
But if we try to do it all at once, there’s only going to be one outcome – a burned out, exhausted wreck of a person who constantly lives as if they’re tiptoeing backwards along a razor tightrope of anxiety, never able to give their best to anything they do, because they’re trying to give their best to EVERYthing they do. All at the same time.
We have limits.
Limited time, limited energy, limited focus.
Coach training, culture training, tells us we can have it all.
But when you focus on the important things – the REALLY important things to you, not the list of 39 important things you must have in your life in order to be happy and fulfilled that you got from a magazine you never even realised you’d been subscribed to for the last two, three, four decades – you see that you CAN have it all. All that matters to YOU.
By accepting our limitations, by embracing our glorious, beautiful, imperfect, unique selves, we can get on with being them to the full.
Suddenly, instead of blindly stumbling, we can start to soar. Strap on the rocket packs and hold on to your pants, we’re going into orbit.
Put yourself in this scenario:
You’ve been sat in circular room with a 20 TV screens lining the entire circumference of the walls. Each one is connected to a video game of some kind, the 20 different controllers laying there on the floor, as each screen blinks “GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN.” insistently in your face.
Your mission? Play every game and get the best score of your life. At the same time.
Can you imagine how frantic you’d be, and how fruitless an exercise it would be?
How crazily you’d be darting from game to game, with another different controller on another different screen, trying to do something at least halfway useful before dropping it and racing to the next one?
You wouldn’t get anywhere far with any of the games, you certainly wouldn’t be able to get your best ever score.
Some games wouldn’t even get started, and that “GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN.” would be seared on your retinas as an indelible mark of your utter failing that you weren’t successfully killing it on these 20 games at once.
Sounds a ridiculous task to even attempt doesn’t it?
But this is how we often try to live our lives…
What if, instead, you had just five screens, and removed the other 15?
What if, with those five remaining, you switched four of them off, and sat down just with one.
What if you then focused on that single screen, that single game?
The likelihood is that pretty soon you’d be seeing “CONGRATULATIONS! NEW HIGH SCORE!” on the screen. A huge grin would be spread across your face, your confidence would be bubbling over and a hundred little yeses would exploding like tiny fireworks inside your heart.
When you feel that sense of accomplishment – even just that sense alone that you have focused on one single thing, given it your best and now are glowing in the reward of that commitment – it makes it so obvious that this is the true route to happiness.
Remember, you still have four more screens. You can go and play them at other times, one at a time, and enjoy those games to the full too. Just because they’re switched off now, it doesn’t mean you won’t switch them on again, and very regularly.
Let’s bring this whole idea out of that hypothetical circular room and back to you and your creative life.
Here’s the reality:
You cannot simultaneously work on 20 different projects. You’d be that frazzled burned out wreck of an artist we spoke of earlier. ANY and EVERY one of us would be exactly the same. It’s not humanly possible to have unlimited time and energy.
But what of you decided on three or four projects to work on for the next month or two? Then what if you just worked on one of those projects at a time, every day, giving them your full attention, commitment and abundant, unique creativity?
I’m not even saying all day everyday. Just 15 or 30 minutes each day would be a fantastic start.
Courtney’s comment is worth repeating here, (especially as it’s been the inspiration for this whole impassioned post!) :
“Balance does not exist when you have too much to balance.”
Instead of seeking a balance that does not, and cannot, exist in your life as it is now, try this:
1. Pick just two or three or four projects.
2. Work on just one at a time, regularly. As in every day.
3. Reap the rewards of being an artist who is immersed in their most important work and giving it their all, every day.
Ask any artist about the way they feel when they’re in that full creative flow and their eyes mist over, they talk of being beautifully lost in a place far from here where time does not exist and all they need to think of, all they need to do with their entire minds, hearts and bodies, is keep letting that glorious creativity pour through them.
I’ve no doubt it’s somewhere you’ve visited yourself.
This is happiness, an artist’s happiness. It comes from that intense, almost obsessive focus. On one thing. Not watching 20 screens at once.
The way to find it more and more often is just like we’ve talked about. Pick fewer games, let go of the rest, and focus everything you have on one at a time. There is no other way.
Go, the rocket pack’s ready!
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