“How do you find balance?”
That was a question at a panel I spoke on a few months ago. My honest answer? “I don’t.”
Sometimes I find time for play, as I did recently on our trip to Santa Monica. But most of the time right now, I work 7 days a week. I don’t see my friends as often as I want to. I don’t devote enough time to exploring new things, in the city or beyond.
I struggle to find balance. I move toward the ends of spectrums more often than I find a good place to live in the middles.
And I know — staying at extremes too long can lead us to unhappiness, illness, stress, burnout, and more. But I don’t know if hunting down perfect balance is the right answer, either.
I loved the question though, and the discussion it sparked. The entire panel was focused on pursuing your own path to find success, which is a topic I’ve written about extensively on past blogs on my old site and on Medium.
I wanted to revive the discussion a bit and share it with you today — including the full answer to what I think of balance and its place in our lives — in 7 tips.
1. Perfect Balance is a Myth (and Possibly a Distraction)
Most people talk about balance like it’s the end-all, be-all. If we just find balance, we will find happiness, deep fulfillment, and peace.
But in my experience, perfect balance isn’t a real thing. There’s more of an ebb and flow to all things. We experience seasons. Life is cyclical and I find, like that ferris wheel on the pier, things tend to circle back ’round in big, imperfect loops.
One month, I may be all about that hustle. But it’s because the month before that I played a whole lot — or I know I want to create space for myself in the next month to come. That’s balance to me.
I don’t think an even 50/50 split is real balance. And chasing after that is only going to frustrate you because it’s an illusion.
Nothing can stay perfectly poised on such a precarious point for long, and you can make yourself crazy focusing on your balancing act rather than on just accepting what is instead of resisting, or pining after what isn’t.
2. Inspiration Shouldn’t Be Measured by Lightbulb Moments
Since I started my own business, people have often asked me what inspired that action. My answer gets complicated because there was no single moment where I said, “I’m going to do this.”
Well, with one exception: When a past manager told me I was “insubordinate,” that was my wake-up call. That was when I thought, okay, sure, I am — and that means I’m in the wrong place and need to make a change.
But I don’t even think I could have had that realization had I not spent months going through slow changes and entertaining subtle thoughts about my options. And I did think through my options.
It wasn’t like I had this inspirational Eureka moment where everything suddenly became crystal clear and the path before me felt solid and certain.
I deliberated, I considered, I debated. I hemmed and hawed for months about what I wanted to do — about what I could do.
The more I experienced, the more I learned and grew. Slowly, over time, the vision of what I wanted my life to look like in the future solidified. I felt more confident about making the changes I needed if I wanted to create my ideal life.
If any flashes came to me, they were more like flashes of insight or better understanding of something I had been noodling on for a while. Things had been simmering away, and the realization that, “this is done!” came quickly.
But the actual work of building up that inspiration or insight took weeks or months to happen, even if clarity occured to me on a conscious level in a quick moment.
3. Pursue Your Own Thing No Matter What
I don’t care what you do or where you work. Everyone needs a passion project, a side gig, a creative outlet.
You’re looking at my creative outlet. I needed a place to write and share for no other reason than to go through the process of writing. So I started this blog. I share snippets of writing on Instagram. I even fill notebooks full of random, often bad scribbles that never see the light of day again.
Sometimes it feels like a lot of extra work since I’m also a writer and content creator for a living. But often, I find it’s a way for me to stay inspired, creative, and curious. And you never know where the little offshoots of personal, creative projects can lead.
Life is not linear. The more paths you create for yourself, the more opportunities you’ll have and the more options you’ll get to choose from. Far from being stuck, you’ll likely face a different challenge: knowing what to focus on and when.
But I’d take that problem over running out of choices any day. Always have something going on, for yourself and not for work and not as a means for an end… just as a way to explore and stay open to the world and new ideas.
4. Popular Culture Doesn’t Tell the Truth About Entrepreneurship
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into some variation of the statement, “you’re not really serious about this unless you leap into it 100%.” Meaning, if you want to pursue your own thing… you have to jump into it with no reservations and no safety nets.
Jump and the net shall appear, right?
Ugh. Wrong. Jump and slam into the ground at full speed is often more like it.
The most successful entrepreneurs know this. I highly recommend reading Originals by Adam Grant, which details how the founders of Warby Parker kept day jobs long after the company’s launch and initial success. (Bill Gates did the same when he created Microsoft.) Why?
Just in case.
You diversify if you invest so you don’t risk losing everything all at once. You can do the same in other areas of your life. Diversification, after all, is a way to mitigate and spread risk so any one hit or loss doesn’t hurt so much — or sink the whole damn ship.
When it comes to doing your own thing with your work, don’t feel like you need to quit your job and throw everything you’ve got into this business idea — especially if it’s just an idea right now.
Unfortunately, popular culture paints artists and entrepreneurs far differently than what reality demands for success. If you follow the tropes you’ve likely heard, you might believe you need to…
- Quit your job and use all your savings to test out an idea
- Wait for inspiration to strike
- Suffer for your art
- Work in your business 50+ hours a week to be successful
- Spend money to make money
…and a whole lot of other stuff. But none of this works. Far from delivering you to the feet of success, practicing the items on this list will more often doom you to failure instead.
I worked 80 and 90 hour weeks for months when I wanted to make the transition to freelancing. Half the day I’d spend at my day job. When I got home, my other workday began as I built my freelance business from nothing to something significant and sustainable.
I didn’t quit that day job until my self-employment income was almost three times as much as my paycheck. Only then did I think, “okay, this works. Let’s do it full-time.”
Did it suck at the time? Absolutely. But I did the work required to build up the business I wanted. T
hen I transitioned over into that business full-time, and I believe I’ve been more successful not only because of the experience but also because I never dug myself into a giant hole that I then had to leverage a lot of time, energy, and money to come out of.
5. Entrepreneurship Isn’t for Everyone
That brings me to something that might be even more important to point out: entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is not the silver bullet solution to your career woes and it is not the only ticket to the freedom you want.
Being mindful and intentional with your life is not about following any one set path. Breaking out of the status quo of the 9 to 5 job for some other kind of work is not breaking the mold at all if you’re doing it because you think you should or because someone else told you that you should.
It took me years to figure out, but entrepreneurship isn’t for me. Freelancing is, but actually running a business that can operate without me? Nope.
(That’s the difference between the two, by the way: can your thing run without you? If yes, you’re a business-owning entrepreneur. If no, you’re probably a freelancer.)
And that’s fine. I don’t have to run a giant, scaling business with a team to be successful. My definition of success is me doing what I want with my time and earning money from it. What I want to do with my time is write, and that’s what I do aaaall day long.
I make good money from it, too. Boom. Successful and not an entrepreneur.
You can be successful and not-an-entrepreneur too if entrepreneurship is not for you. But the only person who can determine that is you. Know yourself well enough to understand what you’re actually seeking — and then go after that, whatever it is.
6. “Doing Work You Love Means Never Working a Day in Your Life” Is a Lie, Too (Sorry)
On a similar note, the warm and fuzzy idea that work you love isn’t work at all is flat-out wrong. In fact, whatever your real calling is, whatever it is you feel compelled to do — you have to do it because it causes you pain not to do it — will be the hardest work you do in your life.
You will put more effort, more energy, more of yourself into work you love than any other job. And even something you love requires slogging through some stuff you probably don’t find fun to make it viable.
I highly recommend embracing the process of doing the work and finding joy even in the parts of it that feel more like toiling away than soaring to creative heights.
7. Your Passion Doesn’t Have to Pay the Bills
Back when I started researching how to switch from employee to self-employed worker, I couldn’t go more than 30 minutes without finding some variation of the advice to “find your passion” or “start with what you’re passionate about.”
There are a couple of problems with this:
- You might not know what your passion is
- If you know what your passion is, forcing it to pay your bills is a good way to kill it
If you don’t know what your passion is, explore more. Try new things. Put yourself in situations that might push you beyond your normal. Accept discomfort and say yes to things you might normally avoid.
Branch out. Reach out. Be open.
You’ll find something you feel passionate about this way. Is it the passion for you? Who knows. It might be today, but in two years you’ll be a different person and your passion might shift, too.
That’s one reason it’s a bit dangerous to stake everything on “your passion.” Who you are, including what you find worthy of passion, is constantly changing.
What I find more meaningful than passions are callings. Again, your calling is that thing that you can’t not do. Even if you’re not good at it, you want to pursue it. It’s worth that much to you. The thought of not doing it doesn’t compute.
Your calling doesn’t have to be what you do for a living. It could be — but you don’t have to force it to generate income for you. Your job can be the thing that allows you to answer your calling. Nothing wrong with that.
If you want to try to make money doing what you feel compelled to do, go for it. Sometimes it’s amazing. Other times, it’s hard. Many people find that once they’re obligated to do that work that meant so much to them, something gets lost.
The point is, you don’t have to force it. I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway, in the end — it’s not about doing one thing over the other. It’s not about right and wrong, what’s good and what’s better.
It’s only about what’s best for you, whatever that is. If it’s super unique and wild and out there, cool. If it’s completely traditional and structured and linear, also cool — as long as, in either case, you took the time to figure out what matters to you.
Take that as a bonus 8th tip, if you want. Whatever you do, do the hard work of building self-awareness.
Know thyself, and everything else you’re wondering about or seeking advice on will suddenly seem to resolve itself with powerful clarity.
If you’re digging what you’ve read so far, I’d love to invite you to join us — and maybe even try your hand at going beyond wealth, too.
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