Who Says We Need Balance?

Who Says We Need Balance?

Spring came unusually early this year in the South of France. I sat under my favorite hundred-year-old olive tree, called a “centenaire” in French and much revered by landscapers and homeowners alike. I had helped select it 15 years before for my friend’s garden, and watched as it was placed by a bobcat in precisely the right spot in the garden.

Legs crossed, hands facing upwards on my knees, I began my quieting process before meditation. But despite the ambiance, gentle sunshine, and relaxing grey-green leaves of the tree, all I could think about was that I hadn’t cleared my email in days.

I had been away from home for about a week, but had stayed up all night before traveling, being sure all bills were paid, all moneys transferred wherever they needed to be “just in case,” kitty-cat care arranged, enough Facebook and Twitter entries written in advance, articles submitted where promised, coaching clients settled into assignments, and everyone notified of my schedule and whereabouts. Everything in order, in case something happened and I didn’t return. The typical anal-compulsive drill before going on any trip, it’s something I’ve been doing for decades in my international consulting career.

As the days passed on the trip, I had been distracted first by resolving estate and family issues, and then by taking a few days to truly enjoy my friends in the French countryside.

And somehow I felt guilty about not reading my email. Guilty enough to not be able to settle in for a quiet meditation under my favorite tree.

I searched for the culprit.

“Balance,” I said. “It’s about balance again.”

Here I was, taking time for myself and feeling guilty about it.

You can’t win. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t take time for yourself, you’re called a workaholic. And if you do, your inner critic chastises you for being frivolous, and not moving your business forward “in these troubled times” as you should … especially in the 24/7 world we live in.

The more I thought about the concept of “balance,” the more I realized that it’s a vicious, illusive myth that’s been perpetrated upon us, especially us women.

It relates to being told we can juggle all our roles … income-earner, mother, daughter, good friend, employee or employer, political or social activist, financier, healthy eater, wise exerciser, and self-nurturer … for starters … and that once we get everything just right, we’ll feel great about ourselves.

Sounds like perfectionism to me. Sounds like B.S. … and a real stress generator.

Someone created the myth that we need balance in our lives.

Someone sitting outside my life, deciding what is best for me.

(As if I needed one more impossible goal.)

We only have 24 hours in a day, not 26 … or 32. That part’s not flexible.

Now, whether it’s about our finances or our diet or time dedicated to family and friends, life is a moving target. Each day will demand different time allocations to different things because they’ll scream loudest.

So I decided it was time for a truce. First of all, I’d banish the word “balance” from my vocabulary because it has an arbitrary, not-invented-here feel to it. Next, I’d acknowledge that we all know the rules, that is, we know what we truly need to do. And then I’d accept that, if something started feeling ignored or abandoned, or if something shot up red flares or caused raised eyebrows, it would automatically move itself to the head of the line.

Then I thought about the fourth Toltec agreement: Always Do Your Best. (It’s from a life-changing book, by the way, by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements: “Be Impeccable with Your Word,” “Don’t Take Anything Personally,” “Don’t Make Assumptions,” and “Always Do Your Best.” And now there’s The Fifth Agreement written with his son Jose: “Be Skeptical but Learn to Listen.”)

So here’s my new commitment:  balance be damned.  As long as I feel things are generally moving in the right direction … and knowing that I’m a conscientious, caring person … I can let my life fall into whatever gentle ebb and flow generally gets things done.

How liberating is that? Think about how personal that concept is. Always do YOUR best. Not someone else’s. Yours.

And imagine: I reached that conclusion without ever having gotten into a meditative state. It must have been the wisdom flowing from the centenaire olive tree. Or maybe I was just learning to listen …


Sharon O’Day is an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret ‘weapon,’ if you will, behind many individuals in high places. At age 53, she lost everything: her home, her business, everything. Since then, Sharon has interviewed women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her focus is to show women how to reach financial security for the long term. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.

  • Holli

    Good morning! Hi Sharon, I believe we may have a lot in common and would love to get together with you to talk. Your emails say Hallandale, Fla. and if that is indeed true, I am your neighbor – right now in Fort Lauderdale. Please let me know the best way to set up a time with you. My email is healthbyholli@gmail.com; 954 600-0183 is telephone.
    Enjoy the rest of your vacation,
    Holli Rovenger

    • Anonymous

      Holli, I’ve emailed you and look forward to talking to you!

  • Denny

    After reading your brilliant and wise words, of which I am in total agreement, a new word came to mind that fits…”priority”…not in the sense of urgency but in the sense of “what is most important to me today”…and that can and should include all areas of our lives, even personal down time.

    Thanks for bringing this to light Sharon, I believe we all struggle with this…and it came at a perfect time for me. My family has been wanting to spend the Easter weekend on our boat and I have been hesitant because of my work and all that goes with it…Although I can work aboard the boat, I don’t have the necessary focus as I do when I am home in my office.

    But now, because of this article, I am setting a “priority” and that is that what is most important to me for THIS weekend is enjoying my family!


  • I struggle with balance all the time — work, family, me — and you are right, it never really ‘balances’ properly. Denny got it right when she said that it comes down to priority. I think the thing that I’ve had to learn is that sometimes the priority is my family and sometimes it’s my business — and both are okay!

    Thanks for your wise words Sharon! They’ve really made me think this morning. 🙂

    • Tara, we ALL struggle with balance. That’s what was so striking as I thought about it. It’s as if we’re supposed to carve out little cubbyholes and somehow make life fit into a fixed structure, no matter what! Life’s messier than that. (Fortunately!)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this article today, Sharon! This mindset is so freeing and guilt-relieving. Life ebbs and flows and things still get done. This week a new grandchild and my daughter’s babymoon are at the top of my list and work will get done here and there. Perfect timing!

    • Congratulations, Charlotte, on the heavenly piece of new “Life” that just disrupted what some might think should be a cookie-cutter existence. Ebb. Then flow. And breathe.

  • This brings back memories of the times when my children were toddlers, and I was going to school getting a B.S. in computer science (which involved spending a lot of time in the lab). And, this was back before home computers, so it meant spending time at school, in the lab.

    Instead of fully engaging in each thing independently, it was a time of constant guilt! When I was spending time w/ our kids, I felt guilty that I wasn’t studying. And, when I was studying, I felt guilty I wasn’t spending time with the kids! Such a woman thing!

    Thanks for the reminder to go with the ebb and flow of life. “I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life” Ecclesiastes 3:11

  • What a beautiful article Sharon. My hair was standing on end as I was reading it which is a sign (so someone told me) of the real truth. Whether from your collective wisdom or the olive tree or what I call the ‘Home Office’, it definitely struck a chord with me today. I am inspired to forgive myself for not answering to everything that is calling my name. That really is a freeing feeling. Thank you 🙂

    • “Collective wisdom” … “Home Office” … I call them downloads … 😉

  • Sharon, you have a great way of putting things down. First things first and have our priorities in order (lie Denny said). We have to be able to smell the roses and enjoy our life.

  • Holy cow! Sharon you must have been inside my head. You have just written every thought that goes through my head daily. Your words are as exact as if I had written them myself. I am learning, day by day, to relax and enjoy where I am at any given moment. It is not always easy, but I figure it’s a process and a journey; much like our lives. Thanks for sharing this revelation and how to overcome those nagging thoughts.

  • Ohmygosh– I used to have the same guilt about not checking my email on vacations or even a day. Couple ways to get over that– put an automated reply that you are out, not checking email, then include a number to use if it’s a true emergency and/or kittens may be harmed if you are not reached.

  • I believe we all need to find our own personal rhythm… and for me, personally, that means more time, not less, just being and not doing anything. Yay for you, Sharon! And welcome back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I do the same thing – the word relax and take time for me is one thing I have a hard time enjoying worrying about what I need to be doing some where else. That is something I am working on – email will be there when we get done.

  • Sondra Wright

    FABULOUS Sharon. I struggle often with not beating myself up for lounging on the couch with a cup of tea enjoying a TV program. This post is so freeing!

  • Great article Sharon and I totally agree with you that balance is a crock! For me, if I go to bed each night feeling content with my day and knowing that I’ve done the best I could today – that is what is important for me.

  • Great article Sharon and I totally agree with you that balance is a crock! For me, if I go to bed each night feeling content with my day and knowing that I’ve done the best I could today – that is what is important for me.

    • A woman after my own heart … 😉 Feels good, doesn’t it, Deb?

  • Great article Sharon and I totally agree with you that balance is a crock! For me, if I go to bed each night feeling content with my day and knowing that I’ve done the best I could today – that is what is important for me.

  • Rachelle

    My day has been crash and burn since I woke up finally culminating with the baby deciding that today he wasn’t going down for a nap. I put him in bed 3 times and finally I scooped him up in my arms and sang him a silly song and we plopped down on my bed and giggled and laughed until my side ached. He was being so cute. Now he’s playing very nicely with some cars and I can get some work done. I was feeling FAILURE but then I read your article. Everything is fine.

    • Rachelle, I’m glad the article gave you permission to enjoy the moments with your little one. Since his decision not to nap was totally out of your control, may as well give in to it rather than stress … which doesn’t solve anything … and make everyone happy. As for the work, when you do get to it and when you can focus, you’re that much more motivated.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the wonderful article Sharon! “Balance” is a concept I’ve been struggling with myself pretty heavily over the past year, and I think your insight opens up a far more peaceful perspective on the subject.