Stop Trying to Balance Your Life

There's something called the "4 Burners Theory" that says you have 4 aspects of your life:

  • Health
  • Career
  • Family
  • Friends

If you want to kill it in life, you have to sacrifice 1 of these. If you want to reach your highest potential, you have to sacrifice 2.

It depends on what you want to achieve, right? If you sacrifice Career & Health, you'll be very poor and unhealthy but you'll be beloved by your social circle. You can make similar assessments of the other permutations. If you just cut off 1, then that's somewhat nicer since you only have to suck at 1 thing versus 2.

But let's say you've been hearing all about work-life balance, and that this sounds like a nightmare to you. Why would you bother getting rid of any aspect of your life? That's crazy! You'd sooner throw the baby out with the bathwater, letting your whole life go down the tubes than admit there is 1 part of your life that is just a little bit less important to you than the other 3.

Well, deep down we all have dreams and we all value certain things above all others. So we know what we want in life, if we just take time to feel it out and think it over. So what's stopping you from, say, taking a year off from 1 of these 4 things, or at the very least, having minimal action taken on that 1 thing?

The answer tends to vary from person to person, but social pressure is a big one. We want people to like us, it's just how we're wired. If you can show me 1 person who truly does not care what others think of them, I'll probably consider them a sociopath. While we all care at least a little bit, it doesn't have to run our lives. We can make decisions that are good for us even if they don't sound great to the people in our lives. We just have to accept there are always consequences to every decision. Inaction can often hurt worse than action when it comes to moving our lives forward.

So my position on this is that it is not insane to sacrifice 1 or even 2 of these things...if it's temporary. Disagree if you want, but having only half of these things is honestly a half of a life. The goal should be to sprint towards success when the time calls for it, but then have time to rest and enjoy the success we have earned. We should not have to live our entire lives without any 1 of these 4 "burners".

Health is important because life is short and we shouldn't want it to be even shorter. We should be able to walk about the world without aches and pains and disease holding us back. We should have the energy to be excited about life and we need good health for this.

Career is important because it's how we get resources to enjoy everything else life has to offer. We shouldn't live for work, but rather work to live. Work can be enjoyable but we should balance it with the people in our lives and the activities we enjoy for their own sake.

Family is important because we need people in our corner who will always be around. Arguably friends can be the family we choose, and I consider those kinds of friends family as well. The idea is to have intimate relationships that are long-lasting and can weather the worst storms.

Friends are important because we don't always need that kind of intimacy. Sometimes we just want to have some light fun and people to enjoy nonsensical shenanigans with. It's not always about the deep and personal in life. Sometimes we need to just chill out and throw that stuff to the wind.

But we can't always have a perfect balance. Not really. Our lives will be like the rise and fall of empires, the highs and lows of the economy, the tide, the ups and downs that constitute the reality of many natural phenomena. During times of prosperity, we can enjoy a balance. During times of scarcity, we need to be prepared to have work-life imbalance.

When we are threatened with scarcity, we have to cut off 1 or 2 burners to get back to our comfort zone to resume that balance once more. If we don't, we risk falling deeper into scarcity and not returning for an even longer period of time. We can't fear the work required to restore balance. But we can't have balance forever.

Life is not about balance. It is about acceptance that balance will come and go, and we will be better off because of that instability. Nature teaches us that instability and messiness is part of the cosmic order of things.

Don't fight the tide. Let yourself be along for the ride.