If you’ve found your way to this blog, the chances are that you might consider yourself an activist. If that’s the case, chances also are that you or someone you love has had issues with balance. Perhaps you or that special someone has even made a recent New Year’s resolution about the topic? You know what I’m talking about; it’s what others often call ‘"life/work balance," but for us, it doesn’t divide up quite so neatly. Those of us who call ourselves activists often see our work as a vocation, a way of life. And thus, restoration of balance can be a more complex and confusing enterprise. And yet it is also, without doubt, our most important work of all.
Balance takes many forms, of course. For me it is about getting good rest, eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and structuring my life so I have time to do what I’ve committed to doing, and doing it well. It is about a good mix of what must be done and what I love to do, and a healthy information diet filled with a blend of beauty and joy to go along with the often grim stuff associated with "the hard truths" of our times. It’s also about reaching out when I need to, and not being afraid to tell the truth about my situation.
This month I remembered (yet again) that cultivating balance in my life is the most important act of true love I can express for myself. Because when I made some changes to my schedule, I saw the price I pay for being out of balance, even ever so slightly. There it was, impacting the quality of my health and my relationships, not to mention my dog’s personality. (You can imagine the irony when the most action my yoga mat got one week was being chewed up by my usually adorable mini-poodle, who, after not getting sufficient daily walks, got amped enough to practice behaviors previously unfamiliar to us, earning him the new nickname "Destructo-Beast" and me a new yoga mat.)
And then there was a visit to the extreme edge of imbalance. Overwhelm and procrastination had an effect so toxic that what I believed was true about the world changed. When I found myself with a few too many new additions to my schedule, I scraped up against that extreme edge and suddenly felt myself moving from feeling confident, grounded, and loved, to feeling afraid, scattered, and unworthy. Someone told me they loved me, and rather than my usual response of gratitude and trust, I wanted to interrogate them on how they could possibly love someone with a to-do list as long as mine.
Sound wacky and off-kilter? Yes, well, that's because it is—and I was. I’d hit the wall; just completely, absurdly flipping out. I feel blessed to have been able to walk back from that edge and move into action, because as I’ve read since, this pattern can be paralyzing for literally thousands of people every day.
But something clicked in, and my inner activist saved the day. The offline organizer in me said, “There must be a support system for this,” and the online organizer in me said, “There’s gotta be an app for that!” Turns out both were right! There are many projects to support activists in finding balance, and a great example is The Self Care Project. Their answers to why balance and self care matter so much are spot on, and finding them I was able to talk myself down from that extreme edge. Why self care? They say:
• Because its hard to be healthy in an unhealthy society.
• Because we’re in this for the long haul.
• Because we’re better in the work when we’re better to ourselves.
• Because science tells us we are smarter when we have enough sleep.
• Because changing the world can feel hard and frustrating and lonely.
• Because there’s much to do and never enough time.
• Because it’s not all your job, it just feels like that sometimes.
• Because running on adrenaline seven days a week doesn’t mean you’re doing good work.
• Because self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence.
• Because breaking bad habits shouldn’t break the bank.
• Because most of the work is done by people whose names you’ll never know.
• Because it requires more self discipline to take a break now than ever before.
• Because your self worth isn’t measured by how busy you are.
• Because we want a movement that builds us up, instead of burning us out.
• Because it’s okay to talk about how you feel.
• Because bubble baths, chocolate and drinking alone are not a long-term solution.
If you are a book learner, check out The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way, by the lovely Hillary Rettig. And depending on what kind of steadying hand you need, here are a few tools that might help.
If you want to easily track your time (and I’ve found that clarity about how I pass my time is a key to better balance!) check out an app called Harvest. If what you really need is to stay offline and focused, there’s an app called Freedom that literally locks your computer from accessing the internet so you can get work done, free from the distractions of the web.
And here’s the kicker: If what you really crave is a support system of allies to help you through these moments of imbalance, it is time to tell the truth. It is likely some of your closest colleagues and friends face similar challenges and need you too, but have perhaps felt too ashamed and afraid to reach out. We can do this, together. Let’s make balance happen!