What is "Balance"?

Today in my Facebook group, Live Well (On Purpose) Community, I shared a talk I recorded on the topic of Balance and what it really means.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “balance” recently because for the last year, I’ve been a student of the Oola Life goal-setting process. But in all but 1 area of my life for the last 8 years, I feel as though I haven’t been growing at all. There is very little growth, so there is very little balance possible.

I’ve been growing in my Field (career), but my Fitness, Finance, Family, Faith, Friends, and Fun have all faltered or lacked real growth.

When I was 22 years old, I graduated from college with my religion degree and moved to Durham, North Carolina so my then-husband could attend Duke Divinity School. At age 22, I started my own freelance editing business and began supporting myself and my husband financially in a new city in a new career. I threw myself into my career and I didn’t look back.

When I was a senior in college that year before I moved, I was the fittest I’ve ever been. I was a runner, so my cardio level was off the charts! I was also eating really healthy food. Fitness was my stress release.

That year I was also writing a lot and loving being a student. I absorbed the information from my classes more in that year than I had in any of the other previous 3. I was living close to my immediate family as well. I was able to see my parents almost every evening and I was close to my mom. We were running buddies. Student loan debt hadn’t yet kicked in, and I was working for my dad, so my Finance level was pretty well balanced. I enjoyed my life and had Fun in almost every area of it. I was studying God and the Bible and theological texts in my classes, and I felt spiritually connected to God and the world around me. I also had many close Friends, including my mom, that I spent time with regularly.

At age 22, I had what I would now identify as an “Oola life.” I was growing and balanced in all 7 areas of life.

But then my world shifted. I moved to a new state in a new part of the country. I was newly graduated and saddled with debt. I was moving away from my family and friends to a place where I didn’t know anyone.

And instead of seeking balance first by slowly shifting every area into my new reality, I threw myself into the one area that was brand new: Field.

What I mean by my Field being my only “new” area of my life is that Field was the only part in which I didn’t have to alter the process by which I did it. Fitness? I had my routine down when I was living in Iowa. I had my running routes and my gym membership. I had my grocery store. I had my Fitness figured out. When I moved to North Carolina, I had to try to rework those routines. And it was difficult…and I failed to do it.

Same for my Finance. I had my budget figured out. I had very little to pay for before. My rent was cheap. My food was cheap. I could walk to class and get anywhere in town in 5 minutes or less—one tank of gas would last me almost a full month. When I moved, I had to drive everywhere, spending at least triple the amount of time getting from place to place in the car because it was a much bigger city. I had to start paying debt back. My rent was twice what I paid in Iowa. Everything was more expensive, and I had to make real money to cover my bills.

The same was true for my Family. I had been so used to seeing my parents every day. Now, I had to FaceTime with them or talk to them on the phone. I couldn’t hang out and drink wine with my momma. I couldn’t go for a run with mom on our favorite trail on a Saturday morning. I was, in many ways, alone, and I started to disconnect from my family and Friends simply because I was at a distance…

But the one new area of my life I could totally create and succeed in was my Field.

I could fail at shifting my Fitness routine (and I did).

I could fail at shifting my Financial process (and I did).

I could fail at shifting my connection to Friends and Family and my Faith (and I did).

I couldn’t fail at my Field because I didn’t have any past process to adjust in order to succeed. I could just create it new. And that’s exactly what I did.

I started reaching out to clients and building my skills. I took on small projects to fill out my resume. I took classes and read books. I attended seminars and networking events. I threw myself into the freelance life 100%.

And that left 0% for any other area. It wasn’t long before my Fitness level began to slip (and I began to put on extra pounds). It wasn’t long before I was barely scraping by in my finances. It wasn’t long before I started disconnecting from my spouse. It wasn’t long before I felt isolated from everyone in my life. It wasn’t long before I stopped enjoying life.

But my Field? That was going strong.

After 3 years in North Carolina, of me spending 100% of my energy on building my field, everything else shattered. My marriage? Ruined. My family relationships? Strained. My friendships? Disconnected. My physical health? All-time low.

At the age of 25, I moved back in with my parents, got divorced, hated my body, suffered from a borderline eating disorder, and stopped paying attention to money altogether. The one thing I did was continue to establish myself as an editor. My Field was my only lifeline now. It was the only “spoke” in my Oola wheel.

It’s been almost 3 years since the day I moved back to Iowa from North Carolina. I’ve made strides —attempts—to grow in every other area of my life (Fitness, Finance, Family, Faith, Friends, and Fun) over the last 3 years, but none of it has been truly sustainable growth.

When I read the Oola book, it wasn’t that my life was suddenly changed and I was able to find the balance I craved. But I now had the language to talk about it. It made sense to me.

I could easily understand the 7 key areas of life and the three-step process and the blockers and accelerators. I could set goals and break the goals down into daily tasks. I could do all of that. I could understand all of that.

So for the last year, I used the Oola process to evaluate where I was in each area, set goals for each area, and make daily steps to reach those goals…

But here’s what really sucks…Oola made sense to me, yes, but I wasn’t HONEST with myself.

The first step in Oola is to evaluate where you are right now in each of the 7 Key areas of life. You have to think about and answer some tough questions and rate yourself in each area.

This first step takes a deep understanding of yourself…and it takes reckless honesty for it to REALLY, truly work.

Here’s how I rated myself in each of the 7 key areas the first time: Fitness: 4, Finance: 1, Family: 10, Field: 6, Friends: 5, Faith: 5, Fun: 6.

Not one of those numbers was really an honest evaluation…except for maybe the Finance number.

I rated myself so high in the Family category because I was dating the person I consider to be my soulmate and thought I was showing up as much and as completely as I needed in my relationship to have a great one. I wasn’t. I rated myself so high in Friends for much of the same reason. I didn’t realize how much I held onto perceived disrespect and how that had such a hugely negative effect on my friendships.

I rated myself only a 6 in my Field because I wasn’t aware of how much time and energy I spent working on my Field at that time. I couldn’t recognize what was really going on and how I was really spending my time. Also, when I read the questions for evaluating my Field, I couldn’t rate myself high for questions like “My career provides enough for my life financially,” because I wasn’t really making money…

And that’s another thing that is so strange to me now, looking back. You might think that my entire goal in my Field was to make lots of money. But my goal, instead, was to prove myself.

My entire intention with building my career was to be able to shove my name recognition or network or my “free” freelance schedule or the fact that I was my own boss in the faces of every person who said I couldn’t really be a success as an editor and writer.

My only desire was to be able to say, “Eff you,” to all the haters out there. All I wanted was to be able to tell people who didn’t think I could be a successful freelancer, “Look at me now, biatch.”

My Field Goal was this: To build a network of authors and clients and to work from home and for only myself for the rest of my career.

After 3 years of trying and failing to grow in every other area while still pushing my Field forward with all of my energy, I finally saw my life for what it really has become.

In Oola, you fill out a wheel in that Step 1 evaluation with each of the 7 areas as a spoke in your wheel. My wheel right now has only a “hub” and one long “spoke.” The other 6 spokes are basically non-existent.

My true life evaluation right now looks more like Field: 10, Fitness, Finance, Family, Faith, Friends, and Fun: 1.

It’s not that I’ve been completely absent in every other part of my life…I’ve had periods of growth in each area. For example, I just recently completed a half-marathon and was on course to really make improvements in my Fitness. But then I basically took a month off from running, ate whatever sugary crap I could get my hands on, and lost my momentum. I also had times when I felt like I was really growing in my Family and Friends relationships only to go through a season of relationship turmoil that make me feel like I was fooling myself to ever think I could be happy in a relationship.

But because I wasn’t really seeing how expending all of my energy in pursuing my selfish and catty goals in my Field left no energy for sustainable growth and BALANCE in the other areas, I wasn’t making any sustained progress…and now, at the end of another year, I feel in many ways the same as I did at age 25…discouraged and doubting myself completely.

This is my way of cautioning you…or maybe waking you up…or shining the spotlight on my own story so you can see yourself reflected in it…

If you put all your energy into one area of your life at the sake of the others…you’ll end up like me.

And Here’s where I am now: After 8 years of building my freelance editing business, with the sole goal of being able to work from home with a network of clients, I am re-entering the traditional workforce. I applied for full-time jobs. I applied for full-time jobs I will have to commute to.

After 8 years of pushing so hard in my Field, I have to do a complete 180 shift.

It is the necessary shift to grow in my Finance because with a consistent income, I can pay down my debt load and cover all my expenses. It is the necessary shift to grow in my Family because the dynamics in my relationships are off kilter when I can “hide” at home and say I’m “working.” I need to be able to go to work and leave my work at work so I can show up fully present for my family and friends outside of work. It is also the necessary shift to grow in my Fitness because my anxiety about money and my relationships totally drains my motivation to workout, eat well, etc.

I’ve claimed that I have sought “balance” for years…But what I see now is that what truly sought was permission to keep focussing on only one area of life and letting every other area fail. No one gave me that permission, and I sure as heck can’t give myself permission to do that either.

Instead, I had to be truly honest with myself for the first time, and through that honesty, I am FINALLY, ACTUALLY able to create a plan for growth and balance in my life—one that will give me sustainable growth in every area.

This is also, perhaps, my way of asking you to please close your ears to anyone who will try to tell you that you have to sacrifice in other areas of your life when you’re trying to accomplish goals in a specific area.

Some people will try to tell you that you will have to set aside your fitness goals for the sake of your career goals…or that you’ll have to ignore your career for the sake of building your family relationships…or that you’ll have to sacrifice in your family relationships for the sake of your financial success.

I’m sorry, but NO. I did that. I did it for 8 years. And now, here I am: Sitting at the top of my Field mountain (with the success I sought—with my true goal achieved), and seeing every other area of my life in shambles at the bottom…and now I’m having to go back down the mountain and give up that goal (that dream) I worked so hard to achieve—of working from home and for only myself for the rest of my career—so that I can clean up the mess I’ve made in every other area of my life.

Don’t be like me. Don’t listen when people tell you to sacrifice for success. Don’t listen when people tell you Balance is the “unicorn” of life—that it doesn’t exist.

They are wrong. I was wrong.

Balance is not only real and possible; it is NECESSARY.

Here is the best way I can find to describe this idea that you can’t let all areas of life falter simply because you want faster success in one:

If you lose your health, you won’t be able to do what you were made to do. That means, if you focus so hard on your career or your family or your friendships or your faith and lose your fitness, you won’t be able to do the job or be the mom or be the friend or be the faithful disciple.

Plain and simple…And the same goes for every other area of life: If your Family relationships falter, you won’t be able to be the financial tycoon you want to be. If your Finances falter, you won’t be able to grow and sustain the business empire you want to lead. The correlations go on and on for every area of life.

Balance is the key to living a life of wellness, purpose, and abundance. Balance is the key to your Oola Life.

Now that I am honest with myself in evaluating where I am right now, I can make my plan for truly going to get my Oola Life.

Will you join me on this journey?

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