“Balance” is bullsh*t.
I’m about to severely disappoint some wellness yuppies who are still entangled in the idea that “balance” is the endpoint. The ultimate goal. The “Look, Ma, I’ve made it.”
“Balance” is what you discover in the trenches of Instagram, when you find yourself 67 weeks deep into a wellness influencer’s faultlessly filtered feed, wondering why you can’t make yourself wake up at 5 a.m. to drink celery juice and also find the time to have margaritas with friends.
The sad truth is that balance does not exist. It feels elusive because it’s not real — and all of us need to come to terms with that.
Why balance doesn’t exist
Point blank: Sometimes, certain areas of your life need more attention than others. This changes all the time, as in, every single day. No single day will ever be the same and we need to stop pretending like we can all create impeccable, unchanging routines because all that does is set us up for failure, disappointment, and eventual resentment.
I’m tired of hearing people say “It’s all about balance” when:
Because life is so fluid, relying on balance is really a trap.
Balance in fitness
Unless you’re a professional athlete, there’s a very slim chance you will work out six days per week, every week, for the rest of your life. This is true even for people who make fitness a profession.
Some weeks you’ll complete five workouts and others you’ll barely have time for one. The key here is adapting to what each week throws at you. You can’t get angry or disheartened when you miss a workout and decide that the week is done for. You can’t just say “It’s not worth it” when you realize you only have 30 minutes instead of your usual hour to exercise. These are the traps that chasing balance puts us in.
Every week, you do what you can, pat yourself on the back for it, and move on. Next week will look different, but it probably won’t look perfect. Neither will the next, or the next, and it’s critical to understand that consistent perfectionism (AKA the elusive balance everyone’s searching for) isn’t attainable.
Balance in work
As a double business owner, I can tell you straight-up that work-life balance is a myth. It’s a total scam! Working 9 to 5 sucks, but so does working three 14-hour days in a row in order to take a few days off and live the entrepreneur life that everyone thinks they want.
Whether you work for yourself or hold a traditional job (BOTH are great!), you will never achieve a 100-percent stress-free lifestyle. That's a hard truth, but life just does not work that way, especially in our always-connected, hustle-driven culture that punishes downtime (which is so dumb, by the way, but I’ll save that for another article).
Sometimes you will find yourself with adequate free time. Sometimes you’ll find yourself battling massive projects with tight deadlines. And sometimes, no matter how invested into your work you are, other life happenings will take the driver’s seat (see real-life example in the next section).
This applies primarily to self-employed folks but also to traditionally employed people: Giving more of yourself to work when work needs you is fine.
Don’t feel guilty about working a 60-hour week instead of a 40-hour week to finish something important and meaningful, or to get ahead before a vacation. As long as you can recognize when it’s time to pull back and dedicate more time and energy to other things, it's 100% okay to give in to the ebbs and flows of your career.
An anecdote for thought
I recently bought a house. The fiery hell that is mortgage lending is what inspired me to write this blog post — rather, it inspired me to pivot from my original, peppy angle (5 tips for maintaining balance, yay!!!!) and write this pensive, rather disheartening but hopefully eye-opening piece.
Anyway, the house. I decided it would be a good idea to buy my first house in the middle of a pandemic as the real estate market, stock market, and every other market/industry/sector/what-have-you wildly swing like pendulums.
“It’ll be fun!,” I said. “Rent prices are too high!,” I said.
What ensued was a 113-day purgatory that I thought I’d never crawl out of. The house-buying process zapped any available energy I tried to set aside for other things. My work productivity fell through the roof. I went days on end without a singular minute of exercise. I comforted myself with way too many sour neon gummy worms and more pinot grigio than I'd like to disclose.
I now know that I stepped into this process a bit too confidently and perhaps too enthusiastically as a 23-year-old, unmarried, self-employed woman. Those factors — young, unmarried, independently employed, female — are literally all of the things that turn mortgage lenders off.
Because of this, I spent far more time than the average buyer producing paperwork, undergoing interviews, explaining my employment history, and essentially begging lenders to understand that I’m financially stable and can take care of myself. “Does my credit history not prove it?!?!?,” I literally yelled to a loan processor at one point.
The point is: Buying this house took over everything for more than three months. Getting myself through this process was far more important than working out five times per week and eating three servings of vegetables each day.
Signing the deed was my priority. I had to reduce the number of work projects in my lap and sacrifice fun things I like to do in order to get through this. I also had to live in a hotel for three weeks because #militaryfiancelife, but that’s another story for another day.
All of that totally sucked, to put it lightly. But now I’m sitting at MY kitchen island in MY house and it all feels worth it.
And now that I’m here — now that I’ve done the thing that took so much out of me — I can re-establish a workout schedule. I can start cooking healthy meals more often. I can take on more new projects for work.
I can spend more time taking care of myself, now that The Important Thing™ is over.
Strive for something better than balance
I hope I’ve made it clear that life is not perfect, we are not perfect, and “balance” is just another form of unattainable perfectionism.
So, if not balance, what should be the ultimate goal?
Mastering this skill will take you substantially farther in life, career, and health than balance ever could. We must learn to adapt to whatever life throws our way. In my recent case, that meant working less and working out less — and learning to be okay with it.
That last part is really the kicker. Too often, we’re too rigid in our ways. We feel guilty or upset when we can’t stick to a routine, a diet, or a workout plan, which sends us spiraling into self-pity and justification of habits we don’t want to have.
For instance, if I had accepted during week one of the house-buying process that my life would look different until the deed was signed, I might’ve gone on more walks, done more 15-minute workouts, or dedicated more time to stretching. Instead, I allowed the disruption to, well, disrupt everything. I took it as an excuse to not exercise — “What’s the point if I can’t work out for an hour?,” I’d say, instead of purposefully spending the little time I did have.
Adaptability is the key to avoiding rabbit holes like the one I found myself in, and it’s a helluva lot more effective than chasing balance throughout any and all scenarios.
Smarter Sweat takeaways
Balance sucks. It’s not real, and we should all stop pretending like it is. Life is fluid and so are humans.
You must give yourself (and take away from yourself) what you need to thrive in any given moment. If that’s more workouts, do more workouts. If that’s fewer workouts, do fewer workouts and refuse to feel bad about it, knowing you’re doing the right thing at the right time.
By Amanda Capritto
About Smarter Sweat
Smarter Sweat is a fitness company built from the ground up by fitness experts Amanda Capritto and Ashley Phantz. Amanda and Ashley are both dead-set on cutting through the clutter of the fitness industry and providing raw, real, utterly honest information about fitness and wellness.