When I was 10 or 11, I started doing gymnastics, which for me meant mostly tumbling and trampoline and vaulting—events that required big rushes of energy and then they were over. I was mediocre at best on uneven parallel bars and floor exercise. On the beam, I was terrible. Even today, the idea of trying to balance on that four-inch board tends to make me teeter first one way and then the other, as I did in every routine I ever attempted. Although the judges never appreciated this, I eventually just considered that getting back up on the beam with as much grace as I could muster was part of my regular routine.
Perhaps it’s symbolic, but balance has never been my strong suit in any other area of my life, either. My 20s and 30s were marked with way too much "relaxing" time and my 40s and 50s with much more work than play. I am always either on a diet or eating absolutely anything I want, and my bedside table is alternately filled with several books I’m reading (all at the same time) or with only my tablet because I’ve become addicted to Trivia Crack. I either skip running for three days in a row, or force myself out the door early every morning to run 5 miles.
In retirement, I find that the balance thing is even harder to navigate. Suddenly it feels as if there are 8 million things I could do with my time and only a brief 20 or 30 years in which to do them. And why not rush from one activity to the next, making myself crazy with the pressure? It’s how I lived for the 30 years I worked—I guess I’m used to it. Of course this doesn’t feel any more comfortable than it did then, and I find myself sitting with my journal on my lap, promising to “find a balance” between being “lazy” and overachieving.
or even desirable.
Today, when I was out running five miles to atone for the day I took off yesterday, I thought about how most of this is made-up. There is no actual way I’m supposed to be; no real rule I’m supposed to follow. I can be the judge of it, especially now that I don’t have an actual boss (other than my own relentless brain) expecting a report in the morning. If I want to run three miles instead of five, or lie on the couch and read William Finnegan’s book about surfing instead, I am really not disrupting the world. Believe me, no Olympic running team is waiting for me to improve my PR.
But that’s just the surface realization, and one I’ve actually had before, which goes to show you I’m not the most reliable source here. What I understood today is that balance is not the ultimate level to achieve. Like the pendulum, life swings one way and then the other, with occasional stops in that balanced middle. I obviously need the weeks of rushing from one task to the next, followed by some time when I do nothing but read cheesy novels and go to Costco. It’s often on the task-heavy days that I have an important insight about my life, and my leisurely reflections during slow days are invaluable.
Balance is a state of mind more than anything else, though this is a concept I still need to internalize. I want to work on believing that it doesn’t matter how many books I want to read at once or how much time I spend not running and watching bad TV instead. I’m the one who determines whether there is actual balance, what it looks like, and when I most need it. Continual balance isn’t possible or even desirable. This is not easy for a person who has held herself to such a tough standard for so long. So I’m working on understanding that my sense of balance is in me and if I fall, I fall. It really is just part of the routine.