Life Balance: Myth, Mystery or Must
by Paul Roberts
MDA Foundation Director
Written Spring 2016
Ask just about anyone “How’s it going?” and you’ll often get “busy” as a reply. Busyness seems to be the gold standard in American values. Life moves at warp speed. Technology offers endless opportunities to stay connected. Success is not found; it’s earned. You have to be busy or life passes you by.
One the other hand, it also seems culturally cool to speak about balance. We seek some kind of equilibrium in our own life. We often evaluate ourselves and others with statements that reflect balance or imbalance according to our point of view. “Yeah, I could make that kind of money if I wanted to work six days a week.” “Maybe I would read more if I didn’t have three small children.” “I value my sleep more than getting up early to exercise.”
I don’t think anyone would argue against the general benefits of balance. Many health concerns —obesity, heart disease, stress, etc.—occur when the diet/exercise and work/play issues get out of balance. The trainers and life coaches of the world recognize this and develop all sorts of plans and mantras to help you establish balance. I’m all for that. I believe without some basic plan to approach life, you have essentially planned to fail. But beware that the myth of perfection doesn’t derail your pursuit.
Some may argue that balance is not realistic or healthy. Gold medal athletes and super successful people rarely surface from a balanced approach. There may well be times that you are “all in” on one aspect of life (education, physical goal, etc.) that you deliberately choose to live in imbalance. But on the whole of life, I think we value well roundedness and health and contentment. Are they achievable?
Traditional life balance models call for 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of personal time. You are probably laughing right now. Yeah, right! But we have to start somewhere, so I thought I would analyze my life against that model. I’m doing this for “science” and not to hold my approach up as any standard. In fact, I hope you will pause to analyze your own balance and reflect upon some of the takeaways below.
Off the top we can all agree that there is no such thing as a “normal” week. We must also acknowledge life has different seasons with different challenges and resources. The single dental student has a dictated schedule and limited resources. The juggling of career and family for the young parent offers a new challenge. The senior dentist with grown children has new frontiers to consider. There also are different personal seasons of growth, grief, hardship and plenty. Life always will be fluid; so must our approach to balance.
I’m trying a new approach that I like. The lab results on me show (in round terms) the following. I’m up at 5:30. The first two hours are for reflection, exercise and breakfast before I get ready and go to work. I work from 8 to 4:30 with a lunch break. I’m then home by 5. I have about 4.5 to 5 hours before I go to bed. I spend this reading, watching TV with the wife, paying bills, socializing with friends, maintaining the house, running errands, etc. You know—whatever I happen to value or need to do. Then I try to sleep for 8 hours but it usually turns out to be more like 7.5. Let me pause for a brief word about the 48 hours of the weekend. They represent catch-up time and can be used like a wild card depending on your circumstances. Weekends also are good to fuel your passions like recreation, service, faith and hobbies. These are essential to a “balanced” feeling of wellbeing. Back to my sample week, my workday totals are work 7.5 hours, sleep 7.5 hours and around 9 hours in personal time including lunch hour. Seems perfect, right? WRONG!
No week is normal and every season is different, remember? My season is empty nest with working wife. We have way less house management stress without homework, kid activities, etc. Sanity has finally returned! Beyond that I often stay late at work or travel late on the road. An overindulgent meal or drink may cause me to skimp on exercise. My mood or current issues may wreak havoc on my personal time. For me the key is not exact repetition within rigid time frames. It’s work towards the goal and roll with the punches. What can we take away from this reflection on balance? May I suggest a few thinking points?
Have some sort of plan for the “balance” you wish to see in your life.
Recognize your season of life and give yourself grace accordingly.
Don’t get caught up in comparison with other’s seasons of life. Embrace where you are.
Don’t be misled by the myth of perfection. Life will always be busy and messy. You are just seeking to keep solid footing. After all, isn’t that what balance is about?
When you feel dangerously out of balance, reach out. There are people who care and resources that can help bring you back toward equilibrium.
Postscript: These are the musings of a middle-aged man who is not a health professional or life coach. He just thinks about these things a lot as he considers how to grow the wellness aspect of the Dental Well Being Foundation. He believes a healthy member is a happy and productive member. Keep watching for new web developments and opportunities.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, up to 38 percent of surveyed dentists reported symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety. Additional research suggests that stress related to the profession of dentistry increases the chances of divorce, depression, alcohol and suicide.
Additional stress is added simply by choosing the dental profession.