Is having a “balanced” life worth aiming for? For me, it depends on how you define “balanced.” If it means making sure one part of your life doesn’t cause everything else to crumble, then yes, that’s worth it. But if being balanced entails trying to distribute your time and attention “equally,” that’s different.

Some pursuits will inevitably require significant time or attention to do well. There may be some seasons of life where you need to spend larger amounts of time on one thing as opposed to another. But if being perfectly balanced is your highest goal, you may never invest the time needed to excel in a certain area or endeavor, out of fear of becoming unbalanced. Or if you do invest the time, you may end up feeling guilty because your life doesn’t match up with the picture of “balance” you have in your head.

Last year, as I was reading Gary Keller’s book, The ONE Thing, one of the ideas that caught my attention was his slightly different twist on the idea of a “balanced” life. Instead of trying to keep everything in balance, he advocated viewing life through two different lenses:

  1. Those things you cannot afford to ignore for too long
  2. Everything else

Your family, your health, your soul–these are examples of things you don’t want to let slide for too long. In the metaphor of juggling, these are balls you don’t want to drop. They’re the kinds of things that are so important they merit regular investments of time and attention. You can’t afford to ignore them.

But if you can do this, if you can give regular attention to the few vital areas of your life, it will provide a source of stability for the other areas. Which means, you have flexibility in deciding how to spend your time in the “everything else” category–including work. A stable core helps provide a “counter-balance” for those times where you may get a little “out of balance” elsewhere.

Take seasons of work or education, for example. Maybe you’re trying to get a business off the ground, or there’s a critically important project you want to nail. Or maybe you’re considering pursuing a degree or getting a certification. In each case, you may be looking at spending a non-trivial amount of time and energy for a season. But in the long-run, you’ve deemed the investment is worth it. In some of these cases, you may also realize that being able to perform exceptionally well could have huge long-term effects, where excelling today would open up later opportunities that would not arise otherwise. But if your goal is to stay perfectly “balanced” in every area of life, you may never devote enough time to make the most of these moments.

Now during these seasons, if you’re devoting a lot of time to a single pursuit, it may not seem like you have a very balanced life. There may be some things you’d normally like to do that you put on hold. You may have to drop some hobbies or activities for a while to make it work. But as long as you’re taking care of the few vital areas of your life, you don’t need to worry about everything falling apart. The stability of the core can help “counter-balance” you in those times where you decide to focus a lot of attention on something you’ve deemed is worth the extra time. You have the flexibility to focus your attention on what’s in front of you. And it increases the odds you’ll do whatever it is well.

Several weeks ago I posted about bite-size practices. One benefit of having simple, doable, sustainable practices is they can be used to strengthen those core areas of your life you can’t afford to ignore for too long. And these, in turn, can provide a valuable counter-balance during those times when another area of life has a lot of your attention. If you know the center is stable, you have the flexibility to give significant amounts of time to specific projects or pursuits that arise.

In hindsight, I see that I experienced this over the past few months. Some things that came up either required–or were worth the investment of–large amounts of time. And because I already had some regular, simple practices in place, I wasn’t concerned that all the extra time in one area would cause the most important areas to crumble due to neglect. Maybe everything wasn’t perfectly balanced for that season, but that’s okay. Is achieving perfect balance the best goal to aim for? I don’t think so. At least not if it keeps you from being fully engaged with whatever’s in front of you in the current season of life.