Balancing Act

We’re trying our best to balance the tensions we feel between autonomy and dependence upon our friends and family, safety in the familiar life we’ve known and the desire to be independent and move on to new things, and the pull to give up when things get hard and the lure of pushing through to the good stuff on the other side. We're trying to figure out how to be adults. We strive to find the right mix of work and play, alone time and social time. We want to break out on our own, but are sometimes afraid of how that might end. We recognize the importance of buckling down to get things done, devoting enough time to complete all of our tasks, but we also see the need to make time to relax and unwind. We can't simply give up if we want to live our lives to the fullest. This isn't a passing challenge; this is life, this is adulthood, and this is a tension we have to embrace.

We want to be fully invested, truly involved in the world around us, without neglecting the time we need in order to relax and recharge. Maintaining this balance is a difficult task, and one that often requires revisiting our priorities and our approach to keeping both sides of the equation in check. Ultimately, this comes down to doing a few specific things.

What this looks like for me is, first and foremost, careful planning of social engagements. I can only spend so much time surrounded by people before I desperately need some time to myself. The key has been finding ways to regularly incorporate alone time into my days so that I don't go stir crazy if things come up to affect the balance of my plans. I might go for a run and listen to my favorite music, curl up with a good book, try out a new recipe, or catch up on a TV show.

The flip side of that all-important coin is reaching out to friends and family, keeping in touch, and spending quality time with them. I have a great group of friends who are endeavoring to live life together like a big family, and they're really good at inviting others to coffeeshop dates, soccer games, bonfires, and our weekly dinners. If I let them, they could probably pack my schedule with get-togethers every day of the month, and I have to strive to balance those wonderful opportunities with taking time for myself.

Of course, getting enough sleep makes a world of a difference, too. If I'm low on sleep, I'm more likely to be irritable, and let's face it, nobody wants to be around when that happens. Getting more sleep allows me to be more relaxed when things are thrown out of balance, when events unexpectedly come up, when I'm forced to rearrange my carefully-laid plans to accommodate something new. It also helps me to make better decisions. If I'm sleep-deprived, I'm more likely to be selfish with my time and think only of what things I want to cross off my to-do list, reverting back to my comfortable routine, ignoring the chances I may have to pour into the relationships around me.

Maintaining balance also requires regularly taking inventory of how things are going, and being honest with myself about when and how I should make adjustments. I try to look at my calendar and ask myself whether I'm getting enough time for myself (probably) and enough time with others (less likely), whether I'm sleeping enough (usually), and what opportunities I might have to try new things (new foods, new running routes, new hobbies, new destinations) and for being more fully involved in the lives of those around me.

I want to step outside my comfort zone and be engaged in the world around me. I want to get to know my neighbors. I want to try new things. I want to feel independent and competent and continue to learn new things that make me feel like I can take care of myself. But I also am learning to know my own limits, trusting that those who care most about me have my best interest at heart, and accepting help from them is not admitting weakness, but fostering healthy relationships and a more realistic view of my own abilities. I'm seeing just how much I can learn from others when I admit the areas in which I could use some growth.

But I can't let it stop there. I have to choose to move beyond reflection and act upon any imbalance I see in my life. That's where I sometimes drop the ball. It's easy to see that I've been spending more time alone than with others, but takes more effort to plan a girls' night or set up a video chat with long-distance friends than it does to get cozy with a good book in my pajamas. But if I'm looking to truly have balance, to be invested, to be a good friend, then I need to work at it. And I will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. But that's okay, because I know I'm not alone in this balancing act.

How do you keep everything balanced in your life?