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Is the Quest for Balance Actually Making Us Feel More Unbalanced?

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Balance is a pretty loaded word these days. Messages are fierce and strong about how essential it is to have a balanced life -- whether phrased as "work-life balance" or "me time" or "having it all." Everywhere we look, people are telling us about how we should achieve balance in our lives and giving us tips on how we can do just that. Browse through any magazine or surf the web for a few minutes and you will find one of the bazillion articles out there about why balance is important (it reduces stress, prevents burnout, promotes health and happiness) and how we can achieve balance (by prioritizing, doing what you love, delegating, investing time wisely).

While the advice -- and certainly the principles behind the quest for balance -- are positive, well-intentioned and sometimes even helpful, I can't help but think that all this talk about balance is really just making me feel very unbalanced.

I also can't help but notice that the emphasis on finding balance tends to narrows the lens a bit too much. Well-intentioned advice and tips become one more task on life's to-do list. Inspiration for finding balance becomes a way to compare ourselves to others. And reiteration of the importance of achieving balance (especially "work-life balance" and "having it all" -- whatever that means) provides just one more source of guilt for the ways in which we are not measuring up. And lately I've been finding the pressure to achieve balance -- to strike the perfect mix of work, family, friends, exercise, community service, spirituality, personal time, and hobbies -- to be, quite simply, exhausting.

For many of us, circumstances exist that prevent a constant state of life equilibrium and balance. There are fluctuating work demands and out of town travel. Aging parents and sick kids. New babies and little sleep. Vacations and lazy weekends. New jobs and promotions. Kids at college and an empty house. Layoffs and retirement.

If we narrow the lens enough, things will always be out of balance. There will always be more of this than that. Sometimes, it's more dark than light. Sometimes, it's the other way around. Sometimes, there is less bitter and more sweet. Or vice-versa.

Life is a series of seasons, and seasons within the seasons. There are days, for me, that consist almost exclusively of wiping snotty noses, folding load after load of laundry, preparing meals, breaking up fights and picking up toys. And that's OK, because that is the season that I am in right now. There are also days in which my life feels oddly symmetrical. Days when I am productive with work assignments, write for a while, take my kids to the library after school, exercise, chat with a friend, watch The Daily Show with my husband and get more than six hours of sleep. Those days are few and far between (though they do seem to be happening more often lately as my kids get older); most days are still a little heavy on one thing or another.

And that's OK.

Because I think that there can still be balance in the imbalance if we widen the lens a bit and readjust the focus.

Last Sunday, our minister made a comment about finding the places and activities in which we are called to be our best and truest selves. And her words really stuck with me, because I think that just might be the key to finding balance. You see, balance isn't about meeting some cryptic, ever-changing standard about where and how we spend our time. It's not about the ways in which our friends and family and the "happiness experts" tell us we should achieve balance. It's not even about the ways that we found balance last year or how we hope to find balance in the upcoming one.

Maybe balance, like success, isn't something we can obtain or achieve, but something that we feel within ourselves, in our soul, in the essence of our being. Maybe balance is about spending as much time as possible in those places and activities that bring out our best and truest self. And, when life's circumstances take us away from those things, balance is about bringing our best and truest selves to whatever it is that we are doing -- even if it is wiping snotty noses or baby bottoms for the hundredth time that day. Sitting in an airport for hours on end traveling from one work meeting to another. Getting a mid-afternoon pedicure. Enduring another long conference call. Waiting in the carpool line.

Because when we bring our best and truest self, it's a little bit easier to see things with a wide-angle lens, regardless of how imbalanced life might be at that moment.

Don't get me wrong; I am certainly not promoting an all-or-nothing lifestyle, by any means. Everything seems to be a bit more difficult when my obligations or priorities are off-kilter. I strive for balance just like anyone else, and sometimes that means making difficult decisions about how to spend my time, money, and resources.

But what I am realizing is that when I appreciate and prioritize those activities that help me bring out my best and truest self -- things like picking my kids up from school, writing, connecting with friends, sitting on the back deck with my husband, going to church and volunteering -- my world seems to tilt ever so slightly into a more balanced state, even if the external circumstances haven't changed at all.

When I focus on calling out my best and truest self during life's imbalanced and chaotic seasons, a personal and purpose-driven balance is created.

And when I stop listening to all the noise about how to find balance, when I stop comparing myself to someone else's definition of balance, and when I stop measuring myself against some kind of esoteric criteria, I can actually honor my own inner balancing mechanism.

Then I might actually have a chance at feeling something close to balance -- even if the world is still spinning out of control, too fast and unpredictably lopsided.

This article originally appeared on the author's website at

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.