There is No Such Thing as "Balance"
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
In a recent MBA lecture, our class had a guest speaker in consulting give us advice on what it takes to be successful in her field.
Her presentation was engaging, and my classmates asked questions that were pertinent to issues they are having concerning their consulting projects. One question asked was, “What do we do if our client keeps trying to broaden the scope of the project?" She responded to the question with her own questions; “What happens if the original problem at hand is not resolved? What risks are there if the original problem is not solved? What is at stake?”
She then explained that you need to be transparent with your client and remind them how important it is to focus on the core issue before attending to secondary issues.
The quote she used to challenge our client was, “Would you rather me do a little bit for a lot of different things or a lot for a few things?”
As the day progressed and I reflected about all of the ways I could be a more successful consultant, I let her advice sink in... I couldn’t get the quote she used out of my head. I believe this quote can transcend and represent not only a successful consulting job, but a successful life. In other lectures, presenters with multiple graduate degrees and key leadership positions within multi-national companies always give us the same advice. They tell us to “find balance.”
What does that even mean? The notion of finding balance is a platitude that makes us feel better about shutting down our work emails for the night, skipping the gym after class, or getting drinks with friends instead of studying. Even when I engage in one of these activities, my life is far from ‘balanced,’ because I am here to tell you that ‘balance’ doesn’t exist. Before we continue, I’d like to define balance as “contributing equal amounts of time and devotion to all areas of your life.” It could be composed of 25% personal time, 25% work or school, 25% family, and 25% friendships.
Have you ever seen your plate after attacking a Sunday brunch buffet? It’s a mess. You have your mashed potatoes in your fruit salad, breakfast items are next to dinner items, and your plate is overflowing. This is how I imagine what someone’s life looks like that attempts to achieve balance. You have a little bit of everything, but not a single item is enough to be substantial.
Compare a brunch buffet to a fine steak dinner. The server places a single filet on your plate, and you are served 1-2 sides to share on a separate dish. I see the steak dinner as a metaphor for success.
The only way to achieve something great is to put your utmost attention and efforts towards it. You place it in the center of your plate. You can dabble with 1 to 2 other activities, but it is served on the side and not on your plate.
For example, I am currently getting my MBA and I don’t have balance. My classes, projects, and teammates come first. Everything else is secondary and comes served on the side. I make time to work out 2-3 times a week after class, and I do my best to schedule a dinner a week with friends. But, I will tell you there is no balance. My social life has suffered, my Pageant-style six pack abs have melted away, I barely have time to read for pleasure, I’ve reduced blogging to 1x a month, and my weekends are spent in the library.
However, that is what it takes to achieve something great. It is necessary to make sacrifices in the short term for long-term goals. If you want to excel in a single category, embrace having no balance. I'm not suggesting you ignore other areas of your life completely, but during certain seasons of your life you may have to forfeit time in one areas for another -- that is okay.
If you want to dabble in a little bit of everything, keep going up to the buffet. However, I’d much rather have a quality steak dinner over a boozy brunch that leaves me hungover and in a carb-coma by 1pm- any day!