“Not only is balance nigh on impossible to achieve, even if you did manage to achieve a perfect state of equilibrium it wouldn’t necessarily fulfill you anyway. There’s nothing inherently fulfilling about balance…when you are balanced you are stationary, holding your breath, trying not to let any sudden twitch or jerk pull you too far one way or the other…This precarious, motionless state is not worth striving for. It’s the wrong life goal. Strive for fullness instead. You don’t have five different selves you can keep separate. You have one life. One mind. One heart. Your challenge is to intentionally unbalance your life toward those few specific moments that will fill your one cup.”
In Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham argues convincingly that instead of chasing after some elusive idea of “balance,” we should identify our strengths and be discriminating, selective, and intentional in how we spend our time in our various roles to make sure that we’re bringing our best to every aspect of our lives.
Buckingham defines strong moments as those activities that make you feel effective and capable, where you feel flow, where the thought of getting to spend time on them or improve at them makes you feel excited and optimistic. Weak moments are the opposite. Weak moment activities make you feel panicked, incompetent, or numb.
I thought Buckingham’s application of those definitions to balance and time management were insightful. He points out that when you are working in your strengths, you don’t feel as crunched, but that no matter how good your time management is, if you’re filling up those boundaries with activities that don’t strengthen you, you’ll still feel off kilter.
Buckingham encourages readers to consider the roles they play in their lives: wife, mother, worker, volunteer, friend, daughter, and so forth, and think of the moments in that role where they feel they are in a strong moment, and conversely where they feel weak. What if, instead of forcing yourself into the weak moments just because you feel like you should, you focused on the strong moments? This would, theoretically, give you more energy to keep going with everything and also be a better way to fulfill the relationship.
For example, he writes about a mother who is a Motivator, and who loves to spend countless hours on the floor playing endless car crash games with her kids, but who really can’t stand to read to them. “It seems bad or socially unacceptable” Buckingham says, to say that you really hate reading to your kids, but what if instead of slogging through something you really can’t stand you let someone else read to the kids and instead focus on your own strengths as a mother? I think the kids would probably appreciate that. In my case it’s the other way around – I completely loathe crafts and pushing my kids on swings. There, I said it. But I love to read to them. What is a better memory for my kids – cranky mommy who goes to the playground out of duty or happy mommy who reads lovely stories?
Obviously in all areas of life there are things you don’t want to do that you have to do, but the point is that if you can deliberately tip your balance so that you make room for your strengths rather than doing things because you always have or your mother always did or you coworker does or whatnot, you’ll have more strength to give to those moments when you do have to push through.
So I really liked the idea of identifying strong moments and making sure that the best ME goes to each of my roles, rather than trying to fit myself into my preconceived notion of that role. I found it fairly easy to identify my strong points as a mom (because there aren’t that many to pick out so they were obvious) and it was freeing to allow myself to admit that I’m a better mom when I’m in those moments so try to maximize those and minimize areas where I’m not strong (and maybe let Daddy or grandparents or a babysitter take over for those!) It was harder to identify areas where I’m strong or weak in other roles, but I’ve been giving thought to it and trying to notice when I feel effective, capable, and excited (strong moment) and when I feel panic, incompetence, numbness (weak moment). It’s an interesting exercise once you get going.
I do not think that the author was decrying all weakness in life. Certainly there are areas where we need to work hard to mature, to improve, to change our attitude or outlook. But I think it’s foolish to seek out activities that make you feel panicked, incompetent, and numb over the long term. I think if you feel that way for a long time about something, you need to seriously question if you are in the right spot. God gifts us in different ways. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
I think it’s worthwhile to consider where you’re at your strongest because that is where you’ll be the most effective. Finding a weak moment doesn’t mean you run away from the role, it means you head toward a stronger moment within that role. I think it’s completely biblical to find out and understand your gifts and strengths that God gave you and use those to glorify Him in your home, your church, your community, and your world.
I really enjoyed the different perspective in Find Your Strongest Life, and how it was geared toward the specific ways the idea applies to women. The chapters on how to help your children identify their strengths and grow into their gifts were also illuminating. If you like books about life and time management, this one would be a thought-provoking addition to your reading list.
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