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Achieving Life Balance

Balance or Bust

One indefatigable woman takes on a marathon research project (2,330 pages of self-help!), determined to master life’s juggling act—even if it kills her.

By Marjorie Ingall
Model balancing umbrella on foreheadRodney Smith1 of 4

Day 7

I’m not in an official book group, but two of my friends (and the rest of the world) have raved about Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers ($17, My pals are jonesing for me to read it so that we can have a super-intellectual chat. I finally reach the top of the hold list for it at the library. I start reading. I hate it. Ordinarily I would power through this thing, grumpily. Good heavens, I finished Timothy Ferriss’s and Tony Robbins’s hyper-macho business books for this story! Why can’t I get through this award-nominated novel?

Shockingly, in Awaken the Giant Within ($18,, Robbins (whom I dissed only seconds ago) helps me legitimize quitting. He shares an anecdote about his teenage daughter and her dilemma about whether to dump a hard-won job as a Disneyland performer. A short time into her employment, she feels unfulfilled, but she doesn’t want to give up such a plum gig. Robbins writes, “I assured her that making a decision to live congruently with your values is not quitting, nor is foolish consistency a virtue.” Leaving the job makes this transition “a gift for someone else.” I could look at abandoning The Flamethrowers that way: I can give my family the gift of more of my time and myself the gift of reading something I actually like. Ferriss, likewise, in his generally execrable book The 4-Hour Workweek ($22,, advocates a policy of quitting things like movies midway through if they don’t grab you. Why grimly stick with something optional that doesn’t give you pleasure? Simply to feel noble or be current or prove you’re not a dimwit? Bad reasons.

Day 11

Our school faces a crisis. The city construction authority is insisting on a massive asbestos-removal job that will displace the free after-school child-care program for disadvantaged kids. Another PTA member asks me to write a rallying Op-Ed...the same week that I have a big assignment due. I choose to help the school, at the expense of work commitments. Inside I boil: Why am I the only one who ever gets roped into this stuff? Do I have a SUCKER sign on my back?

This time the best advice comes from Life Lessons for Women: 7 Essential Ingredients for a Balanced Life ($8,, by Jack Canfield. The Chicken Soup for the Soul guy! Usually I roll my eyes when advice for women comes from a man (get a vagina and then we’ll talk), but there’s good stuff here (much of it from women contributors). My greatest takeaway: Own your choices. Canfield says, “It’s all too easy to blame other people, but when you take full responsibility for your time, you have the power to make changes.” Once I acknowledge my tendency toward martyrdom, I feel less beleaguered. Next time I’m asked to tackle a volunteer project that I don’t have time for, I’ll use the advice of a contributor to Canfield’s book, Karen McQuestion (yup, that’s her name), who shares the way her mom said no: “That won’t work out for me.” When pressed, McQuestion’s mom simply repeated herself. “My sisters and I used to laugh at the vagueness of the phrase,” says McQuestion, “but now I understand the sheer genius of it. It says nothing but conveys everything.” Indeed.

Read More About:Mind & Mood

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