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.

Photo by Rodney Smith

I’m waiting at the Costco Tire Center for the stupid car to be fixed. I run out of cell-phone battery. My daughter is at a friend’s house and calls four times, increasingly panicked about my unreachability. I’m behind schedule on three different work assignments. I need to write several condolence and thank-you notes. I owe e-mails to a dozen people. I haven’t found time to exercise in a week. So I eat half a giant bag of Fun Size candy from Costco. As I chew, visions of a more balanced life ping wildly inside my skull: I long to master the clock, to be less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of others, more in charge of my own choices and destiny. I want to feel that I’m on top of my responsibilities while still having room for spontaneity. I want to not fall apart when one element breaks down. I want the satisfaction that comes with managing the needs of others, of commerce, and of self. Is that too much to ask?!

Clearly I’m in need of an intervention. And since I already tend toward extremes, I have the brilliant idea of zooming, full speed ahead, to life balance. I will go all in (thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt my lack of balance), immersing myself for one month in books that promise cures. I will treat the pursuit of balance like cramming for exams. I start by buying every selection on Amazon that offers equipoise suggestions and looks as if it’s written in semicoherent English, determined to deliver the best bits of wisdom, shining like gold nuggets in the dreck that is most self-help writing, to Real Simple readers. I winnow down my stack to seven standouts and dive in, highlighter in hand! Please allow me to share the best advice and techniques from each tome as I walk you through my BalanceQuest.

Day 1

I cannot find the form for an occupational-therapy evaluation for my daughter Maxine. It nestles somewhere in the endless pile of magazines, mail, and random papers that seem to breed like Tribbles on the kitchen counter. I know, too, that hidden in there is insurance paperwork, a wedding-reply card, an envelope in which to send money for the classroom watercooler, and a free pass to a museum that I want to rescue before it disappears, like most everything that enters my paper orbit.

I take a page from The Change Your Life Challenge ($16,, by Brook Noel. Noel offers up “the Five-Minute Rule”: “If something can be done in five minutes or less, do it now! Don’t add it to your to-do list. It will take more time and energy to write down, manage, and keep thinking about than it will take to get done.” Beginning today I focus on signing every form, RSVP’ing to every invitation, and paying for every field trip immediately. Abandoning my patented system of leaving papers to fester means that I don’t misplace permission slips or sensitive mail. Thus fortified, I forgive Noel the rest of her baroque system, which includes a three-ring binder, two notebooks, 100 index cards, five 9-by-12 envelopes, a yellow highlighter, four self-adhesive clear pouches, and a three-hole punch.