[Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Real Simple.]
Do you ever have one of those mornings when you feel like you’re going to tip over before you even get out of bed? That was my day yesterday. (No, this is not a drinking story.) I woke up and immediately felt as if I were balancing precariously on a tightrope between two shark tanks, one containing work pressures and the other filled with home-life demands. One wrong move and I would be sunk.
And then my six-year-old asked for an egg-in-a-hole, which is a four-step breakfast. I had offered him instant oatmeal, a maximum-efficiency two-step breakfast, but that wasn’t what he wanted. I felt myself tipping over…until I remembered: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Isn’t that a weird concept? I don’t even know what it means, probably because it’s Zen, and I think I got an F in Zen when I was growing up. But it has stuck with me ever since I read Marjorie Ingall’s “Balance or Bust”.
In its 14-year history, this is the first time that Real Simple has devoted an entire issue to life balance—which is remarkable, considering that it’s an underlying theme in every single thing that we do. And yet: I still can’t tell you what balance is. Or what a balanced person looks like. Here’s what I imagine: A balanced person never hits the snooze button. She never says yes to a second delicious slice of birthday cake, because one piece is plenty, thank you. She never thinks uncharitable thoughts about the stranger walking close behind her on the street simply because his footsteps are so annoyingly loud. And she certainly never feels put upon when asked to make an egg-in-a-hole.
After reading this issue, I feel a dawning understanding. And I believe that balance is less about circumstance than about perspective. Perhaps you cannot choose how many hours a day you work or whether your child will remember his mouth guard before you drive all the way to the game or whether the new puppy will have you up half the night. No, these are things mostly beyond your control. You can, however, control the perspective that you bring to the challenges in your day.
People much smarter than I argue emphatically that balance does or does not exist, should or should not be the number one goal of most women, is or is not achievable in our culture. I have very little to add to that debate, because, as with most things in life, the right answer is different for every person on the planet. All I know is that when my son asked for the egg-in-a-hole, I remembered that the way I do anything is the way I do everything. And so I decided to make the best damn egg-in-a-hole I had ever made. For those 15 minutes, everything else fell away but my son and the egg. I had found a pocket of balance, and it felt amazing.