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Stephanie Marston is America's Foremost Life Balance Expert

Issue 5 May 2006

Sanity Saver #7: Make Sanity Your Priority

Let me put the notion of life balance in a context for you. In the Western world, before the Industrial Revolution the predominant challenge was survival.

However, after the Industrial Revolution the focus changed to quality of life. And today our challenge is balance. Because we are faced with a multitude of possibilities and responsibilities, and because we have so many options it’s difficult to balance our time and our priorities.

Because there are so many things we want and so many people who need us or for whom we care it’s challenging to strike a balance in our lives.

We have the same number of hours in the day as people did in past generations but there are many more demands on us. For the first time in history we live in a time when our challenge isn’t dealing with scarcity, but rather with surplus, not with oppression but with options, and not with absence, but with abundance.

Instead of struggling to find our next meal, we’re struggling to get our busy families together long enough to eat a meal. Instead of striving to connect and be in touch, we long for privacy, the escape from technology that makes us always accessible, ever available. Instead of fighting for freedom to make our own choices, we’re reeling with an abundance of options…250 TV channels, 500 new Internet sites every day, tens of thousands of consumer items, and almost a limitless number of jobs, educational possibilities and lifestyle choices.

We now struggle not with the sparse simplicity of too little, but rather with the crowded complexity of too much. This is what plagues our lives today. And the solution lies not in the balance of our abilities, but in our ability to balance. That is our challenge.

Ours is perhaps the only time in history where, instead of working to live many of us live to work. Unfortunately, living to work doesn’t necessarily mean that you love what you do. But work is a major part of our identity. When you meet someone, the first question we ask is, “What do you do?” And for many of us we are our jobs.

The French philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” Our modern day version of this has become “I do therefore I am.” So many of us live by the mantra “I have to keep up,” “I am what I do,” “I have to push myself,” “I have to prove my worth,” “I have to keep going.” While many of you thought that you left peer pressure back in the halls of high school I have a surprise for you. It’s still very much in operation in our adult lives.

We’ve bought into the cultural norms for success, often without even realizing it. We seldom define for ourselves what it is we want. We just pile more and more on our already overflowing plates. And as long as you continue to subscribe to the philosophy that you are what you do you’ll be driven—you’ll continually try to prove yourself, please other people and live up to someone else’s standards. In other words, your life won’t be your own. Doesn’t sound very satisfying, but if we’re honest with ourselves we often fall into this rut.

Even under the best of circumstances, most of us walk a tightrope juggling careers, children, a spouse or boyfriend, family and friends. And we continually feel like we’re failing at something.

The majority of us are exhausted from climbing the corporate ladder, dressing for success and trying to balance our work and family lives. We live as if we are careening down a freeway at warp speed. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us thrive on the excitement of being under pressure. We like the adrenaline rush we get from playing beat the clock. In fact, some of us get so caught up in the insanity that we embellish it by having our cell phones, pagers, digital clocks and electronic organizers surgically implanted on our bodies. Come on, admit it, there’s a certain thrill that comes with living on the edge, but there is also a price.

Watch yourself so that you don’t trade too much of your valuable freedom and time for money and things. It’s never a worthwhile trade. Ask yourself if you really need the extra things, or newer things or better things enough to give up more and more of your precious time and freedom. In most cases the answer will be no.

For more information on 30 Days to Sanity please visit www.30daystosanity.com.