Why I'm not a fan of pursuing balance
I had zero balance a bit over three years ago, as a freshman in college. I spent most of my time studying. Most of the time I didn't spend studying was spent worrying that I should be studying. Those were the days when I had my eyes set on a high GPA and LSAT score. The dreams of going to law school and working in Big Law became a thing of the past towards the end of my freshman year. Working in tech seemed like it'd give me a better chance at finding meaningful work, and it had the potential to be far more lucrative.
After I hopped on the tech bandwagon, my lack of balance only shifted. Unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately?), computer science courses, side projects, hunting for internships, and trolling r/cscareerquestions pushed me towards accepting a perceived lack of balance in my life. Before, during that whole pursuing law school incident, I often fretted over how I spent my time because it felt pointless. This wasn't the case after hopping on the tech train.
I hold myself to a set of standards across the common, popular-to-talk-about categories of one's life: health (physical, mental, & spiritual), work, and relationships with others. When I hear "finding balance is important" and phrases of a similar ilk thrown around casually, I have a hard time believing the speaker is being genuine. It's possible I'm a naive 22yo lacking in the life experiences department to fully grasp what said speaker is trying to convey. It's also possible that this common notion of what finding balance implies is complete BS. Maybe it's a combination of the two. Or, maybe it's something entirely different.
It's true that balance isn't sexy. It's also true that I have given it my best shot to find balance and have ended up feeling like a blind dragon slayer: swinging my sword at thin air.
So, I've shifted my conception of what it means to find balance. For me, finding balance is about unflinching, ruthless prioritization. I like this redefinition because it encapsulates the notion that you're free to choose which aspects of your life are prioritized. I also find it attractive because, from my own experience, prioritization helps me uncover positive feedback loops that I'm participating in.
I've recently been making a more conscious effort to distill this conception to single-bullet items that can be acted upon. I think about this distillation process as a tree of nested plans. I've binged my fair share of Jordan Peterson's psychology lectures and remember him mentioning that an individual can only ever operate at a single level of a given plan. He was going off on how all plans have an implicitly nested structure; they're always composed of sub-plans. Anyways, this point stuck with me, and now here we are.
The process of distilling this new model of what it means to find balance into concrete actions has looked something like this:
Identify something I find important
Start making a nested list until I hit single-bullet items I can act on
I'm a big fan of communicating ideas via examples. So, here's an example I've been thinking about and am making explicit for the first time by typing it out.
- I don't want to be forced to do stupid, meaningless things.
- Achieve financial freedom
- Make a budget
- Set aside time on my calendar to make a budget
- Research how to make a budget
- Make sure I'm in a position to find work I find meaning fulfilling
- Keep my resume sharp
- Put recurring reminders in Todoist to review & update my resume
- Be as irreplaceable as possible
- Become a better iOS engineer
- Read a software-related book for at least 20 minutes, every day
I benefit most from this exercise when the leaves of this tree are very specific. Very specific items can fit into a single item in Todoist. Vagueness and ambiguity have no place in a single item in Todoist. Also, if you were wondering, Todoist is my todo list of choice.
Here's a final thought to end on: life is better when you're going hard. I can't accept anything but going all-out in all areas of my life. Going hard and accepting challenges head-on makes my life worthwhile (see Sisyphus). Maybe this is simply a product of the concoction my environment has cooked up with my biology. But, I have a nagging inkling this is true for most people.
That's all for now; be well.