I keep a list of people who inspire me. One of the people on my list is Philippe Petit – the French high-wire artist. I learned about Phillippe’s daring work after watching the 2015 movie The Walk, which tells the story of his amazing ‘le coup’, his successful attempt to walk across a high wire between the Twin Towers in New York City on 7 August 1974. For Petit, balance was not only important, it was a matter of life or death!
I guess we are all walking across a wire during our lifetime. We start when we are born and complete it when we die. The bit in between is a matter of balance!
I often think of Philippe Petit when people come to me saying they want to achieve a better sense of balance in their life. Some people arrive at the point where they are starting to wobble, things feel shaky, something is out of kilter. There is more tension or stress on the wire than previously. Or there are things ‘coming at them’ from the outside, threatening their stability. For Petit these external threats were changing winds, curious birds and even a police helicopter. For us, the equivalent could be conflict at work, a health scare, a difficult relationship, a promotion, a life transition etc. If we are not familiar with the art of balance, we could be thrown off course very easily with negative, if not life threatening, consequences.
Balance is not something you find, it is something you create. Petit didn’t arrive in NYC one day and decide he was going to walk across the Twin Towers. He was planning the daring event for 6 years. He had planned, prepared and meticulously thought out every possible eventuality. He had to because his life depended on it.
How many of us not only walk across the wire of life with little planning, but also with our eyes closed, attempting to juggle far too many balls in the air at the same time? Sound a bit ridiculous? When people say they are burnt out, exhausted, stressed, barely surviving and they just didn’t see any of it coming, you realise that creating and maintaining balance is an art that needs to be mastered if we are to stay upright, enjoy the experience and appreciate the view!
Having a sense of balance helps us to live well and to thrive. We feel more in control, have peace of mind and enjoy a greater sense of fulfilment. The key to keeping balance is knowing when you’ve lost it. Or better still, recognise when you’re starting to wobble and your sense of balance is being threatened, so that you can do something about it before it’s too late.
Awareness of what balance means for you, is the starting point. Everyone will have a different balancing act that suits them and their lifestyle. Getting a clear picture on what balance looks like requires us to take a good look at our values and what how we need to honour these, in all areas of our life. Living our values is the foundation for creating balance.
Of course, there will be times when achieving balance is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Life events sometimes throw us into crisis and remove any sense of balance we might have worked hard for. There is no greater example of this than the current global pandemic which has resulted in individuals, communities, economies and nations being thrown into turmoil. We might wonder if we will ever feel a sense of balance again! However, knowing these times are temporary will help us to get back to our normal, balanced and harmonious state more quickly.
How do we master the act of balancing our life?
There are a few things we can keep in mind.
Keep your eyes open!
Try this simple exercise. Standing upright, balance on one leg by lifting the other leg to knee height. Now, in that balanced position, simply close your eyes. What happens? Balance is not so easy with your eyes closed, is it? ‘Keep your eyes open’ means stay awake and be aware of what’s going on for you, internally and externally. Self-awareness will help you create the sense of balance that works for you.
Choices & Priorities
Achieving balance is about making choices between what we must do and what we want to do. It is about knowing what’s a priority and what’s not.
Asking for Help
Identifying our needs and doing what it takes to have those needs met, keeps us on track for a good balancing act. The challenge is being able to ask for help and support from others. Petit walked the wire on his own but he had a team behind him. There is a saying ‘you alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone’. Achieving balance is not a solo feat. Sometimes we might think the balancing ‘act’ is just that, a performance, to convince others that we are coping. Being honest and asking for help when needed, is key to a balanced life.
Oprah Winfrey reportedly said “I’ve learned that you can’t have everything and you can’t do everything”. So, whoever said that you can have it all, was clearly misled! Compromise is an important part of achieving balance, but it doesn’t have to mean losing out or having less. Compromise helps you to hold on to what’s important and let go of the rest.
Setting clear boundaries for ourselves is one of the best things we can do to keep our life in balance, at home and in work. It is an area that can challenge many of us, as we often find it easier to put ourselves out (and throw ourselves off balance), than say ‘no’ to someone or something else. Boundaries create balance.
When we are rigid, in our beliefs, our habits and our behaviour, we are more likely to snap or break when faced with challenges or unexpected circumstances. We might need to duck, dive, swerve or bend as we walk across the wire of life. An ability to be flexible and respond appropriately to the unforeseen, will help us to keep moving forward.
Navigating life and all its challenges require us to be in the best shape possible, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Looking after ourselves and practising self-care will create the internal balance that will help us experience harmony in our external life.
According to William Arthur Ward, “A well developed sense of humour is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of your life”.
Balance isn’t static. It’s a state that’s always in motion. To maintain our best position on the wire, we must constantly make adjustments in response to the changes underfoot and those all around us. Maintaining that balance, internally and externally, as best we can, helps us to thrive, in a life of rhythm and harmony.