Finding Balance or Being Centred – What’s the Difference?  - COTRUGLI
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Lean Management: A Roadmap to Performance Improvement and Sustainable Growth
Here’s how Strategy in Action (SiA) helps companies considering going public
Lean Management: A Roadmap to Performance Improvement and Sustainable Growth

Finding Balance or Being Centred – What’s the Difference? 

Do you feel you are living a balanced life? Do you believe you have your priorities right? Is your work interfering with your life or is your life interfering with your work? During this last decade in particular much has been said and written, and many courses devised and delivered, on how to achieve that apparently elusive vision of a work/life balance. Some believe they are being forced to work too much at the cost of their relationships with family and friends, while others consciously sacrifice almost all their relationships in favor of work work work! Driven by ambition, sometimes as a defense against insecurity or a way of avoiding certain ‘other issues’ in their life, it may be months or years before they realize they are exhausting themselves in pursuit of something they can never achieve i.e. self-fulfillment and a happy life solely through action. 

Then there are those who have little ambition in the world of work but who learn to live with a quiet sense of guilt or a feeling of inadequacy while surrounded by work enthusiasts and individuals driven by ambition.

“There must be something wrong with me”, they think. Until one day they realize, “There might be something right with me”! 

The struggle for work/life balance

There are some amongst us who consider work to be a ‘necessary evil’ that they grimly tolerate throughout the average day. Sometimes referred to as a ‘wage slave’ they seek only the means to pay the mortgage, fill the fridge, sustain the family and feed the dog, in what they see as a totally separate ‘segment’ of their life. They have given up on anything called a career, if they ever got started, and only ‘do work’ because they feel compelled to do so. They will live almost one-third of their life reluctantly, wondering why they are not that happy within the other two-thirds, without quite making the connection that they cannot be two people. 

Then there are those who are constantly, frenetically, almost obsessively seeking that magic, utopian work/life balance. They lead a life where they divide up and spend time and energy economically, efficiently, and effectively. Conscientious and sensible, they will occasionally explode in frustration unable to face the fact that utopia is not a time management exercise, that the ideal life is not the perfect balance of one’s priorities or the ability to achieve a set of goals on time. 

Embracing wholeness: the centred perspective

And then there is that very rare individual for whom the penny has dropped on this life/work balance thing! They have realized there is no such thing. They wear a quiet smile when others speak about being stretched all the time, being so uncontrollably busy, needing to prioritize better, being overcome by competing demands, stressed by looming deadlines. All these ‘symptoms of the unbalanced’ are history for the one who has ‘cottoned on’ to the fact that not only is attempting to achieve a work/life balance futile, it is like all attempts to balance things in life, impossible (except perhaps for the tightrope walker). They know what few have probably yet to realize, that balance is irrelevant when you become ‘centered’! 

Attempting to be more balanced is a recipe for tension and anxiety. Watch the tightrope walker and you can see two areas of tension. Under his feet and between the two hands holding the long pole. Similarly in life, trying to work out what areas of your life get your attention without tension, so that other areas are not neglected, can be a continuous source of anxiety and tension, accompanied by constantly nagging thoughts like, “Am I getting this right? I’m sure I am neglecting something or someone. I just don’t know if I have enough time to meet the demands of everything and everyone.” 

The balance seeking person vs. The centered person

So what is the difference between the ‘balance-seeking person’ and the ‘centered person’ for whom the idea of balance has become redundant? 

The balance-seeking person (BSP) tends to see their life as divided into different segments as they compartmentalize work, family, leisure, education, self-development, etc. Whereas the centered person (CP) sees their life as a whole, without divisions and compartments. The BSP is frequently trying to measure and calculate the time/attention they give to each segment so there may be a ‘fair sharing’, whereas the CP gives time and attention according to the needs of the situation and circumstances, knowing there are ebbs and flows and that ultimately any and all extremes settle back into the ‘center’. They average out naturally. 

The BSP will tend to generate guilt when they start to think they are not giving adequate time and attention to some area ‘of’ their life or relationships ‘in’ their life. Whereas the CP never feels guilty about how they spend their time, as they never see themselves wasting time or losing time. They know that they bring ‘value’ to wherever they focus their attention. 

Intentions: taking vs. giving

The fundamental difference between a balance-seeking person (BSP) and a centered person (CP) is one of intention. The BSP’s intention is primarily to ‘get from’ whereas the CPs intention is to ‘give to’. Although the BSP believes they are giving time and attention to each segment of their life their underlying motive is to get something. They see each area of their life as a source of something that they believe they have to ‘acquire’ e.g. work means getting money, family means getting love and happiness, leisure time means getting some relaxation, and education means getting knowledge.

Whereas the CP’s intention is to ‘give something’ because they don’t see themselves as needy, they see themselves as a source of energy in their life, and they are available to give whatever is needed to whoever and whenever it is possible. And that ‘energy’ could take one of many forms e.g. time, attention, ideas, wisdom, support, caring, finance, advice, etc. 

This means the BSP has expectations within each segment of their life and therefore fear that those expectations will not be met, and anger when they are often not fulfilled in reality. Whereas the CP has no expectations and if they do, then their happiness is not dependent on having them met. 

The power of giving and meaning of Life

The BSP hasn’t quite realized that wanting and taking are precursors to fear and frustration and therefore disempowering. Whereas the CP knows that giving and sharing are the foundation of self-empowerment and self-fulfillment. Not an easy connection to make if one has been conditioned by a culture that celebrates getting what you want before someone else does. 

The deepest difference between the ‘balance seeker’ and ‘the centered’ is around the meaning they ascribe to life itself. For the BSP life will often be seen as a burden, an obstacle course, a struggle to get through, something to be survived. Whereas the CP is more likely to see life as a gift, an opportunity to be creative, co-creative with others, and a playful adventure. 

Living from the heart: cultivating self-awareness

The BSP will likely live their life shaped by a set of acquired values imposed by others around material things like possessions, position, financial security, etc. Whereas the CP will live according to their ‘realized’ innate values such as love and caring, compassion and joy. Hence their ability to remain stable and centered in chaotic and sometimes challenging circumstances. While ‘innate values’ can never be lost or stolen, ‘acquired values’ are vulnerable to removal, which is why the BSP continuously experiences free-floating anxiety about what will happen next!

While the BSP will seek some kind of recognition and approval to affirm their worth in each segment of their life, the CP does not seek attention or approval as their self-worth and self-esteem are self-generated from within their ‘center’. They live from inside out not outside in. 

Balancing techniques vs. connecting with innate wisdom

And while the BSP is frequently looking for tools, techniques, and methods to be more balanced in their life the CP knows there are no techniques to living from the centre. They know that only the cultivation of self-awareness and a clear intellect informed by one’s innate wisdom are required to make the choices and decisions that ensure time and energy flows outwards naturally ‘from’ their center. 

The journey to self-discovery: becoming your own coach

And while the BSP may seek a life coach to help them find balance in their values, goals, priorities, and time allocations, the CP knows that eventually, they must become their own coach. They have realized that they cannot force or shape a fulfilling and happy life through others or the world; it has to come from the heart. That is where the center lies. Not the heart of your body, but the heart of your being. And there is only one coach who awaits you there! 

Question: Why do people who seek a work/life balance struggle to find such a balance and implement it within their day-to-day life? 

Reflection: What sets apart being balanced from being centered as the most significant difference?

Action: What do you need to do to cultivate a more ‘centered’ way of living? 

Written by our professor Mike George