With a fresh new year upon us, there is talk of one thing in the air — change. Resolutions to be a better parent, to lose a few pounds, to clear clutter from our homes and minds. One word that gets used over and over when we talk about so many of these topics is balance. We want to balance our diets so we can get the benefits of good food and the joys of not-so-good food. We want to balance our work and lives so we can give 100 percent in both places and get even more back. But I have come to believe that balance is the wrong name for what we are seeking.
Balance implies a single point of equilibrium. We are given the impression by so much information around us that if we can find this one point, everything will fall into place. But that isn’t how it works. As you move forward with your goals this year, keep a different word in mind: progress.
Progress is a better word to bear in mind because you can only plan so much. As life changes and goals shift, getting to total balance would be pretty much impossible. But continual improvement is something that always works, always feels good and can be maintained long-term. This is especially critical when it comes to being creative. This time last year, I was really happy with my creative flow. I had a kid who could do a lot of things for herself and I was able to stay up pretty late a few nights a week for uninterrupted breaks of painting and sewing. It was wonderful because I had built a structure that allowed me to get things done. Not just art, but chores around the house. Now, with a new baby who nurses pretty regularly, I can’t afford those late nights. Even during the day, the stretches of time I get are unpredictable at best. Because I switched my mindset from balance to progress, I don’t find this change in my rhythm frustrating.
If you are focused only on total balance, one bad day could easily throw you off your game. So when you are working on your creative goals, ask yourself a few questions from time to time to see if you are maintaining forward momentum.
1. Have I improved, even a little bit, at the skill set I am working on? Even tiny changes such as taking 15 minutes a day to doodle or committing to a 365 challenge can have a huge impact on your over all creative process.
2. If my skills themselves haven’t improved, am I making a real effort to learn something new? Don’t let the things you love fall to the side. The longer you wait to exercise a skill, the more likely it is to atrophy. If you feel really stuck, take a class or find a book covering new techniques and dive in.
3. What are the dreams I am reaching for? Asking yourself this regularly and changing how you work based on the answer means you will always be moving forward.
4. What can I do to make my work more meaningful? Sometimes we stagnate in things we love to do because we have lost sight of the bigger picture. A simple shift in perspective or change in the end game can revive interest in your work.
I don’t want you to come away from this thinking balance is a bad word — it’s not. It’s simply a matter of how it’s most frequently used today in our culture. The ideas that are often tied with that word can create a sense of pressure that is counter to what really should be worked for. No matter what time of year it is or what goals you have, always remember that moving forward, no matter how slowly, is better than not moving at all.