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Commentary by Ramon Presson: Exposing the myth of a balanced life

The headline on the front page of The Tennessean’s June 27 business section reads “Create Balance in Your Life.” I swear, if I see another photo of a balanced stack of smooth Zen stones I’m gonna hurl. Folks, I’m sorry to burst your fantasy bubble but the Balanced Life is a myth. It is more elusive than a balanced federal budget. It is the existential equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot.

The perfectly balanced life is logically impossible because in reality none of the areas of our lives that we want desperately to balance (work, marriage, children, finances, extended family, friendship, health and fitness, spiritual growth, continuing education, hobbies, recreation, community involvement – are you exhausted yet?) remain static and hold still for even a moment! Every area is organic and is in constant flux and always will be. Imagine putting together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle when the shapes, sizes, and colors keep changing. 

The myth and futile pursuit of balance sells a lot of books by authors promising this is the book, this is the model that will bring your chaotic life into perfect harmony and blissful balance. All Perfect Balance proposals will leave readers and practitioners frustrated and discouraged.  Wait, but won’t thoughtful attention to the important areas of my life bring greater peace and fulfillment? Certainly.  But perfect peace from perfect balance? Impossible because perfect balance simply does not exist.

As a kid, my friend, Doug Dees, learned to ride a unicycle. Doug will tell you there is no such thing as perfect balance on a unicycle because the moment a rider brings his upright unicycle to complete stillness is the moment just before he falls over and smashes his face on the pavement. Even when attempting to remain steady in one relative spot, the rider must move the pedals back and forth to stay upright and centered. The unicycle imagery suggests a stability that is achievable versus a perfect balance which is not. The unicyclist achieves steadiness, not balance, and must become comfortable with measures of imbalance.

Recently the world watched and held its collective breath as Nik Wallenda walked across a two-inch-wide cable stretched 1,400 feet across and 1500 feet above the Grand Canyon floor. For the 22-minute walk Wallenda carried a flexible 30-foot, 43-pound bar that never was still but remained in constant sway like an ever rising/falling set of scales. There was never a single instant of stationary perfect balance. For 22 minutes and against 30 mph winds, Wallenda managed the physics and forces of imbalance by meeting it with stability and rhythm.

At first hearing, Imbalance hardly has an attractive ring to it. It sounds too similar to unstable, sick, even mentally ill. So why should we warm to the idea of imbalance and seek stability over perfect balance? Answer: because not only is it the only place that is real, it is the only place where we’ll meet God. Not because God is wobbly, but because we are, and God can only meet us right where we are.

Furthermore, it is usually my imbalance that compels me to cling to God. I reach out to God to steady myself. I cling and lean in towards God the way a nervous mountain climber presses his body against the face of the steep cliff. So I seek not a perfect balance in my life, but rather a stability in the chaos of both uncertainty and change, a steadiness despite the crises of undeserved suffering and unexpected evil.

Knowing that perfect balance is not attainable on even a good day, I also seek to establish some healthy rhythms in my life. As a marriage therapist for much of my day I am intensely engaged with people and couples in crisis. Some days, some weeks, it takes more out of me than others. To be effective when I am engaged means there are times I must be disengaged, to withdraw and recharge. When and how I do that each day and each week or weekend is seldom the same.

But I long ago learned this truth: “If a man is always available then eventually his availability will have little to offer.” I’ve found no formula for balance but rather a rhythm like the ascending and descending ends of Wallendar’s bar – a sway of full engagement and complete withdrawal. I take my cue for this rhythm from my mentor who daily gave himself to responding to the needs of others. “The news about Jesus kept spreading so large crowds came to hear him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

Regardless of whether you are a therapist, a newspaper editor, business owner, or a stay-at-home Mom; and regardless of whether you prefer to pray or play in the wilderness, the rhythms of engagement and disengagement are vital to your life’s good dance.

Author and therapist, Dr. Ramon Presson, is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, TN. He can be reached at

Posted on: 7/3/2013


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