Balancing, it is a tricky one for me. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally— balance has been elusive.
I had turned five just after the deadline for kindergarten enrollment, but the district agreed to test me, to see if my development was on target to start school. I remember the tester taking me over to the balance beam to walk on. It was a narrow strip of wood set on the floor, just out of arms reach from the wall. I struggled on that beam. I remember tipping over and catching myself on the wall. The tester said, “That’s enough.” Lack of coordination = lack of balance.
As I continued through my childhood, I became very observant of my surroundings. My inner anthropologist was formed during holiday visits to very different sides of the family. We oscillated between fundamental southern Baptist gatherings and volatile celebrations of with varying degrees of inebriation. I would observe the language, the rituals, the appropriate behavior for the occasion, adapt myself accordingly, and try not to get caught in any of the crossfire. For me, lack of stability = lack of balance.
For having survived such familial settings, it is no wonder that my emotional development got caught up in a world of black and white. As a teenager, I was either elated or raging. Deeply saddened, or overflowing with energy. I either loved someone, or I hated them. It took me years to find the many shades of gray that comprise the human experience. I am still learning. Lack of shading = lack of balance.
The lack of coordination, stability, and shades of gray found an appropriate gathering space— in my work. My methods of working were full-immersion in a sense. I became so involved in my work that it became a extension of me. Whether I was cooking, cutting, or serving pizzas at The Hut, working with clients at a weight-loss center, cleaning and cataloging Late Woodland artifacts, waiting (and bumping into) tables, cleaning skeletons for curation, teaching students, collecting research data, or doing any of the 143 jobs I had as the VP of Land Grant Programs—they all became a source of external validation of my worth. At a point, in my lack of balance, I toppled over. This time it was I who said, “That’s enough.”
So here I am, trying to regain my balance and redefine my relationship with work. Some days are better than others. Some days I can manage to fulfill my basic responsibilities and then some. Other days just getting kiddo #1 to school is completely overwhelming. Some of the most difficult work cannot be seen in a glance, it happens on the inside, as I tend to the tendencies, issues, feelings, and ambitions I had once ignored.
Being a recovering work addict doesn’t really lend itself avoiding my method of addiction. I can’t very well say that I’ve been ‘sober’ for 4 months since I left my position at the tribal college. I’ve worked in many ways since then. I can’t very well say that I will be ‘sober’ the rest of my life either, that would be pretty boring to never work again. But, what I have to do is separate my idea of work from my image of myself and no longer see my work as a form of validation.
It is not easy and I by no means have all the answers. There are two reasons that I share what I do. First, to become more honest with myself. Second, I hope that sharing my experience can benefit others. I hope that I am not alone. I am sure there must be other folks who struggle with the same issues that I do. I hope that as I try to maintain this balancing act, I can be connected to humans, who are flawed, just like me.
Please share! What is your balancing act? Is balance difficult for you? How do you know when you are off balance? How do you get back to where you belong?