How Do You Balance A Well-Lived Life?

Most days, it seems like at least one demand has to be missing for me to feel as if I’ve got everything under control.

I need to talk to you about energy, and I may wax metaphysical at times, so bear with me.

First of all, there are different kinds of energy required as it relates to human exertion. There’s physical energy needed to propel our bodies through the world, and the more we allow ourselves to embrace the laws of inertia, the more our bodies atrophy.

There’s mental energy as it relates to employing our higher faculties and the dissemination of that effort if it’s deemed necessary for professional or personal reasons.

Then there’s emotional energy, which relates to the varied needs of our intimate relationships: children, spouses or partners, and even our pets.

The first concept is easy to understand whereas the other two kinds of energy, and the exertion that applies to them, are more complicated. But let’s say we place all these sub-categories under a big umbrella and just call it call it “holistic energy,” because very few things we apply ourselves to only require one kind of energy. Take, for example, a true dedication to fitness and health. It doesn’t just require physical exertion, although it is the predominant output.

Now some people seem to have more holistic energy than others. There are individuals who seem, from all outward appearances, to be able to balance the demands of work, family, and caring for themselves, but I wonder how accurate these outward appearances seem. In other words, even if somebody’s pie chart is bigger, the pie must still be divided up into wedges, no?

But, also, I think some people have resources that others lack. For example, caring for family is easier when extended family helps out. If one has enough wealth to afford a personal trainer or a nanny, then that requires fewer demands on one’s energy as it relates to family and physical health.

On the other hand, some people do very well compartmentalizing and using their time wisely. They know how to schedule their lives to allow for the better use of energy. Or, at least, this is what my optimism suggests about the perfect outward appearances of individuals who seem to “have it all.” That said, they could also be closet anythings: closet alcoholics, closet abusers, closet bulimics, closet closet-organizers.

The point I’m getting at is that it seems to be very, very hard to balance a well-lived life.

If resources and support are things that bolster energy, then impulse control is something that is necessary to prevent one from sapping the already scarce supply of energy needed to make a well-lived life. For example, if I work out, but then can’t stop eating chocolate cookies, I’ve screwed myself in terms of physical health. If I spend half the night fucking around on the Internet, then that significantly taps into the time necessary to maintain the tenuously balanced life. Again, imagine the pie chart: Every wedge is made stingier when something else in our lives requires a slice of us.

This is all to say that some days it seems impossible to be a good, patient, attentive mother; a loving, understanding, and affectionate wife; a prolific, successful writer; a participating and enlivening member of academia; a responsible pet owner; the keeper of an immaculate house; the owner of an elite body; and all the things that would give me that outward appearance of “having it all”—physical, mental, and emotional perfection.

Which is not to say that I don’t have good days where I can feel pretty close. Most days, though, it seems like at least one demand has to be missing for me to feel as if I’ve got it under control. Furthermore, when I’m grading students’ papers, for example, which makes great demands on my brain, I’m only left with the minimum amount of energy to attend to all the other things in my life that require my attention. And I hate that. Never mind such things as shaved legs, real cooking, and the occasional foray into something called leisure time.

And so, in the end, I wonder how you do it. Do you manage to balance it all? Do you tend to children under the age of 5 and still have a dancer’s body and a lively mind? I only have one child, and I find it hard to manage. Do you have a successful career while still finding time to care for your family and home? I feel like I’m only half-way there in all of these categories. Tell me about your vast stores of holistic energy, and how you live a well-balanced life without the indulgence of bought conveniences or familial support.

Because if you do have it figured out, I want to know your secrets.

Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with her husband, son, and slightly feral dog. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, and Rattle, and her work can be found in the 2010 Best American Poetry. She also writes fiction and essays, and her prose can be found in Mamalode, PANK, the Monarch Review, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She teaches writing at USC.

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