For years now I have been driven into by well-meaning NLP practitioners behind their Life Balance Wheel, determined to get me to score every aspect of my life in a harmonic way. The point of this exercise is to throw into sharp relief elements of my everyday existence out of kilter with the rest. The metaphor being that, if the wheel resembles a Mumbai taxi driver’s wheel (oval rather than round – or worse, Fred Flintstone’s square wheel) then my life is out of balance and I’m thumping along the road, scattering my passengers (friends and family) about in the back like a sack of potatoes.
The most commonly listed areas in need of balance are Friends/Family, Fitness and Health, Career, Money, Personal and Spiritual Growth, Romance/Significant Other, Physical Environment/Home and Fun/Recreation. The general idea is that, within these sectors, one scores how satisfied one is with that area (usually between 1 and 7) and then joins the dots around the circle. Where the lumpy bits appear, this is where your life is out of balance and corrective action is needed.
Any number of Life Coaches out there use this as a basic diagnostic tool to make people feel like they need help from the sidelines to get their life back into balance by spending more time at home or writing poetry. The Life Coach will exhort you to spend five hours of quality time at home each evening – or composing verse in order to get in touch with your creative side.
If you are only 80% satisfied with your career, then you need to score that as an eight on the wheel or 6 on the 0-7 model. You get the idea. A simple little diagrammatic diagnostic to make you feel like you need some moulding around the edges of the clay pot of your life. The wheel is turning and your beautiful clay pot is getting all skew whiff, flanging at the edges whilst your nearest and dearest desperately try to push the clay walls back in. The heroic coach rides triumphantly into the art class and puts the pot back together.
This is such a childishly simple technique that I am embarrassed on behalf of all the coaches out there who take your hard earned pounds. You can draw your own wheel. You can do your own yelling from the touchline. You can achieve balance. The bumps will disappear and your beautiful clay pot will ossify into an ornament.
This is fine. But there is one problem.
All the people I have known who have achieved significant, entrepreneurial, creative, breakthrough success have been out of whack. They have been single-minded, often selfish, mavericks that have driven their loved ones mad. The only wheels they have been interested in have been the type that Jeremy Clarkson drives. The spokes that they relate to are the ones that you throw into the heart of the machine. The balance that they are seeking is the kind that you find on a tightrope.
Boundaries are not extended by responsible public citizens, they are stretched by pioneers. Breakthroughs are achieved by people who like breaking things. Explorers don’t work nine to five. Inventors don’t look for jobs in the Classifieds. Leaders don’t complete customer satisfaction surveys before making decisions. Take Churchill. He didn’t have great work-life balance. He said “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” A life coach would have called him a manic obsessive. General Patton put it another way, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” George Smith Patton was not renowned for his equilibrium either.
“Sometimes I worry about being a success in a mediocre world,” said the actress Lily Tomlin. The soma quest for balance is a recipe for mediocrity. We sandpaper down our rough edges of talent, inspiration, insight, humour, genius until they disappear.
Passion, obsession, zeal, ambition, never giving up, being infuriating partners, fathers, mothers, bosses, employees: these are the grits in the tank that gave us the Apollo Moon Mission, Christopher Columbus, Marie Curie and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
The trouble with the work life balance wheel is that it just goes round and round and round. Like a hamster in a cage, never ever really getting anywhere.
So who do you want to be? The village postman or an astronaut?