Balance Doesn’t Work – You Really Can’t Have it All – At Once

Doing anything remarkable almost always requires that something else gets ignored.

“Having it all” is an Industrial Age charade. Starting a successful business isn’t something you can do while living a “balanced” life. The bucolic suburban life of the 1950s was missing one thing – significance. People who live remarkable lives don’t live balanced ones. They don’t want one, either. Do you want a successful life? Then stop seeking balance.


Teeter-Totters rule.
When a teeter-totter is perfectly balanced, nothing is happening. The family sitcoms of the 50s, like Ozzie and Harriet, taught us to seek “balance” so we could live highly predictable, secure, safe, and unremarkable lives. But think of anyone who has accomplished great things in business, spiritual life, justice, etc – the more remarkable their impact, the less balanced their lives.

Integration, Not Balance
In the Participation Age, we bring our whole self to work, and we dissolve the lines between work and play. We leave at 10 a.m. to see our kids in the only fifth-grade play in which they will ever be the lead raccoon. We take bike rides or go for walks at 3 p.m., and work in the evenings or “weekends”.

Full Engagement, Not Balance
Fifteen years ago I was offered a great salary and significant ownership to run a company in Napa Valley. But we were fully out of balance, focusing on kids at the time. It was an offer of a lifetime, but it was easy to say no. Imbalance required it.

During the first year of building the Crankset Group (and earlier businesses), I worked seven days a week. There was no balance at all. Seven years later, I have every Friday off, every other Monday off, the last week of every month off, and a month a year – 60% of the year. My wife and I get to choose to ride a bike, build businesses in Africa, visit a 3to5 Club in Ireland, or go on a vacation. People on teeter-totters are always intentionally out of balance. It’s how the fun happens.

Get More Done in Less Time
Here’s the rub for startups. Too many business owners go into business looking for an immediate Ozzie and Harriet “lifestyle business”–assuming that they can step right in working four or five days a week. Success almost never comes that way. It was the willingness to go all in and be completely imbalanced on the front end that allows me to be imbalanced now in the direction of free time.

Momentum doesn’t come from balance, but from giving it your all up front. An airplane burns up to 50 percent of its fuel just getting to its cruise altitude. Most businesses do, too.

Shoot for Next Year, Not Tomorrow
Full engagement is tied directly to wanting the best in the long term, not right now, and wanting it badly enough to go all in—abandoning anything that the Balanced Life folks would recommend.

Find something to throw yourself at and do it with everything you have. Then take a break from that and throw yourself at something else just as hard (playing with your kids, another business, writing a book, etc.). I love my teeter-totter life. If you don’t have one, don’t expect to live a remarkable life.

Is Your Job a Balance Trap?
The Industrial Age company you work for might want you to live a balanced life and leave your personal stuff at home. It’s a trap. Find another company to work for—there are plenty of Participation Age companies out there who invite you to live an unbalanced, fully engaged, fully integrated, and remarkable life, and the number is growing fast.

Choose the Unbalanced Life
Live out your highest priorities – everything else should play second fiddle to those. And yes, you’ve got to choose. You can’t have it all – right now. Go all in on the front end and reap the rewards down the road.

As Margaret Thatcher, who lived an imbalanced life, said, “One’s life should matter.” If you live a balanced one, yours won’t.

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