I came across a Facebook post the other day that stopped me in my tracks. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote something on Facebook that forced me to reevaluate a word.
Here it is:
“I felt the need to speak out once more against the subtle tyranny of the word BALANCE, which I think haunts and punishes modern women more and more every day.
We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can’t read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE….and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!
The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other.
To say that someone has found the secret to a balanced life is to suggest that they have solved life, and that they now float through their days in a constant state of grace and ease, never suffering stress, ambivalence, confusion, exhaustion, anger, fear, or regret. Which is a wonderful description of nobody, ever.
Balance, when we do find it, is a breathtakingly temporary condition. We stand upon a world that spins at 2000 miles an hour. Our minds, meanwhile, spin at 200,000 miles an hour. We collide every day with other humans who are also sliding and spinning wildly. The landscape of our lives, therefore, changes by the minute. You find your balance one day and think, “Hooray! I have solved it” and then five minutes later the world utterly transforms again, and you’re knocked on your ass one more time.
That’s just how life is on this planet — messy, fast, out of control, unpredictable. It’s all terribly interesting, but also terribly unstable.”
She was dead right and I was crestfallen.
An amorphous gray area of our daily language had been clarified with concrete implications. I found myself mourning a word that I had come to depend on.
Here, I thought I was trying to achieve balance, but I was really just trying to be perfect.
The word balance, it seems, is going the way of the word beauty. There are generations of women who were raised believing beauty was defined by the likes of Glamour, Vogue, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated. If their faces / bodies / clothes didn’t match those pictures, they had to deal with that fact, one way or another.
I was one of them.
It wasn’t until much later that I understood how much these images had skewed my understanding of the true meaning of beauty.
Now I feel, I have been duped again.
In previous posts, I explored the concept of balance as an inconsistent state, not a form of perfection. Being balanced is being accepting of what is happening in that moment and dealing with it. That includes the mess, grief, confusion, frustration and disappointments that life brings.
But that is not the way the word is being used in most places.
Balance has morphed into an airbrushed size 2, running errands in designer wear, delighting in all things social, and achieving professional success while never sweating through her blouse, screaming at her husband or forgetting to send a thank you note.
So thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for being the Paul Revere of semantics.
I didn’t see that one coming.
I forgot how vulnerable we all are to self-criticism cloaked in the language self-improvement.