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Choosing Proportion Over Perfection As A Path To Happiness

kateMost of the people who say they want to feel more “balanced” are just using that as a placeholder word.

They actually want to feel something else: awake and able to respond to their lives.

They want to see the challenges come up and have the skills to:

  • be able to look at said challenge,
  • be honest about the totality of what they feel,
  • and respond FROM a place that is sane, kind, and life-affirming.

Translation: People want to meet challenges without denying their feelings, yet not let those feelings control them. They don’t want to go into reaction mode, hiding out with ugly inner critic comparisons, or numbing out with hours of Facebook or television.

Basically, you want to feel fully alive. Far from being such a terrible thing to want, it’s your birthright. And yes, there is a way to study, learn, and master the skill-set that leads to being able to do all of what I described, above.

So when you’re in the midst of a challenging day and the thought skitters across your mind that you’re tired of things being out of control; that you crave more “balance,” stop.

Breathe.

You don’t crave balance. You crave respect for proportion.

Work Hard, Play Hard

I run my life by an internal mechanism I call the Law of Proportion.

Of course, this isn’t a natural law in the scientific world (you’re thinking of the law of definite proportions, which relates to chemical compounds), but I do find that like other laws, The Law of Proportion is consistent.

Unlike perfectionism, living by proportion isn’t about pre-determined measurements to live up to. The Law of Proportion states that everything is relative to the whole.

You want enough rest–a proportionate amount to the stress you’re dealing with, not some pre-determined idea of what “rest” is supposed to look like so that you can tick “rest” off of the to-do list.

The Law of Proportion will be consistent in doling out a commensurate amount of misery every time you’ve got more stress in your life than you’re adequately resting for.

You actually do want life challenges–a proportionate amount to what is manageable, not a bland state of perpetual routines.

The Law of Proportion is going to knock you over if you try to arrange everything “just so,” with nary a hair out of place, with boredom or depression or a mid-life or existential crisis.

The Law of Proportion is what dictates that no one could live in a state of perpetual artistic expression without burning out. It’s also what decrees that one could live in a state of perpetual rest and relaxation, without numbing out.

Respect the Law

I don’t want to aim for balance/perfection. I aim for, and respect, the Law of Proportion.

If it’s time to get the project done, that project is getting done. I’m going to put other things on the back-burner, say no to dates, and anticipate more eating out. I’ve got conviction, I’ve got passion, and I’m doing this thang, baby!

Likewise, when it’s time to rest or play, it’s time to rest or play. The Law of Proportion will let me know when that time has come (the Three Horsemen of Burnout Apocalypse will come riding: Fatigue, Resistance, Resentment).

I used to think that the goal was “balance,” which meant that I was supposed to take it easier, compartmentalizing and time-hacking my life a bit better so that I wouldn’t get “burned out.”

Then I realized that trying to reign in part of myself ended up cutting off the passion–the passion that I needed to fuel creative ideas, expand them a bit wider, or trust that it was worth it to meet a wacky deadline.

What I was calling “burned out” and summarily chastising myself for was actually…the beautiful, perfectly spent feeling that you get when you’ve just worked hard and your face is shining with pride.

Balance/perfectionism would say that you should finish a project in such even tones that you finish with nary a sheen of sweat on your brow. Then, the next day, you’re ready to wake up and tackle the next one.

(snooze).

The Law of Proportion says: “Far-out! That was intense, but you rocked it. The sacrifice was totally worth it. Now let’s go eat pie. And read books about home decor. And get to yoga early, instead of slipping in right as she’s closing up.”

Note that the Law of Proportion demands self-care. This isn’t manic swinging from states of high-octane activity, to swooning on a settee. The Law of Proportion doesn’t stand for over-doing it (that’s not proportionate). The Law of Proportion says, “Yes, you just got a promotion, so let’s stretch this piece so that you can let your higher-ups know that they chose the right woman. But let’s just understand that hubs is going to need to handle dinners for awhile, and that just might mean a lot of pizza if the kids are going to get fed. You’ll have to chill out about that. You can’t do everything, and you recognize that this is important.”

The Good News

But here’s the good news: because we’re talking about proportion here, and not perfectionism, this means that we’re also talking about shifting things, not overhauling them.

It’s a lot simpler to shift things than to overhaul them, completely.

The solutions are simpler than you think, and probably right on hand. Perfectionism might require that you meditate for 30 minutes a day and go to yoga a few times a week. Proportion might only ask you to notice that taking 10 slow, deep breaths is pretty relaxing, and that making room for one extra yoga class a week is enough to tip the scales in your favor.

I thought I wanted “balance” all of those years, but really? I wanted proportion. I wanted the passion-fueled ecstasy of total communion with a project, followed by seeing its completion and retiring to read books about triathlons, or neglecting email, or getting extra snuggle time with my man.

To think that you can do everything, and do it all in a way that’s “balanced”? That’s perfectionism and insanity (and drama).

Opt for ease. The Law of Proportion is at work in your life, anyway. Respect it and you choose sanity.

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Kate Swoboda, a.k.a. Kate Courageous, is a life coach, writer and speaker who teaches people how to practice courage in their lives and livelihood. Learn more about her and how you can practice courage in your own life and business on her website , or follow Kate on Twitter or Facebook.

  • alsingingteacher

    Wow! This is exactly what I needed right now! Thanks!

    • Kate Swoboda

      Thanks for taking a moment to post; I’m so glad that this resonated with you.

  • Susan

    Me too! These thoughts resonate with me. I have been living with the awareness that the Three Horsemen of Burnout Apocalypse ( Fatigue, Resistance, Resentment) are present but could not name it. Now I can shift my perspective . Thank you Kate!

    • Kate Swoboda

      That’s really lovely to hear, Susan! Naming things is half the battle. :-)

  • Erin Parker

    beautiful message!!! you’ve inspired me to aim for proportion in place of perfectionism!!!

    • Kate Swoboda

      Proportion is way more fun. :-)

  • Sage

    This was a HUGE a-ha for me just now… THANK YOU for sharing this perspective! I never thought my “to-do list” was me being a perfectionist! Also…what type of stone is your necklace? I absolutely LOVE it!

    • Kate Swoboda

      Thanks, Sage! I think it’s not so much about the list, as it is about how we hold the list (grasping, or with ease?). The necklace is just a fun little thing I got from a Forever 21 years ago; I imagine it’s plastic, but I loved the color. :-D