For me, there isn’t much that can’t be softened, improved, or even fixed by some time spent on the water. There’s a beautifully written book on the blue mind effect, but it landed in a particularly poignant way for me last summer.
I loved my work. Truly. It had all the right elements of good mission, good people, good results. I was juggling several projects and thriving on the challenges in front of me. The work was tough, but things were mostly in balance.
Until they weren’t.
The Futility of Forcing Balance (or Cinder Blocks on a See-Saw)
Balance between work and life is a lot like a playground seesaw. Not a static kind of balance with equal weights on either side. But rather a give and take, more and less, ebb and flow rhythm. My seesaw suddenly had a pile of cinder blocks on one side that simply would not budge.
I tried all of the usual problem-solving tactics. I looked inward for the thing I was inevitably doing wrong that was causing this. I tried talking to my boss to try to find a workable solution or, at the very least, acknowledge the problems together. An, like Type A folks everywhere, I tried endlessly rearranging my schedule with all sorts of magical calendar math. I was sure if I could just get more organize, judicious, and adaptive that I could figure it out. If I just kept pushing against the problem and adding new layers of refinement, I could solve it. If I just kept trying…
Spoiler alter: I couldn’t. But, as I pushed my kayak into the waters of Black Moshannon Lake, I was still pretty sure about it.
Nature had other plans.
Finding A Natural Balance
Within minutes, my boat was tucked into a sprawl of water lilies that covered most of the lake’s surface. The water was calm, the sun was warm, and the world was quiet. It was one of those days that becomes the cover of a brochure.
In the stillness, I was utterly shocked by the speed at which my vision turned from foggy to defined. I hadn’t fully realized how woefully out of balance my life had become until that very moment. And, I was quickly reminded of three things that, even in the midst of internal chaos, help to restore clarity, focus, and balance.
1. Remember to breathe. Sounds simple and I’ve been a practicing yogi for decades, but it had escaped me once again. With the onset of overwhelm, we often find ourselves in a constant loop of reactivity. We’re dealing with each new and paddling incessantly, often out of desperation. Coming back to the breath, if only for a few moments, calms the mind and lets it rest. Resting is not the same as quitting. It offers balance between effort and ease, allowing us to collect ourselves and reset our perspective.
2. Refocus the lens. Sometimes the best way to assess a problem is to zoom it out. I had been pushing on my challenges for so long that I had completely lost sight of what I was actually trying to solve. Adjusting your lens and zooming out changes your perspective. It becomes easier to see what’s mucking up the gears and where there might be opportunities for subtraction and simplification. It allows you to take a better look at your surroundings, point your boat toward where you want to end up, put your oars in the water, and get paddling.
3. Stay true. When you strip away the noise, what are you left with? When you pull back the lens and look at the larger picture, are the stories we tell ourselves true? Assessing the landscape as it really is requires unflinching honesty and a willingness to trust yourself. If you can sit with the discomfort of the questions, the next steps that are right for you begin to take shape and come into focus.
I grappled with those questions in my little yellow boat, among the lilies and the dragonflies. I remembered everything I loved about my work, but that wasn’t the end of the story. I also sat with the feelings that I had only just then been able to label. The crushing disappointment and acute heartache of knowing I could no longer stay.
Nature has a way of sorting us out.
I’ve only been to that lake once. My usual breath/lens/truth epiphanies come while sitting on my tiny porch, usually in the company of two sweet dogs and a glass of wine. It doesn’t have to be fancy; nature isn’t hard to find. I used to work alongside a social worker who was fond of saying that sometimes “you just need to get some sunshine in your eyeballs.” Wishing you that and more as longer days and warmer nights beckon us into nature’s embrace.