Achieving a Balanced Life

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert A. Heinlein

One of my favorite quotes. I can't say that I can do all of those things, but the point is that leading a diverse, balanced life is essential for physical and mental well-being.

balance

It's all about balance!

You never know where your hobbies can take you. I played violin when I was young and stuck with it over the years. I used the same skill to make money by playing on the streets in Germany and Slovakia. Even got invited to a Slovak+Irish band! Once I dabbled in lock-picking and managed to unlock a room adjacent to the one which I shared with a roommate. Then we each had our own room. It was great! But one morning the janitor walked in and I had to make a crazy dash for the exit. So your hobbies can also take you to jail if you're not careful.

In all seriousness though, here are the activites and communities which I believe are most helpful in achieving a healthy, balanced life:

  1. Health
  2. Clearly-defined core values
  3. Gratefulness and giving back
  4. Having a tightly-knit friend group
  5. Being part of an all-men (or all women) group

1. Health

This should always and forever take #1 priority. Without physical and mental health, you cannot grow in other areas of life.

What does this mean? If you are overweight, you need to lose weight. Eat less, exercise more. No excuses. Be tougher.

If you are not getting enough sleep, start going to bed earlier. Take some melatonin, meditate, use earplugs, whatever you need to do. Also consider that exercise during the day will help you fall asleep at night.

Mental health is just as important. If you've never meditated, give it a try. Headspace is a great place to start.

If you have an addiction of some kind, I can highly recommend StikK, an app which donates your money to an "anti-charity" unless you fulfill your commitment. I've used it to quit caffeine and sweets for a period of time (not a true addiction but still a habit which can get out of hand).

If all else fails, take 6 deep breaths and distance yourself from the situation.

2. Clearly-defined core values

Having a few core values—some moral principles—will help keep you on the right course when the going gets tough. Here are mine, a list of do nots...

  1. Do not lie.
  2. Do not cheat.
  3. Do not steal.
  4. Do not complain.
  5. Do not talk ill of others.
  6. Do not physically or emotionally harm others without due cause.

Use these, or develop your own. When in doubt you can always ask yourself, "Will doing this break one of my rules?"

3. Gratefulness and giving back

We all need some element of gratefulness in our lives. For me, every morning immediately after I wake up, I take 10 seconds to think how grateful I am for something. It could be gratefulness for the day ahead, for being alive, for parents or loved ones, anything really.

It's not just the feeling of gratefulness that should be strengthened, it should be tangible too. I'm not religious, but I do agree with the Christian tithe: give at least 10% of your earnings to a cause you feel passionate about.

Or take it a step further, get involved with a volunteer group. Help care for dogs at a shelter, shovel snow for the elderly... do something to help your fellow human! Thanks to the Internet, it's super easy to find local volunteer groups near where you live.

4. Keep a close friend group

A close group of friends is invaluable. I'm not talking about colleagues or acquaintances, I mean the people you can always count on. The people with whom you can share your really f*cked up stories without fear of judgement.

If you have friends who you are close to but not at this level yet, remember that being open with someone will help them open up to you as well.

Such a relationship can be hard to achieve, especially if you have nothing like it at the moment. It's not something that will happen overnight. It takes time. And if you are naturally introverted, it can be especially difficult to achieve. Sharing in an arduous task (whether physical or not) is a great way to strengthen your friendship.

5. Join an all-men (or all women) group

Being part of a fraternity of fellow men or sorority of fellow women will increase your social capital. What I mean is that such a group will provide a network for you to develop professionally and socially.

People in the group can be valuable connections who open new doors in your career, or introduce you to people of the opposite sex in a high-value way if you are single and ready to mingle.

Moreover, being an active member in a group like this can teach you how to act in a social setting with fellow men/women. Even if you disagree with social norms and conventions, this is an invaluable skill to have in your toolbox: knowing what to say and how to act around different kinds of people to achieve the results you want.

As a member in a group like this, you will also have the opportunity to learn and practice "politics" at a micro-level, as well as develop leadership skills if you take on a role within the organization. Like it or not, interpersonal politics rears its head in all kinds of situations, and you need to be ready to win in these situations.

Some examples of groups you can join:

  • Local sports team
  • College fraternity/sorority
  • A band
  • A volunteer group
  • A professional association

Determine your unique interests, then use the amazingly powerful Internet to discover ways to get involved.