I’ve been retired now for two years, and I notice that the pattern of my days has taken on a new rhythm. I’ve allowed myself the luxury of gradually permitting my body to readjust itself from decades of waking up to the insistence of an alarm clock at 5:30 in the morning. In the past two years, I’ve only had to set an alarm no more than a couple of times. I haven’t missed it! It’s been a gradual transition as I have learned to adapt to a new pattern in my days, and it has taken longer than I anticipated. Now I know that I feel best if I go to bed somewhere around 11 each night, and I naturally awaken around 6:30 or 7:00 each morning.
The pattern of my days has changed as well. I no longer have the imposed structure that my working life demanded, and am called upon to establish my own daily structure. Every day I want to spend time in my studio, working on whatever craft or art project is inspiring me at the moment or work on maintaining my website. I also want to spend time with the music I love every day—I am developing some proficiency on the mountain dulcimer, and try to spend an hour or two every day practicing and enjoying the music I love. I cook and bake more than I used to, and take more pleasure in it. I go to the “Y” two or three times a week, and lunch with friends pretty regularly. Then there are always the necessary chores of civilized living, that I prefer to think of as lifekeeping, rather than housekeeping. You know, things like paying the bills, getting medical checkups, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry and suchlike. Lifekeeping is the foundation upon which you can build the structure of your life.
Aging has changed my days as well. I don’t work as fast as I used to. It takes me longer to do less. I’ve learned not to expect to cover a long to-do list in a day anymore. But that’s okay. I have the time now to take things more slowly.
For all of that, though, my days seem to fly by—I’m always surprised that evening has come, when it feels like the morning has barely begun. And when I look back on each day, I find the greatest satisfaction in those days in which I’ve fit a little of everything—music, art, socializing with friends, and some lifekeeping. That’s what makes up a well-balanced day for me.
We all benefit from trying to live our life in proper proportions. We need a variety of activities: something meaningful to do, something to stimulate our minds, something to inspire us and feed our souls, something to maintain our quality of existence.
Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. (Robert Fulgham)
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And just writing this makes it sound easy. I know from experience, however, that it certainly is not an easy thing to do. Especially if you are juggling job and family responsibilities while trying to make a place for yourself in there somehow. And this brings me to my next point: You can do it all, just not all at the same time.
I've learned that you can't have everything and do everything at the same time. (Oprah Winfrey)
The quote by Oprah Winfrey is key. Here are my tips for creating a fulfilling and balanced life:
1. Take care of yourself.
You can’t live your best life if you are not taking care of your own health. Pay attention to the basics: eat nutritious foods, get enough rest and exercise. We are physical beings, and time catches up with us all. We give ourselves the best odds by being consistent about caring for our own health.
2. Decide what’s important right now.
Just as our days have their rhythm, so does our life have its seasons. I think of the quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Each season of our life presents its own tides of opportunities that we are called to take advantage of. As it often is in the balance of all things, taking advantage of one opportunity usually means putting aside other dreams.
In our youth, our focus must be on learning and growing. We must submit to the discipline required to develop the skills to live as an adult. In our adulthood, we may choose to find a partner, raise a family, or establish a career. The demands of realizing those dreams often mean there is limited time for doing many other things we may want to do. As we reach our senior years, we’re given back the gift of time use as we would wish, but we may no longer have the physical stamina and strength of our youth, and have to make accommodations accordingly.
There is time in your life for everything, just not everything at the same time! To be happy, we must learn to balance that reality. There will always be something or someone that demands our attention. There will always be things we want to do competing with, and sometimes losing out to, the things we have to do. When you have to put something aside in favor of more pressing priorities, you are not necessarily saying to yourself, “Never.” You are merely saying, “Someday. Just not right now.” Imagine what you have to look forward to!
3. Learn to go with the flow.
There will be many times in our lives when things happen over which we have no control. Even the best planned lives experience roadblocks, surprises, and delays. Developing the ability to roll with the punches and not get stressed over minor frustrations. Learning to expect and deal with the unexpected is a very important life skill that will get us through the frustrations and tragedies the may unbidden come our way. Troubles come, but troubles also pass. Perhaps it’s because of the troubles we’ve faced in our lives that we’re able to savor the good times.
4. Stay positive and be grateful.
Begin every day with eager anticipation and plan to make the best of it. Keep your perspective and sense of humor when things don’t go smoothly. Be grateful for the small joys and pleasures that come your way each day, no matter what the challenges you are facing. Let your senses open you up to the world around you. Be uplifted by the song of a bird, the touch of a friend’s hand, a hug, a song, the taste of good food. Appreciate today. Be happy today.
Life, dear reader, is about balance and proportions. Find what that means for you, and use it as a guide for concentrating your energies. Finally, remember these inspired and humorous words of wisdom:
We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance. (Paul Boese)