Self-care is essential to life balance the way inhaling is essential to breathing.
I’m turning 50 in just a few days. Honestly, I’m excited about it. This has honestly been the best part of my life because I’ve finally found balance, and for me balance translates to happiness.
But finding it and learning how to hold on to it took me years to figure out. And, I wish it hadn’t. So, I’m going to tell you the 3 best life balancing truths I learned so that you can skip to the front of the line and enjoy more happiness, too.
1. Having balance doesn't mean balancing everything at once.
For most of my life I thought, just like almost everyone else, that balance meant balancing everything I was doing and getting it all done as perfectly as possible. While I was a child living at home, this was pretty easy to do. I just had to balance school, play and chores. Aren't there times when you long for those days, too?
By the time I was a teenager, I had a part-time job and boyfriends to add to my very simple balancing act. As most teenagers idealistically do, I thought I had the whole life balance thing pretty well figured out. But, when I got married, finding life balance quickly became much more complicated. Suddenly, I had to reorient my life to balance my roles as a student and wife. It wasn't easy.
This was when I began my intense struggle with finding balance. There were just so much to do, many of which I only grudgingly did because of my husband's expectations.
Just like everyone who struggles with the demands of family and work, I decided prioritization would help me reclaim the balance I had before I said "I do." I prioritized by putting the things that others needed from me high on the list, and put what I wanted and needed lower and lower on my to-do list, until it just fell off of the list completely.
2. You can't find life balance by neglecting yourself.
Yet, like so many of us do, I survived (barely) with my warped sense of life balance for years. I made it through all the normal things in life—moving, deaths, births, work—but it was too much to try to balance just by doing (and doing and doing) without any real renewing.
Life balance is about your individual life. Life is about how you want to experience it, how you want to love the people important to you, and how you want to make the world just a bit better because you've lived. When you don't pay attention to what's important to you, then your life can crumble painfully away. That's exactly what happened to me.
I got divorced and felt burned out. I had totally and completely misunderstood the idea of life balance and become a human "doing," not much more than a soulless machine. Yet, this is exactly the crippling misunderstanding many of us have. We believe that life balance is about putting others first instead of ourselves. We forget that without taking care of ourselves, we reach the point where we have nothing left to give to anyone else.
Once I understood that, I struggled with how I could change. I tried putting my feelings first and decided I needed to become a human being, someone who pays attention to their feelings and going with the flow, instead of worrying about doing so much.
Despite spending almost a decade trying to find balance by being a human being, I got very little accomplished to help me reach my dreams. And more importantly, I wasn't happy. My experiences taught me that life balance isn't about living either as a human doing or a human being. Existing at either extreme for any length of time is exhausting and debilitating.
3. The best life balance is about doing and accomplishing what's most important to you.
The goal is for you to enjoy yourself, whether or not you're pleasing anyone else. It's finding the sweet spot between being a human doing and a human being. The most amazing part is that the sweet spot moves; it moves to support the situation you're in at the moment.
By balancing my life like this, I've been feeling a greater sense of freedom and accomplishment than I ever have before. There's a balance in my life of work, service (not people pleasing), play and relaxation that makes sense and energizes me.
So, really, there are two wonderful things about turning 50. First, I've finally discovered the secret of life balance. And most importantly, I hope I'm making the world just a bit better, because now you know the secret of the best and most lasting life balance, too.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.