Can we stop talking about balance and start talking about variety

Can we stop talking about balance and start talking about variety

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There’s a rumour going around about how to live life to the fullest. The rumour is that to really maximise life and achieve peak happiness, you need to strike the right balance between “work” and “life”.

This hinges on an idea that things fall into two brackets, one that takes energy but gives capital and one that takes capital but gives energy. I’m pretty sure this is nonsense.

In a recent interview, Alexandra Shulman, the ex-editor of British Vogue spoke about an article she’d read in the 80s which she’d never forgotten. The article was mocking people with lots of side-projects the journalist named ‘The Projecters’. The insinuation was that these projects were essentially vanity pursuits, unlikely to ever come to anything worth shouting about. A scathing opinion, but not an isolated one. Ryan Holiday, a writer I greatly admire acknowledged recently: millennials are always talking about stuff they never actually end up doing, especially when it comes to art.”

To slip into the personal, I have a fairly eclectic mix of of passions. And relative to the average Brit, a pretty busy life. This means, in polite conversation, my colleagues and friends occasionally make confused expressions when I talk about how I’m spending chunks of my available time. Hanging out with people, going for dinners, watching TV. These are things which are easy to enjoy. They’re common hobbies and there’s nothing wrong with spending time doing any of them. 

But I’ve massively cut down on all them and as a result have seen my happiness increase.

People are very quick to be firstly, confused and then critical about reducing these things. When asked what I do with my Sundays, I usually reply “I work”. The masses are then quick to assume that I’m on some kind of fast track to burnout and with the best intentions make the suggestion I find that all important “work, life balance”.

The thing is, I say I work, but I’m only really using that word to frame my time and routine in language people understand. I don’t actually see work the way most people do. I don’t see writing, reading, mixing, and other Projecter activities… I don’t see these things as work. In a way, I see them more as indulgences and privileges. I see it as an indulgence to set aside time for myself to actually grow and learn, outside of an organisation. And I feel privileged to have gained an understanding of what has elevated the people I admire to reach the success and achievements they have.  

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

People have accepted that you work for money to finance your free time and then your free time is best spent doing something radically different to work. Your average City worker has much more time in work than they have free, so all that free time couldn’t be spent “doing” as otherwise you’ll go crazy, right?!

But… most people are going a bit crazy.

This work/play/work cycle can be a bit relentless as you just rotate around a hamster wheel dreaming of escapism. Personally I’d rather seek experiences and feel possibility. I like change. New hamster wheels. I don’t want balance; what I want is variety.

balance variety

Variety is better than balance because it’s much bigger and much broader. It’s also a choice. Variety means time alone and time with people. It means “switching off” doesn’t have to be a singular passive activity. Switching off can look like an hour of yoga or 10minutes of meditation. Just because exercise is productive and involves a little motivation to get started, the ability for it to change your mood or restore you may be much larger than a trip to the cinema.

Variety doesn’t need to be restricted to Saturday and Sunday. You can bring variety into every single day, meaning it can take the shape of small things like sitting somewhere other than your desk for an hour, trying a different exercise class, listening to a podcast rather than reading on the train. Anything which makes your day interesting and gives you a new experience.

It can also, of course, be bigger things like taking up a new hobby, learning a language, investing in a new committee or challenge.

I spend large chunks of my free time alone, working on things which may lead to financial reward, and will definitely lead to personal growth in other ways, but don’t think I’m making a huge sacrifice. I’m making an investment.

“Time. Time is our most irreplaceable asset. We can’t buy more of it. We can’t get a second of it back. We can only hope to waste as little of it as possible while we have it. Yet somehow we treat is as the most renewable of all resources.” – Ryan Holiday via Casey Neistat

Do I miss reality shows and box sets? Absolutely not. I’m much more engaged and enthused by my day to day life because there is far less escapism needed. I’m excited to get up at 5am because it means I’ve found extra time to really spend on myself. 

Here’s the other thing. I would love to say that I’m super efficient with my time, but sometimes it’s hard to be efficient. Some days I will sit down to ‘work’ and whereas writing solidly would probably be the most effective thing to do with the time, I just wanna listen to hip-hop. So then, because my variety of interests is so broad, I can find and prep a load of new music. Still productive. For me, variety is how I waste as little time as possible. I may not have nailed efficiency but I certainly waste significantly less time by knowing specifically what my work options are.

People have accepted the notion of purely work time and purely fun time, but that’s because most people haven’t found what they’re really passionate about.

If you set an afternoon aside to make a start on that, you might not need so much balance.

“Somehow now work doesn’t feel like a given it feels like a privilege.” – Leandra Medine


Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. 
She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers.

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