On Sprints, Must and an Alternative to Balance
I am on an absolute tear right now. A few days ago an idea came to me for a project and I’ve been chasing it down since. The project has very slim prospects of commercial success, but it’s something I want to see in the world, so here we go. I’ve stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, worked through meals and I continue to wake up with direction on next steps and new insights and excitement about what to build next. Which brings me to balance.
We spend a lot of time talking about balance, but if I’m honest the word has always made me bristle.
Doesn't balance just seem precarious? When I think of the word it makes me feel like I'm about to drop something -- like I'm a juggler or maybe a tightrope walker. I don't want to live my life with that level of anxiety, ever examining whether I am in a state of balance and ever questioning how I'm going to maintain it. No thanks, for me balance isn't the thing to pursue.
I once heard a woman say that no one gets to the end of their life and reflects upon it by saying, “Yes, that was a good life. It was just so balanced.” Nah, the people I admire spent decades walking around in the woods with a notebook or raising extraordinary humans or living in vans and creating art or going through periods of working a gazillion hours a week doing work that matters. As I look across the human tableau of my heroes, I see pursuit, I don’t see balance.
So, balance isn’t what I’m going for either. Right now I’m sprinting. I dive in and it feels like flow and suddenly it’s 1 a.m. Balance is nowhere to be found at the moment. Prior to this sprint, I spent the last two weeks in California staring at redwoods and doing as little work as possible. Also not very balanced.
In place of balance, I consider cadence. I cannot maintain the current sprint in perpetuity, but I trust my body and I trust the work and so I know that this acute phase will come to a close (by choice or necessity or completion) and I will find rest. This is because knowing your cadence requires paying attention. And attentiveness is a great place from which to make decisions about how to spend one’s days. (As Annie Dillard reminds, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”)
I find cadence to be more compatible with life, which is nothing if not constantly changing and in flux. For me it’s about recognizing ebb and flow and moving with the tide, as opposed to trying to strongarm my way into a steady sea. This is an impossible task, by the way. To use a running metaphor, work can be a steady state jog or a rest day or a series of sprints. All are useful workouts; none are inherently good or bad. Just different levels of effort for different purposes at different moments.
The decision about how to spend time isn’t made at the altar of balance, it’s summoned by careful listening to what it is I feel I must do. Not the must of external demands, but the must that arises from quiet and still. Must.
How about you? What must you do today? Now, run with it.