When motivational speaker Dan Thurmon is on his unicycle, balance is vital. If he stayed in one position without moving – while it might seem to be the epitome of balance – he would topple. When performing, he keeps his audience focused on one spot on the stage by slipping quickly backward and forward. To move ahead in an upright, balanced fashion, he leans in the direction he wants to go. He must go off balance, on purpose, in order to go forward.
Off balance, on purpose, is a notion the Georgia-based consultant celebrates in his workshops, his speeches, his book of the same name, and in a highly entertaining talk at a TEDx conference that ended with him on the unicycle juggling sharp-edged knives and meat cleavers. While most of us are frustrated with the difficulty of maintaining balance in our lives, he tells us – on and off the unicycle – to give up that notion, and embrace imbalance.
“You need to recognize that life is off balance and that’s a good thing. That’s how we achieve and grow,” he says in an interview. “You can’t freeze-frame your life. It’s always in motion. It’s a case of always rebalancing.”
Just like riding a unicycle.
But to be successful, the imbalance must be intentional. You are in control, off balance deliberately, because of your own goals and efforts. It’s something you choose to do, not something that results from what others are doing to you. You own the challenges that are nudging (or shoving) you off balance.
The imbalance must also be related to some purpose you are pursuing. That purpose can flow in two ways. It might be to reach some philosophical, higher meaning that you are seeking in life. But it can also be more mundane: You are off balance because you are seeking some advantage or gain today. You want to complete a report, or clear out your inbox, or end the conversation with the other person feeling better.
Life has many components, and Mr. Thurmon singles out five spheres:
This is how we make a living, the professional side of our lives.
The people you care about and care for, and to whom you will devote time, money, and other energy.
We seek longevity, so we can perform for a lifetime, by paying attention to what we eat, physical exercise, sleep, and other healthy pursuits.
Although a Christian, Mr. Thurmon stresses he is not advocating any religion or even being religious. For some, being spiritual might simply involve becoming more charitable or communing with nature. But we generally have some higher principles that help us steer through life.
This domain covers what we like to do – our passions, such as hobbies. Too often, we relegate these to the end of the list of activities in our life. “We think, ‘Some day, I’ll do what I love.’ But when people get there, it can be too late,” he warns.
The five spheres shouldn’t be compartmentalized, as we try to protect ourselves from becoming unbalanced and seek the perfect weight between each. They are interconnected because, combined, they comprise the (off-balance) life we lead. Each can connect to the other, and part of living our life intentionally off balance is to seek out productive integration between them.
Just before the interview with The Globe, for example, Mr. Thurmon headed for an off-road unicycle ride with a pal from his school days. “I’m energized because it wasn’t a diversion. It was connected to who I am as a person,” he explains. It was highly physical, related to his life-long interest in unicycles. It was spiritual, as without his cellphone to distract him he was able to reach an almost meditative state with nature. And it gave him some time with a good friend, bolstering that relationship.
So he was able to interlace several spheres, making good use of the time. Recently, he took his son on a business trip with some added vacation time together – it cost some extra money and complicated planning, but they shared experiences that both will treasure for a long time.
To succeed in life involves constant change and improvement. And that requires leaning forward into uncertainty, trying new avenues, pursuing new opportunities in each of the five spheres. It’s the antithesis of balance. “If you limit yourself to what’s comfortable, you deny yourself what’s possible,” he says. You may think you’re in a steady state, but probably you will be going backward, losing ground.
So forget balance. Seek happiness instead, through the joy of embracing opportunities and growing, in each of the five spheres of life. Jettisoning balance – accepting that it’s okay not to be balanced – also jettisons the guilt we all carry about living unbalanced lives. “You don’t want to have balance because it’s not sustainable and it means you’re not growing,” he says.
Be off balance, on purpose.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter