I had been aware for years that my life was crazy. I found myself thinking regularly that I wanted to be living a different way long before The Day Life Fell Apart. I wasn’t alone in this. I have found parents at my children’s school, neighbors on my street, and women I talk to at events who also know life is too crazy. They say things like, “This is insane,” or, “I can’t keep living this way,” but six months later, nothing has changed. Wanting life to settle down or change never results in actual change because “want to” is not strong enough to make it happen.
If the knowledge that life is crazy could make our lives calm, we would all be living differently by now. The magazines that fill every rack in the grocery store promise that yes, we too can organize and simplify our lives. Look how easy it is with these simple steps. We buy the magazine, read the steps—and nothing changes. The harsh reality is that information alone does not bring about change. I’ve been a subscriber to Real Simple magazine for ten years and my life is not one bit simpler because of it. In fact, the subscription itself adds pressure with every issue. How will I ever be able to simplify my life if I can’t even find the time to read Real Simple? It’s real simple; we don’t change unless we have to.
If knowing that smoking will kill you could make someone stop, no one would smoke. But people can read study after study about smoking and its negative effects on the heart and lungs and even on a child in the womb, and still they continue smoking. Often it is not until the crisis of cancer hits or the pregnancy test is positive that real and lasting change becomes possible.
Think about recent studies on cortisol levels in our bodies. Research proves that stress takes a toll on us physically.2 We know this, yet we continue to live with dangerously high stress levels, naively hoping and praying it doesn’t take its toll on us. Knowledge and information can only lead us to the right door; it cannot make us walk through it.
Technology functions a lot like knowledge in this way. While I want to use it to bring about change, it rarely does in and of itself. I find new advances in technology to be interesting and engaging, but powerless to bring about a change of heart. I’ve bought more calendar programs than there are days of the year, simply because they promised to bring order and peace of mind to scheduling and ease to setting up and confirming appointments. But I’ve learned the hard way that the best organizational tool on the market cannot override the issues of the person using the tool. Employing all the latest bells and whistles, alarms, alerts, and now music, the app that runs my calendar does a great job of reminding me about every date I have, but it cannot help me know when to stop adding new appointments or how to prioritize my schedule in the most meaningful way.
If knowledge alone can’t make us change, and technology in all its glory is impotent to motivate us, then changing must be tough to do. If changing our patterns and our habits were as easy as changing clothes or the dirty sponge by the sink, we’d all be changing a lot more things about our lives and the way we live. Changing any- thing about ourselves takes work. I often shake my head over the simple solutions people offer to others. While “advice” falls under the information category, advice is different from information in that it is a solution offered to you personally, usually by someone you know.
If I had a nickel for every time someone suggested balance as a solution for crazy, I could buy my own beam. It is terrible advice, not only because I don’t think balance is possible, but also because it’s impossible to balance things that aren’t equal. Now, if balance means steadiness or stability, more yoga, or just not falling down all the time, I’m good with trying to find more balance. But if balance means making life “balance out” as if it were a checking account—spending equal time working and not working, being with your kids as much or more as you’re away from them—then this advice is a problem, not a solution.
If simple pieces of advice could bring about change, no one would ever wear torn underwear or go out in the rain without an umbrella or look a gift horse in the mouth. But life is much more complex and change is hard and giving others advice is useless. In fact, to bring about lasting change, I find advice the least effective agent of the three I’ve mentioned. When you can’t make a forty-pound kettlebell and a Cheerio balance, you feel worse than you did before you got the advice! And now people are watching to see if you’re taking their advice! Sigh. I have considered entering the Witness Protection Program to be free of all this. Work and family are not equal in the hearts of parents and never will be. Can we release this idea of finding balance in our lives? Can we quit offering balance so freely as the answer to crazy? Maybe if I was in control of every aspect of life, I could balance it out like a healthy meal on a compartmentalized Hello Kitty plate, but my life is not always my own to control. When my child comes down with the stomach flu or my mother has a stroke, I don’t think, Hmm, how am I going to balance this? I just make peace with limping. When financial realities call shotgun, the priorities get shuffled yet again. There are many times I have to work when I would rather be home or have to be home when I need to work. Balance, schmalance.
Wanting to create calm in my life was not enough to bring it about. I would not know it for some time, but a crisis that rocked my world held as its hidden offering the power to create calm.
Nicole Johnson, author of Fresh Brewed Life, has a uniquely creative voice. As an accomplished writer, speaker, and actor, Nicole has performed in thousands of churches and venues over the last twenty-five years, including more than a decade of touring with the national conference Women of Faith. Nicole lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and two children. Nicole writes regularly at www.nicolejohnson.org
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Choreograph
Publication date: June 8, 2017