Balance is a verb
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I’m a health care reporter, and a general maximal enthusiast. Each issue, I'll write to you about what I’ve learned through life and on the job.
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One of the least helpful myths of my youth was thinking that balance in life is a state — specifically, one reserved for fully-formed adults. Once I reached this state, I assumed, I’d find myself perfectly suspended between all the various pushes and pulls of life and voila: I’d have achieved balance.
I clung to this aspiration as I grew up, when I fretted constantly over how I spent my time. I swung on pendulum of regret: Either I lamented missing out on some social event because I was working on a school assignment, or I admonished myself for putting aside my studies to share a meal with friends or watch TV. In either case, I deemed what I had done to be a poor use of time — but I believed that once I had an adult life, I’d never over-induldge work or pleasure again.
I do not know why I assumed balance would bless me at a certain age, but I do know that this was woefully wishful thinking. It was particularly disappointing when, in my early 20s, fresh out of my Master’s program and about to start my first office job, I assumed I’d finally find balance — only to find that with more responsibility came more ways to find myself off-kilter. Life is never still, I realized, so how could I hope to achieve stillness while moving forward?
It wasn’t until I stepped into a physical therapist’s* office in February that I realized that I had been thinking about balance the wrong way.
I sought out help for my terrible foot pain. Lisa, my PT, concluded that the muscles in my feet and ankles were too weak to support my current running habit. They were passing the workload onto my connective tissues, which were screaming in protest at doing a job they were never meant to.
The solution they offered me (after rest) was learning to balance — literally. “Start here,” Lisa told me, standing on their right foot with their left knee raised in line with their hip. A simple, still pose.
When I tried, I wobbled all over, unsteady on one foot instead of two. By the end of our first session, I was able to hold stillness for 30 seconds or so — but doing so required intense concentration and constant micro-adjustments.
Balance, I quickly realized, only has the appearance of stillness; it’s actually a process that requires constant adaptation, even if you can’t see it. As I got stronger and more stable, Lisa gave me exercises that challenged my balance even more: standing on one foot on a squishy surface; standing on one foot while weights pulled me in another direction; standing on one foot while bouncing a weighted ball off a trampoline.
Every time I’d leave Lisa’s office, the metaphors flooded my mind:
There’s no script for balance. Every day and every circumstance are different.
Wobbling is not a failure. It’s a sign of adaptation.
Smaller adjustments are more helpful than larger ones.
We cannot balance forever. We get tired. And in that case, falling is not the end of the world.
Sometimes, there are external forces outside of us that make it impossible to balance. In these cases, we must simply do our best.
Lisa in their witchcraft** got me to a point where running no longer gives me agony in my feet; I haven’t been back to their office for some time now.
But sometimes, when I catch myself being critical of my perceived inability to find balance in my life, I stand on one foot. It’s a silly little practice that takes me out of whatever stress is tugging at me. And it reminds me that balance is an action that requires constant attention. Finding yourself imbalanced is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of living a full life.
*I can’t recommend Pivot Physical therapy enough. It’s a chain, with locations all up and down the east coast and several where I am in D.C. Physical therapy isn’t just for athletes — it’s for everyone who wants a little extra help in moving better.
**Lisa isn’t a witch (to my knowledge), but just a very good PT.
What else have I been up to?
A selection of my work for POLITICO from the last few weeks:
Listen on POLITICO Dispatch: Why does insulin cost so much?
I also had Covid recently. -10/10 would not recommend, even if you’re vaxxed and boosted as I am. Please be careful as summer socializing ramps up!
That’s all for now. Stay curious, friend! ❤️
Top image by E. Y. Smith; headshot by Matt Anzur.