The Key to a Balanced Life

Every day in a new year is an opportunity to maintain the balance between meeting the needs of others and meeting your own needs. When your needs are met, you feel happy. If your needs are not met, you feel frustrated. But what if you do not know what you need? Worse, what if you believe that your needs are unimportant?

One of my clients had a difficult time understanding why she made poor choices and then suffered the consequences.

“It’s as though I’m under a spell,” Carol said. “It takes me days to figure out what went wrong.”

Carol is describing the confusion that occurs when we are not listening to our feelings, the function that tells us what causes us pain, and what brings fulfillment. Carol thought she was feeling, but, in reality, her thinking mind did everything possible to dismiss feelings, causing her to overlook pitfalls, such as trusting people whose having it all together façade masked insecurity.

As is true for many in our highly extroverted, thinking culture, Carol needed to value the feelings, since that would lead to choices based a deep inner knowing, rather than external opinions.  When we honor the feelings, we know when to move forward, and when to hold still. We also know when to say no and mean it.

Awakening from emotional numbness was not easy for Carol; her mind was constantly arguing with the feelings.

“Feelings just want to be felt,” I said to Carol. “When you deny them you get confused and depressed. After you identify what you feel, then your mind can work with the feelings to determine if they are valid, or based on false assumptions. In time, you’ll feel calm and certain.”

A Child’s Point of View

Carol’s outward focus was a habit left over from when her survival needs–safety, shelter, food–depended on those who were in charge. Gaining their approval was the goal because then they would love and take care of her. Carol did not realize this illogical conclusion was still running her life, at home and work. From all appearances, she appeared to be independent.  To clarify genuine from false needs, I suggested that Carol make a list of what she needed as a child, and what she needs now that she is an adult.

“This exercise showed me that I use manipulation to get what I want,” Carol said, after she made the list. “But most of what’s on the child’s list I can give to myself. The needs on the adult list start with me becoming a better communicator. The next time I’m tempted to manipulate others, I’ll ask how I can meet those needs in a healthier way.”

Looking inward for the cause of our frustration takes courage. It’s easier to blame circumstances or other people. Although she felt embarrassed to admit she was manipulative, once Carol surfaced this hidden trait she felt free to ask for what she needs.

“I’m more confident these days,” Carol said, when we spoke a few months later. “My mind still wants to question and judge the feelings. I used to feel guilty and wrong when I couldn’t justify my feelings. But now I just say to my mind, stop worrying, time will reveal what the feelings are trying to tell you.”

Balancing by definition means that occasionally you will be off balance. Upsetting events, or a challenge to your new way of doing things cause you to doubt yourself. The mental turmoil is a chance to stand by your feelings. If need be, ask for professional help. The irony is, the more you become an advocate for what you feel, no matter how uncomfortable the feelings are, the more stable you will be.

How To Know When You Get There

Objectivity – You will know you are “there” when you see all of your past experiences as necessary for your growth. You realize you did the best you could, given your level of awareness. You don’t waste time in self-recrimination when you make a mistake. You correct and move on. And you treat others with the same forgiving attitude.

Selectivity – At the same time that you avidly court the emotional side of life’s experiences, you are highly selective. In his autobiography, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats described gathering carefully chosen experiences “as if for a collector’s cabinet.” This means you reject experiences that are not the best for you, such as forcing yourself to be with people whose values are at odds with yours – including some family members. You don’t feel trapped because you don’t trap yourself.

Meaning – In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl described the attributes of those who made it through the horrors of the concentration camps. Those who went on to productive lives after their release saw meaning in their imprisonment. As Jung said, all experience is acceptable to the conscious mind when it is given meaning.

Health – When your life is in balance you are rarely ill. But when you are sick, you examine your illness to see what part of your thinking is off-balance. Rejected emotions, particularly anger, are behind so many of our physical ailments. Don’t dam up anger, and don’t let fear intimidate you; instead, face it and then deal with it constructively.

Spirituality – A rich inner life is a sure sign that you are in balance. You are aware of a presence that fills your heart and mind, there to guide you during dark and gloomy days, and to celebrate victories. As the prophet Jeremiah said about those who feel the power of divine love, “their souls shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow anymore.”

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is

you may also like

Recipes We