There has been one strong thought in the back of my mind lately. It sort of hangs there like a candle that is almost ready to die, but keeps the flame going for another few seconds. Then it flickers nearly to extinction – and lights up again with the slight change of breeze.
Balance. The balance of the breeze, the tenacity of the fire and the elements all come together to keep the flame from simply dying out.
It seems as though it should be a simple thing, easily mastered by children at an early age. What is walking and running and standing if not an incredible display of balance? Kids on monkey bars (those were things kids played on before parents became obsessed with any tiny possibility of injury and had them removed and replaced by Wii controllers) learned to do it. Steel workers in Manhattan and Beijing know it well.
That sort of kinetic balance is easier done than the one inside our heads, the balance we need for our lives, relationships and art. That is not a muscular awareness training – it is life. And the training manual for that sucks.
I recently read an article by some dimwitted celebrity (shut up, I was in the dentist office and what else ya gonna read?) and she was bubbling on about achieving balance in her life – I mean with all the nanny’s and the yoga and the nightlife of NY and the reading of scripts and the meetings with her accountants to check her millions – I mean, really. “It’s so hard” she gushed.
But for most of us it is hard on different levels. Far different.
Most of us wear many hats. From partners in life to dad/mom to business person to artist to… Well, to a lot of things. And while shuffling the kids to the right nanny for a playdate in NY is not a big challenge for most of us, the day to day balancing of what we do is.
“She is spinning a lot of plates”, my friend Bill recently explained as we were talking about an entrepreneur in his town. We had used a space above her store for the workshop and we were marveling at all she was doing: Antique shop, restaurant, interior remodeling of the building, acting and more.
“Spinning a lot of plates” is right. And when one falls, it can tend to take the lot of them with it.
I am a designer, a photographer, an educator and a writer. A lot of plates. I also play at the piano and have a few drum sets stashed in the garage. Dad (3 girls), husband (wife 32 yrs), and ‘master’ (2 dogs). We add accountant, office manager, marketer, collections, and janitorial to my own business and you can see where we end up. Lots of ‘plates spinning’ as my friend Bill would say.
I am not bragging. I know many of you have that many plates spinning and more. All of us have our set of balance challenges and we start each morning with a nod to the morning and we try to keep the plates spinning as effortlessly as possible.
Disaster lurks at every corner, and many of our ‘friends’, acquaintances, strangers we meet on the street – and that Allstate “mayhem” guy – want to take us down. They want to see the plates fall. Some are unwitting in their hope for our failure, some are indifferent and a few really want to see it happen. They are determined to destroy our balance. Failure is not an option for them, it is their goal.
Beware of those that say they want to help you, but every thing they do seems to hold you back and threaten your spinning ability. They make it harder to balance when they shove and pull you into directions you are not comfortable going. Or they keep you from going where you KNOW you need to go.
Balance takes energy, focus, agility and the reality of long hours of practice. Practicing with measurable results. Fail – and you spend a few hours sweeping up a lot of broken plates. Or worse.
Sometimes much worse.
And that can be OK, it really can. It is in the failing and the sweeping and the recounting of what went wrong that new clarity can be found to try it again. And again. You realize what went wrong, and you fix it. Eventually finding that sweet spot of balance – and again the spinning seems effortless.
In photography, balance may mean effortless conceptualizing. Balance may mean images that seemingly flow from the lens. Lighting that is both technically excellent and emotionally appealing and leads to the images you see in your head becoming a reality. A balance of technique and art. Vision and execution.
And that is great for a time. The plates are spinning and we are making our way with little to no effort.
Then one of the damn things starts to wobble… and off you go to making split second decisions, based on thousands of hours of practice, as to how to handle this impending crash. Tweak here, slide there, dip, swoop… a little more… and there they go spinning effortlessly again.
Sometimes we have to encounter an out of balance situation to find new ways to get balance back. And in doing so, we find something new – something unplanned as we were scurrying to prevent having to sweep up a bunch of busted china. Something unexpected. Maybe another plate just got added… and you love it.
It can add to the complexity of the balance, or it may make the balance more easily managed. Or it may be a wash.
Only by challenging the balance will we ever know. We learn more about balance when the plates are spinning and wobbling and we are swooping and dipping in sheer terror in order to save them than we do when they are pleasantly spinning at the top of our poles.
Balance is good. Balance is what we want to achieve.
For a while.
Then we have to disrupt that balance and find out what ways we can use to gain it back. And when we find those ways, it will be easier to handle the next time we feel out of balance. When we feel too safe. Too secure. Or bored.
Challenge your balance every now and then. Take a risk. Move faster than you ever have. Lean over farther and find a way to maintain. And if you fail, and hopefully you will occasionally fail – hell, that’s where you get a whole new set of plates – your balance will be restored with the same method we all use.
One plate at a time. Spin and repeat.
And remember to balance.