stones stacked op top of each other with ocean in view

Balance is critical in aviation. Flying a plane that has a center of gravity too far forward or aft invites trouble. You can stare at the outside of a plane all day long, but until you peer inside, beyond the glossy exterior, you’ll never know if it’s balanced or not. Perhaps the baggage compartment is overloaded with heavy items that make the plane dangerous to fly unless the weight is offset or a portion removed.

Sometimes the danger comes from too much weight altogether, the plane loaded past the capacity it was designed to carry. As pilot-in-command of the aircraft, it’s my responsibility to ensure I consider and correct these factors before takeoff. If my plane’s balance and load are outside the tolerances, there’s a high chance the plane will not reach its destination safely.

But guess what? For you, as pilot-in-command of your life, you have the same challenges. To achieve a goal or lifelong dream, you must ensure your life is balanced and not overburdened with more than you were designed to carry. Otherwise, you may crash and burn before reaching your destination.

So what throws our balance off? What weighs us down, keeps us grounded instead of soaring toward our dreams? Like a plane, we can’t always see imbalance by looking on the outside. To really know, we must look inward. I’ve done my own share of looking inward over the last couple of years in pursuit of my dreams and I’ve picked up some helpful tactics along the way. Here are a few of the discoveries:

Focus on what’s really important – This is probably a no-brainer because you hear it so often, but there is a reason this message is ubiquitous. Focusing on what’s truly important in our lives is critical to maintaining internal balance. It’s not that most of us don’t know this truth; we just forget and need reminders. Like the adage says, “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s hard to remember your original goal was to drain the swamp.” We all have our own “alligators” to deal with in life. Stop to consult your inner compass often to remind yourself what’s truly important. The alligators lose much of their bite when you do this at regular intervals.

Travel light – Practice reducing your attachment to material possessions. Are you pursuing dreams or stuff? Some may say that acquiring vast material possessions are their dreams. I’ll argue that what these people are really chasing is happiness. I’m not advocating living an austere life, unless that is what makes you happy. What I am saying is, sometimes the acquisitions of material possessions are blocking our dreams and creating imbalance. If you feel trapped in an unfulfilling job because you’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, then every purchase you don’t really need is another link in a chain that binds you to that job. Some may read this as “don’t buy stuff.” On the contrary; I believe it’s fine to buy things if you can afford them. Just never become so attached to them that you’re convinced you can’t live without them.

Jettison the baggage – Unlike traveling light, this has more to do with mental clutter than material possessions. There’s lots of worrying to be done in this world; just let someone else do it. Excessive worry creates imbalance. How many of us constantly worry we aren’t good enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t creative enough? Try doing these things instead: 1) Realize that worrying is more habit than anything else. To reduce the habit, give yourself a time limit of five minutes to worry as much as you want. Then move on by changing what you have control over, and reassuring yourself that you are strong enough to handle whatever you can’t affect. 2) Stop comparing yourself to others. You are automatically at a disadvantage when you do this because you know all your flaws; you live with them daily. We’re almost guaranteed a distorted view because we see ourselves through the filter of our flaws while we often give others the benefit of the doubt, seeing them as having fewer imperfections than we do.

Learn to say no – Societal pressure is difficult to resist sometimes. Occasionally, you read that a contributing factor to a plane crash was the influence on a pilot by non-pilot passengers, people that pressured a pilot to do something he or she knew was risky. The pilot should have said no, but didn’t. Remember that you are pilot-in-command of your life. Only you know what is best for you, and how you should spend your time. Overcommitting, whether to something beyond our capabilities, or beyond the amount of time we have to devote, is stressful beyond belief and a surefire way to throw yourself off-balance. Learning to say no can prevent you from getting roped into situations you don’t care to be in, or save you from spending time with people that drain versus sustain you. Saying no a little more often gives you more time for what’s really important.

Examine the trade-offs you’re making – We can’t possibly do it all, nor are we suppose to. We have a limited time on earth to do what we were placed here to do. Some people lament the lack of time they have to pursue their dreams, yet they still find time to watch television, or surf the internet, or play videos games. I like doing those things myself, but over the last year I’ve become acutely aware that I’m making a trade-off when I do. I’m trading time I could invest toward my dreams, for time spent on activities with no real return. Before I embraced this concept, I found myself in a perpetually unbalanced state, irritated for no apparent reason until I realized I was short-changing myself in the pursuit of my dreams. Don’t get fooled into believing this “leisure” time recharges your batteries. I’ve learned that replacing a majority of that time with steps and activities—no matter how small—geared toward reaching my goals and dreams, recharged my batteries more than the “leisure” time ever did.

Spirituality – No post on life balance would be complete without a mention of spirituality. Here again, only you know what is right for you. However, I’ve known several people whose lives were out of balance because they continued a religious affiliation just because it was what their parents practiced, the only way they knew. If practicing the same religious beliefs your parents subscribed to fulfills and balances you, then stick with them. But don’t be afraid to explore new spiritual ties if the hand-me-down ways don’t provide the balance you seek.

Striving for balance not only smoothes the journey toward your dreams, it makes everything in life a little easier. Attempt to maintain your balance in the first place, but if you discover you are way off, realize it took time to get that way and it may take time to return to equilibrium. Seeking new ways to move toward and maintain balance can be a journey in itself. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

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