Today's topic is one that has weighed heavily on me over the last year. It is also the reason that I haven't written here in a while. For everyone who doesn't know, I have had some recent issues with my heart. I've now had three heart surgeries and I am hopefully on the road to recovery. My life is currently in transition as I, and my family, adjust to new conditions. But how did this happen? What could I have done to prevent it? And what does this have to do with balance?
Let's take a small dissection of my daily life and evaluate it. I always begin my day very early in the morning. I am blessed with the ability to rise early, ready and refreshed for the day. Unfortunately, this is also a curse. The only time I sleep in, is when I'm sick or had been up all night. So, on most mornings, I wake early, go to work early, and of course, work all day long. This usually includes a considerable amount of overtime, and the stress that is included with a corporate management position that, in itself, is often overwhelming. Afterwards, I usually don't have time to go home, so I go straight to our dojang. Like many martial arts instructors, I teach in the evenings and often don't finish class until well after dark. At this point, I then practice forms, kicking drills, calisthenics, and cardio. I go home, exhausted and tired, but, I'm still not done. Next I go for a short run and often stretch. By this point in the evening, my wife and dogs are showing a need for attention, so I then stay awake and spend time with them. By the time I got to bed, I rarely remembered laying my head on the pillow as I quickly fell asleep. My days are usually long and exhausting, so I only get a couple of hours to sleep. The next day, I wake and start the process over again. Even on the weekends, I would wake early, and work at the school. I had very little relaxation time, and I liked it that way.
For many this may seem like a lot of work. I am a workaholic and if left unchecked I'd follow this process indefinitely. I have found that the human body can sustain a huge amount of abuse, but the question comes down to how long will it last? As can be guessed, I ran too hard for too long and wore out the engine powering it all. In my drive to attain my goals, I failed to look at the little signs and warnings that my body was giving me. The warnings were there, but like most highly motivated people, I ignored them.
At this point, the answer on how to have prevented this is obvious, but I am going to take a more critical look at it. In looking at my daily life, I had already corrected many of the issues that exist in our society. I don't smoke, drink, or use drugs. I exercise regularly, and was in good physical condition. I loved to run 26.2 mile marathons every summer and I compete in Taekwondo and breaking tournaments multiple times per year. My ultimate goal was to keep myself prepared for any unknown that may arise. I also ate fairly well, although, like most people, I like to eat the occasional pizza, or steak when I dined out. Overall, my diet was fairly clean and healthy. Nothing up to this point sounds awful bad, until we reach my work schedule, sleep, and stress levels. This is where I realized I was out of balance. And why did it happen to me, at such a young age? The answer is genetics, unfortunately I haven't figured out if that is good or bad yet. It is bad that it happened early and is forcing me to slow down before I'm ready, but also good that it happened, forcing me to re-evaluate my life, while I am still young and strong. If not for martial arts training, I would likely be dead. Due to the hard work I endure every night, I get a second chance.
But enough with confusing definitions, what is balance? Balance can mean something different for everyone. For me, I like to look at an analogy such as balancing a table solidly on multiple legs. Leg #1 is Family - My family is incredibly important to me. Leg #2 is work - I have bills to pay so work is essential. Leg #3 is social - My business, and hobbies are incredibly important, and will one day replace the work leg. Leg #4 is spiritual - My spiritual journey, and faith in God. If I remove any of the legs, the table may be able to hold its balance for a short while, but anything causing it to shake will result in collapse and my life will fall and crumble.
This might sound a little extreme but everyone has their own set of goals, and often these goals will change over time. When I was younger, my focus was on work, and providing for my family. I neglected my hobbies as I focused on my kids and work. Unfortunately, my two previous failed marriages will attest to the fact that I didn't focus on my wives enough either. In the future, I will one day retire. Work, as I now know it will change. I will find that I will have more time for family. I will also need to adjust my other table legs to maintain balance. There are plenty of negative stories about what happened to people after retirement. Often, lack of balance is the reason.
Instead of using a table as an analogy, many cultures believe in a triad, or triangle. There are three primary elements that need to stay in balance, Mind, Body, and Soul. Using this analogy, many of my prior elements change. Body consists of physical health, exercise, and diet. Mental consists of education, mental health, and stress reduction. Spiritual remains the same, in that one must maintain a belief system of some form. Without meaning and order, the other areas are meaningless.
Regardless of how you view your system, the first step in balance is to identify what is important, TO YOU, with at least one item from each of the three above mentioned categories. The second step, in the process, is to evaluate how you feel you are achieving each step. Honesty is important because often what we say and what we think are vastly different things. If you would have asked me several years ago, if I felt in balance, I would have said yes. But deep inside, I knew I was depriving myself of sleep and I was working too many hours. I was feeling the wear and tear on my body, but I kept telling myself I only had to hold out a little longer.
The last step is to make small changes frequently. One of the biggest reasons people fail in their endeavors is they go too fast and then can't cope with the changes. For example, if you feel you need to adjust your diet, do it slowly. Start to eat out less, or when you are out, eat chicken instead of a hamburger. Have a baked potato or salad instead of french fries. Eat fruit, yogurt, or a granola bar, instead of a doughnut, etc. Take each step slowly and consistently and you will eventually attain your goals. If it feels too hard, slow down.
This example goes for anything, exercise, relationships, family, religion, and of course martial arts. Make little changes each week until the little changes add up to become something huge. Eventually you will realize you are no longer standing at the bottom of the mountain, but instead making progress up the cliff. As you bring yourself into balance, you will become happier, healthier, and far more fulfilled. One day you will wake up in the morning and be excited for the day ahead. As for me, I am on my journey to bring my life back into balance, and I challenge everyone reading this, to do the same. If anyone has any tips, or experience, please leave it in the comments, so others can share with you. Until next time, I'll see you, “In the Dojang.”