“He did an Ironman,” my wife said, referring to a fellow dad in town.
“A what?” I asked.
“An Ironman — it’s like a super-triathlon that takes all day. The distances are crazy,” she said.
Apparently this Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon, raced in that order and without a break — usually a 17-hour affair. According to Wikipedia, “It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.”
And we can only imagine that if the actual event takes all day, the training for it takes days and days and days and days. My wife, you see, likes to run. In fact, she runs 5Ks regularly and does a half marathon once a year. Every Saturday morning, she runs with a club from our gym for a couple of hours. As happens in most marriages, we’ve each worked to stake out our “untouchable” time — “You know this is what I do on Saturday mornings so don’t mess with me,” time.
Good enough. That is her time and I’m fine with it. But whenever she starts to speak longingly of more half marathons or marathons or (God-forbid) Ironmans, I blanch. And I blanch because marathons take a long time to run, and a heck of a lot of time to train for, and if she ever committed to doing one of these borderline psychotic endeavors, we might as well just start being pen-pals. You see, we’ve got these two little wild puppy dogs called our children, and they are quite the handful. So if she thinks she’s going to be tough muddering it up with her run buddies while I’m being attacked by the rabid rabbits, she’s got another thing coming.
Not supportive, you say? Well, there is a time for everything, and while there may be a time down the road for her to go all Forest Gump, that time is certainly not now.
Hearing about the Ironman got me to thinking about the concept of balance, and how it seems more and more folks consider going way out of it to be a badge of honor. Have you ever heard someone proclaim with pride how they are “obsessed” with this or that? For example, many are obsessed with fitness in one form or another — you can lift weights all the time or swim or run, or do the aforementioned bizarre combinations. You can get obsessed with golf and spend all your waking hours trying to perfect the art of hitting that little ball where you want it. You can become obsessed with your children, smothering them in a misguided expression of love, or you can become obsessed with your job, thinking that this non-human entity called “the company” somehow loves you back.
Well, I think all of these obsessions constitute a road to a very bad place, for when you give your all to something, there are many areas to which you, by definition, give nothing — areas very likely of equal or greater importance.
In an article I recently read, Andre Spicer — a professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School, City University London — wrote of research he had done with Carl Cederstrom about the impact this “cult of self-improvement has had on society.” They found that, “focusing on self-development can make people narcissistic. It can make people more selfish, as they start to overlook wider commitments they have to family, friends and their wider community. … Self-development devotees become more interested in their own exercise routines than the troubles of other people.”
I have, however, always been inclined to worship at another altar — that of balance. I quite intentionally work very hard to sprinkle myself around to the important folks in my life (and to myself) in a very thoughtful way, constantly recalibrating to devote extra attention where it’s needed most.
This philosophy feels right to me, it seems logical and I think it makes sense. Of course, the only drawback is that, often, obsession equal excellence, and I do see others besting me in just about every area I dabble. For example, the guy who plays golf every day is much better than me; and the guy who works out for hours on end is in better shape than me, and the guy who works all the time has more money than me. No matter — I’m going to stick with what I’ve got going, and I suggest you try my approach.
You see, though I may not be the best at anything, I can hold my own in a number of things, and though no one individual in my life may feel like the only star in my firmament, I’m trusting they’ll see the nobility of my larger agenda — to make all know they are important. I also hope they know that no matter how I may come up short from I’m to time (and I certainly do), I’m always trying to do my best to get the balance just right.