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Overthrowing the Dictatorship of Balance
Life is not a balancing act
My cat Meredith is obsessed with a chopstick. She carries it all around my apartment, nimbly picking it up with her front paws and putting it in her mouth to take it wherever she goes.
Uncountable times a day, as I work at my desk, I hear the stick hitting the wooden floor beside my feet. I grab it, throw it, and she runs after it like a dog would.
The chopstick is next to me a minute later; Meredith stands attentively, waiting for me to throw it again. Toss. Repeat.
The stick goes where Meredith goes.
I didn’t have to think too hard to determine why she got this fixation. I adopted her as a kitten. I raised her, and I am nothing if not obsessive.
As a kid, I went to extreme lengths to fill my sticker albums, negotiating like a diplomat to get the shiny and the textured ones. As a teenager, I spent every free minute reading fiction, overworking my Kindle, and finishing books as if they were pamphlets while barely getting any sleep.
Being obsessive is like being part of an endless treasure hunt, where encountering elements of interest feels like discovering hidden riches. But it can also weigh on you as your obsession starts conquering your mind space. Then, you start thinking about it in circumstances unrelated to it.
It’s like quicksand slowly pulling you under and trapping you in a suffocating embrace.
When others point out my behavior, shame takes over my body as it feels like something only I should be aware of and no one else. The most defining trait of my personality must be kept secret.
Everything changed when I was at a retreat at eighteen, preparing to start an exchange year abroad. My councils recommended dividing our life into areas (host family, friends, school, health), so we could lean on the stronger one when something goes wrong in one of them.
This advice helped me a lot during my time abroad as it made me face some unpleasant situations from a broader perspective. When you have friends, a host family, a German course, and other things to focus on, sour moments at school don’t seem like a big deal.
But as an adult, this advice transformed from a helpful point of view into a measuring mechanism. I divided my life into areas -financial, intellectual, family, emotional, body, and relationships- and sought to find a balance between all of them.
And as my cat with the stick, I took that system wherever I went.
At first, it served as a hack not to get fixated on something; and, consequently, lose sight of what’s essential. With this mechanism, I would know what needs attention when struggling to prioritize. I had the secret of success for someone living with the insecurity of going all in on the wrong thing.
My search for balance was a way of fighting my obsessive tendencies, but from a cure, it evolved into the problem itself.
I was obsessed with finding balance.
I mentally kept track and compared the number of family events and outings with friends for fear of leaving a group aside. Then, I started losing sight of the impact of my actions and activities and focused on whether they achieved the ruling I had in mind.
Quantity took over quality when the latest mattered the most.
I realized my misstep while proudly writing about my balance mechanism. One moment I’m explaining this great system I’ve been using, and the next, dread overcame me as I saw how the design made to solve an issue became part of the issue itself.
Knowing I had to get rid of something that had served me so well for so long felt like going blind into the unknown. Besides, it was a difficult task to take on. Once a pattern is etched into our routine, it becomes a stubborn tenant that resists eviction. But awareness of the issue and time was the solution. The system started slowly leaving my head.
Overthrowing the balance dictatorship was difficult. I realized that life doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Sometimes obsessing over good habits can lead to great results. Other times, obsessing over positive things can work against you. It all depends on what you are approaching and how you do it.
I simply seek to do what feels right. There isn’t a unique equation to live life because the correct way of approaching it doesn’t exist. And that’s liberating.
I wouldn’t have noticed my cat’s obsession a few years ago. Taking it as a trait of her personality. But nowadays, I see it for what it is. That alone is a win.