The Difficult Art of Balance
Robert Fulghum, a famous American author, once said, “Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” These past couple of years, my junior and senior years of high school, the validity of these words has never been clearer, especially because of my failure, until recently, to live by them.
At the beginning of junior year, my image in the mirror every morning was a haggard girl with red eyes and dark circles. I’ve often looked at the drawn face staring and even glaring back at me and thought to myself, “Who is that? Can this really be what I’ve become?” From hours of reading this or that piece American or English literature, studying endless physics formulas, and writing papers on various abstract subjects (among other things) often into the wee hours of the morning, I had turned into that person. Where was the girl who had previously enjoyed reading for fun, watching obscene numbers of X-Files episodes she’d already seen many times, and spending time breathing in the freshest of Virginia mountain air? I was losing her within myself, suppressing her beneath the growing incubus of my schoolwork.
I had never been unhappier. I started to find that, not only were my unnaturally high levels of stress reflected in my appearance, but also in my personality. I was mean; I’ve never really been mean before. My relationships with the people I have always cared about more than anything in the world were suffering as I retreated further and further into work. I even lost my boyfriend, who I now miss so much. The carefree slumber parties filled with laughter, lip-gloss, and the usual truth or dares diminished, as did the family hikes I so adored as a younger child. I reacted to everything rashly and my quest for that perfect A average instilled in me a viciously competitive nature I’d honestly never had. Sometimes I’d even cry, and as the hot tears streamed down my pallid cheeks I would be at a loss for the reason I was actually even crying. I’d sit at my desk, paging through musty volumes and feel so alone. Who else would be up at that hour? I felt like the only human alive who was not wrapped in a sweet state of slumber.
However, one day early in the spring, I forced myself to accompany my mother and my younger brother to some local trails through the woods because I thought doing so might be a good “mind-clearer”. I had a million assignments in my mind, categorized and prioritized, and I was wondering why in the world I’d even come. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done! I wandered up the trail behind them and couldn’t focus on the nature. As I stepped into a new section of the woods through which a little stream babbled, a feeling came over me. The trees were almost like cathedral windows letting in the light of the powdery blue sky. The birds serenaded me and the sounds of life rustling through the forest were omnipresent. I was at peace. Everything out there was so simple. I felt alive again and I realized that I needed to come more often.
Ever since that day, I’ve done just that. I’ve tried to make the time to take hikes and I’ve spent a bit more time with Mulder and Scully again. Even if there isn’t time, I do it anyway. I need it. I was dying inside as I spent my whole life working. Having something like a movie night with my girlfriends or a night walk down the street to which I could look forward renewed in me the optimism that had always defined me. I used to be happy because I used to have balance. I’m trying to balance myself again now, even though it’s difficult with the pressing demands of teachers at school. Although enriching our minds with knowledge makes us dynamic people, without downtime, we turn more and more into callous machines like the one I was for so long. Learning is great sometimes, but so is having fun. My philosophy now is that of Fulghum; we need both.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.