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Dec 11, 2020 | Michael K. Warne


We Americans seem to struggle with balance, especially in this crazy year that is 2020. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned on my quest for balance.

Family sitting on dock

We Americans seem to struggle with balance. It seems many people in this country think only in binary terms—you agree with me, or you’re the enemy.  You express your beliefs in this prescribed and approved way, or you get a not-so-friendly label.  It’s happened to me in earnest twice this year, and it makes me recognize how desperately these people need more balance in their lives.

Now, this doesn’t exonerate the rest of us, who certainly shouldn’t ring the bell when it comes to achieving perfect balance.  We all struggle with it in some form or fashion.  Steven Covey famously said, “Balance is without question one of the significant struggles faced by modern man.”  Having traveled extensively, viewing how other cultures live, I believe it especially applies to us, as Americans.

For instance, this is the land of opportunity.  Success stories are all around us, on social media and in the real world, and we want to be part of that historical narrative.  It’s in our DNA, no matter our skin color, religion, or country of origin.  In this age of digital story sharing, it’s a force that’s growing all around us.  A Forbes article1 recently noted last month’s number of business applications was up 40% vs. one year ago…in a pandemic. We are just wired to be entrepreneurs here in the United States.

But it begs the question when we grow a business or any career from the ground up, how much growth is enough growth?  And what are we giving up to attain that growth?  Starting a career consumes every bit of energy one has.  When we’re young, we have plenty of it, as well as plenty of time.  At some point, a significant other comes along, and then possibly some “mini-me’s” running around the house.

At this point, we must give some thought to balance.  Suddenly our time, love, and focus must be divided amongst different areas of our life that are all equally important.  And, this is about the time, by the way, that our eating habits catch up with us.  Our bodies have had enough of our out-of-balance diets, and it’s starting to show.  So yet one more important person shows back up in our life, one who used to be our center of attention when we were young.  That person in the mirror needs work, and we need it fast.

In the blink of an eye, the light bulb comes on, and we realize we’re out of balance, and we have no idea how to find it.  But “balance is not something you find, it’s what you create.”  Jana Kingsford described how to do this in her book, #Unjuggled.2

Here’s the best advice I’ve ever received regarding balance.  It’s a quote from the late politician, Paul Tsongas.  “No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”  This hit home harder than ever when I sat with my Dad on his deathbed in September of last year.  Dad worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known.  His heart was in the right place—he wanted to provide for us while he was alive and for my Step Mom after he was gone.  And in that area, Mission Accomplished.  However, I wish I had more time with him while I was growing up.  What I wouldn’t give for that.  Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t neglected, and he showed me all the love and support a son needs growing up.  But just a little more balance.

Balance applies in every area of our life.  I deal professionally with balancing and rebalancing every day.  What’s the correct balance between stocks and bonds?  Even that balance is hard to determine because everyone’s situation is different.  It’s even more difficult in 2020.  Bonds used to pay 5%.  Investing 40% of a portfolio in bonds added great balance to stocks, and those bonds protected you in volatile stock markets.  Now that they pay .90%, how well will they protect you in the next crash?3  After decades of finding balance with bonds, it’s time for a new way to balance.

Here’s a balance I struggle with now: working at home during a pandemic. How many of you are with me on this? With so much variability in my profession and with teenage girls, one thing I like to build into my life is routine.  This year, COVID vaporized the old balance I had between family, my profession, and my physical/mental fitness.  I had a routine to make sure I could achieve high goals in each area, and after years of tweaking the formula, I had achieved at least a grade of B+ (given to myself by myself).  With COVID, many of us are forced to work from home, and this has taken those distinctly separate areas of my life and thrown them into a blender.

So, here we go again, on the quest for balance.

When I came to RBC 5 ½ years ago, I was considering hanging my own shingle—starting my own investment firm.  But I knew that would have consumed me and almost all of my time.  There would have been no way to achieve anything near balance during my three teenage daughters’ most formative years.  I chose RBC because it’s a great place for my clients and my practice, and it’s the perfect place to allow my pursuit of balance.

That famous success juggernaut, Oprah Winfrey, said, “You can have it all.  You just can’t have it all at once.”  One day, I’ll might still hang my own shingle, but not until this season of my family life comes to a close.  I can thank good friends for helping me understand what Oprah was saying.  I wish you the best on your quest for balance in your One Best Life, and the grace for all of us who aren’t quite there yet.


Values in action