Life, Music | November 14, 2013 | By

This week’s buzzword is balanceI have spent four years of college desperately trying to figure out what balance actually means in the context of my daily life. Each year, balance has meant something different to me. Let me take you on a virtual tour. 

Freshman Year:
  • The act of practicing violin into the wee hours of the morning, with only the wrapper of a 7/11 turkey sandwich as witness to your hard work. Gym sessions are included once every few weeks when a new pair of pants ceases to fit. i.e. “I got a B+ in Secondary Piano, but at least I still found balance.”
Sophomore Year:
  • Worrying so much about your love social life that you almost forget to focus, but still (by some divine miracle) manage to pull off straight A’s, lose 20 pounds, and get much better at violin on little to no sleep. i.e. “Practicing is really important, and so are men friends. Add some studying all-nighters, and you too can achieve balance.”

Junior Year:

  • Not falling over. i.e. “I’m trying really hard to balance 23 credits with this VERY non-required recital I’m giving.”

This trip down memory lane brings me now to my definition of balance today, in my senior year of college. Up until quite recently, it was the following:

  • Sketching out each day in a planner to include well-crafted increments for studying, practicing, rehearsals, fitness, eating, lessons, and errands, and then beating yourself up when your days don’t go as you carefully designed. “Well, I planned to practice from 4-6:30 and go to the gym at 7, but I ended up napping at 6 and getting to the gym at 8 instead. Let’s hope I can still find balance as a mediocre, out-of-shape violinist.”
Then, I had an epiphany. Balance isn’t achieved by keeping to a rigid schedule that offers little to no room for flexibility. This is not to say that scheduling your days hour by hour isn’t a great tool, because it is and I HIGHLY recommend it. Sometimes, however, it must act more as a guideline.


Last week, I planned out my days to include everything I needed for success. I scheduled in ample practice and gym time, and plenty of time to work on my long term projects. I wrote in lectures, classes, recitals, and other additional events that I had to attend, most of which were in the evenings. I even penciled in an hour for American Horror Story (I know…), just to make sure that I’d make time to watch with my roommates. What actually ended up happening was that after my practicing was done, my workload and other school-related obligations became so burdensome, that I was up until all hours almost every night trying to get everything done well and on time. Basically, I kissed all glimpses of early morning gym sessions goodbye. In the midst of all this, I was able to enjoy a little taste of freedom on Wednesday when a few friends and I went to the bar for an hour after a concert. Still, once the the weekend came, I felt I had to completely let myself go. I celebrated a friend’s birthday, and had a tapas brunch with my cousin on Saturday (which, by the way, was aaaaamazing). For the rest of the weekend, I was either practicing or sleeping. I didn’t keep up my gym schedule like I had planned for the week, which was disappointing. I had just come off of a glorious three-week streak of getting to the gym consistently, which has been making a great difference. Unfortunately, my body just couldn’t do any extra work last week, and the weekend offered a time and place to recuperate.

In addition to all of this, I made an executive decision not to run the 8K next week. Since my knee had been acting up, my fitness focus has turned mostly to strength training, and I think it’s best not to push myself to run in the cold on an early Saturday morning before a really pivotal week (I’ll get to that).

Still, despite how great the weekend was, the disappointment came from several angles. I hadn’t gone to the gym. My planning had failed. I practiced a lot, but I still felt guilty. I had two or three “treat” meals in one weekend, which didn’t even feel deserved. I wasn’t going to run the race, which I’d been looking forward to for months.

Now, here are the dictionary definitions for “balance.”

{bal·ance [ˈbaləns] • noun} 

  1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
  2. a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.


My new mindset acknowledges that my lazy weekend was completely justified. I may not have earned each extra calorie in the gym, but I definitely deserved them. Why should I beat myself up for things I genuinely enjoyed? Sure, I could have skimped on some aspects of my work to get to the gym and make everything even out. But, in the long run, I’ll remember the meticulous effort I gave to my project, and I’ll remember how well I practiced. So what, if my days seemed uneven? They still had the correct proportions.

After an added sick day and a huge motivational deficit, I finally got back in the gym yesterday, and it was a beautiful reunion. Next week is an orchestra hell week and is also the week in which I’ll start to make my prescreening recordings for Master’s programs. Realistically, I may not make it to the gym five days next week. I may not make it four times, or even three. But I will schedule it in, and I will NOT beat myself up if things change.

SO, basically…

Balance consists of whatever proportions feel natural to make YOU feel accomplished and/or satisfied. You aren’t guaranteed to feel both accomplishment AND satisfaction all the time, and that’s just a fact of life (especially as a creative/artistic type 😉 ) that all of us need to come to terms with for our own health and happiness. Work and play can’t always come in the proportions we want them to. So, work your butt off, and feel successful at whatever it is you desire to be successful at. Once you’ve worked hard, if you feel that you need to have a whole weekend plus a tapas brunch to recover, do that. Or, if you choose to have a few times over the week where you “treat” yourself, that’s fine. Treat yourself whenever and to whatever it is that gives your body and mind the chance to unwind and reset. Nobody will be judging you, not even yourself. Because you work hard, and you deserve balance.


  1. Leave a Reply

    November 15, 2013

    Brava! Such wise, thoughtful reflections! So, so proud!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Mara Bishop
    November 16, 2013

    My Dear Sarah,

    I think this is beautifully thought out and written! I spend a lot of time thinking about balance, too. Partly because it is essential to my health and mental well-being (as you described so wisely) but also because it’s important to my work. In counseling clients from a shamanic perspective, so much comes down to finding balance in our bodies and in our lives. There is even a Navajo saying, “May you walk in beauty.” It means essentially may you walk in harmony in the world, within your self, in your relationship to others, and in your connection to the environments that you interact with. Juggling the different practical, emotional and energetic aspects of our lives is challenging. Learning how to did it with grace, self-reflection, kindness and patience with yourself, and the ability to adapt and change course to find your equilibrium when you realize your original plan needs some retooling – those are signs of a wise woman, beautiful Sarah. Thank you for reminding us all.

    • Leave a Reply

      Sarah Jane
      November 19, 2013

      Thanks, Mara! I’m incredibly touched by your comment – I admire you so much for how in tune you are with yourself and the world around you, and I always value your advice, so to hear this from you is so wonderful! 🙂 I know that my specific idea of balance may change eventually, but I feel at peace knowing I’ve found a plan that feels good for now.

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