Burning the burners

Delving into the rabbit warrens of the Internet can be an alarming experience. Last week for example, I discovered that my life can be broken down to four core elements; friends, family, work and health. A dude called David Sedaris reckons these elements form four burners on a metaphorical stove that is your life. In order to be successful, you have to turn off one burner. In order to be really successful, you have to turn off two burners.

Um, excuse me?

Goodbye friends and family, hello success at work?

No thanks.

I was so outraged and (let’s be honest) a little panicked upon reading this that I immediately started Googling how to deal with this blow. Because I could totally see it; spend heaps of time at work to make your way up the corporate ladder and of course family is going to get neglected. Favour spending time socialising outside of work instead of getting to that gym class and your health is going to miss out. Sheeeit.

So into the foray of the Internet I charged. I learnt that the stuff of life is actually a set of juggling balls, where you can add and take away balls as you like. But what about the risk that a chunk of your life bounces away by accident? The thought didn’t do much to ease my concerns.

And what of the other parts to my life? Surely ‘self’ should be in there, for example. I really started to slide down the rabbit warren as I asked Google to divulge the other core components of life. It was when I was lost somewhere between a pie chart depicting the meaning of life and an article on hedonic adaptation that I realised I had gone way too far.

Life simply cannot be reduced to sexy theories about burners or juggling balls.

Yet that article kept playing on my mind. I couldn’t help myself; I recruited a few people to share their thoughts on the matter.

One friend questioned the assumption that success is measured primarily by how long you spend on something. Sage words, I thought. Perhaps it is a legacy of my experience in the legal world that my first reaction is to equate time spent at work with the one's level of success. (And yes, surely I should know better by now.)

Other friends pointed out that they will (as I do) cook two things in the same pot, for example by running to the office instead of catching the train. Plus, how artificial is it to assume that switching off health will give you more energy to ace your work goals? I’m as productive as a paperclip if I don’t get a workout in before I sit down at my desk. If I did away with my health then I highly doubt I’d be raking up any wins beyond Most Useless Employee of the Month.

So I took stock of all these factors and decided to turn off the panic button. Life cannot be boiled down to such simplicity. What I continue to find alarming though, is that I was initially so easily convinced it could be. I even did a mental review of what I would boot out of my life to make sure I got to taste success.

And once I had decided that I would refuse to be a four-burner chef, I started seeking out an alternative theory. As if life isn’t this messy, moving, heaving heap of who-the-heck-knows-what (can you tell I really like order in my life?).

Unfortunately, there is no snazzy pie graph that blows the four burner theory’s socks off. There is no magic formula to crack the ever-elusive work / life balance. But there are always choices to make, something which is totally in my control. I can choose to ruthlessly cut my family from the equation because I believe that’s the route to success. I can choose to despair at having to work in the weekend. I can choose to lose sleep over the stack of goals I want to one day achieve.

Or I can choose to not do any of those things.

I can choose to live in the present. Do the things that feel right, that make me happy, that add a sparkle to that messy heap of stuff that makes up my life.

One thing’s for sure. I do not choose the four burner theory.

Anna Watsonwellington