Yesterday was a hard day. In an effort to fine-tune my daily routine, I had decided to employ my new routine – which was to skip dinner – but what happened next took me by surprise. At lunch, I found myself indulging in oatmeal cookies and blueberry smoothies, only to suffer a significant sugar crash shortly after. Have you ever felt like you made progress in one area of life, only to falter in another? That was me, feeling triumphant yet baffled, all at the same time.

Allow me to share how my day continued: after a two-hour-long nap, filled with confusion and self-doubt, I knew something was out of balance. Despite my stomach’s protest, I headed to the gym. The journey was painful, but I knew I had to get moving!

Later, I called up my friend Janet, seeking solace and understanding. We laughed and reassured each other that this is completely normal sometimes.

Meaning, have you ever noticed that when you’re making significant strides in one area of life, another may go completely awry? We recalled a brilliant metaphor, found in a novel by David Sedaris, that describes life as having four burners on your stove, each representing:

  1. Relationships
  2. Finances
  3. Spiritual/Creativity
  4. Health

The catch? You can only effectively focus on three of these at once.

Free Gas Burners Stove photo and picture

Isn’t this the essence of the human experience? In our constant quest to grow, balance, and evolve, we’re often faced with the harsh reality that there simply isn’t enough time to excel in everything. It requires prioritization, knowing which areas to nurture and when.

For me, the focus has been on relationships, finances, and health. But my spiritual and creative side? That’s taken a backseat. Though I long to play music and write short stories, the demands of family life keep those passions tucked away for now.

With this said, yesterday, I also allowed myself to write a short story! So here I had skipped dinner, and wrote a short story! This momentary deviation from my usual routine disrupted my focus on health. It appeared as though the much-needed energy from the smoothie helped me write the story! But then I crashed, haha. Those writers are insane! This provided a stark reminder of the fine line we walk as we juggle these four burners.

In your journey, dear reader, you may also find that when you shift your attention towards one aspect of your life, another may fall out of sync. It’s a delicate dance we all perform, one that requires constant vigilance, self-awareness, and compassion for ourselves.

As we explore this theme further in upcoming parts, we’ll dive into practical strategies and tools to help you navigate the complexity of balancing life’s burners.

Part 2: Focus

A friend of mine once shared that his mind often drifts to thoughts of those who have wronged him, leading to fantasies of retaliation. This confession led to a profound realization: the issue here is not so much the content of these thoughts but the energy devoted to them. By focusing on others’ negative traits, we divert our attention from our own lives, allowing others to “consume” us. Thereby, if they have “wronged” us, then they truly “win” if we are spending our free time thinking about them.

So, how do we redirect this energy? It’s a matter of changing our focus, employing strategies that resonate with our individual needs. Some may find solace in meditation or mindfulness practices, while others, like me, are drawn to techniques like Tony Robbins’ “Priming.”

These tools can shift our attention from the external to the internal, helping us reclaim our mental space.

But let’s return to the metaphor of the burners, which has guided us thus far.

Remember the iconic Clint Eastwood line, “A man’s gotta know his own limitations”? Although I personally chafe at such bounded thinking, there’s wisdom to be gleaned here. The essence of managing life’s complexities lies in focusing on one thing at a time. It’s a principle both profound and simple, yet it stands in stark contrast to the multitasking culture that many admire.

Take Elon Musk, for example. The man is nothing short of a marvel, managing multiple successful companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City, and Twitter simultaneously. His prolific tweeting alone is a feat unto itself. But what’s the reality behind this picture of seeming genius?

Let’s peel back the layers and examine Musk’s life through the lens of the burners. While his career burner is aflame with success, his relationships and family burners appear to have suffered, evidenced by a trail of broken marriages and speculative neglect of his children.

Put another way, there might be more beneath the surface.

A man in his position likely has an arsenal of skilled CEOs managing the day-to-day operations of his empire. His public image, while impressive, may not fully represent the complex balance of his life. Perhaps even Musk can’t keep all four burners burning perfectly.

The lesson here is not to diminish the accomplishments of others but to recognize that looks can be deceiving. We’re all on this journey, striving to balance our unique set of burners. The key is to understand our own limitations, to focus on what truly matters to us – what are values are – and to appreciate that none of us – not even the most prominent figures – are perfect.

Remember, perfection is not the goal; it’s the awareness, understanding, and compassionate pursuit of a life generally in harmony that counts – whatever harmony is to you. And you don’t always have to be in harmony. Sometimes being in harmony is not being in harmony. Sometimes to ace that test at school or write that blog, haha, you’re going to have to pull that all-nighter.

John Michaelsa Missoula native and author, has been captivating readers with his writing for years. A graduate of Brown University’s esteemed creative writing program, Michaels has spent the majority of his career crafting stories that resonate with his readers and capture the essence of the human experience. Despite the demands of raising children, Michaels has continued to pursue his passions, finding solace in the bustling downtown Missoula scene. There, he spends his free time honing his craft, whether it be working on short stories, playing music, or dedicating himself to his work at Sunflower Counseling, MT.