Hatching Porcupine Eggs : The Myth of Balance
Hatching Porcupine Eggs
When I was seven, my dad brought me back a souvenir from a national park gift shop. A small cardboard box that contained something spectacular: two brown, prickly, jelly-bean-looking things on a bed of cotton, along with a tiny booklet titled “How to Hatch Porcupine Eggs.” I was beside myself with excitement; I mean, tiny porcupine babies?! I read every word in the manual and followed the instructions exactly: I placed one egg in each of my armpits (to keep them snug and warm, of course), and then gingerly walked around with my arms glued to my sides, careful not to jostle the unborn porcupines for the rest of the day.
I was a little naive (clearly) and pretty uninformed on which animals hatched from eggs and which didn’t. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that after a long, hard day of porcupine egg incubation, I cried when I discovered the cold hard truth: they were actually cockleburs, and porcupines don’t lay eggs.
“The Perfectly Balanced Life” = Porcupine Eggs
The idea of a “perfectly balanced life” is for grown-up Allison, what porcupine eggs were for kid Allison. I mean, those cockleburs were egg-shaped and had little spikes poking out in all directions; it really seemed like there could be a real baby porcupine in there. If I just took proper care of them and followed all the rules exactly, it was perfectly reasonable they would hatch, right? I look at other people’s lives and from the outside it seems like a the having a perfectly balancedlife exists. So then I go read a bunch of books and blogs and try to follow all the advice, because it seems like if I do then I’ll have a perfectly balanced life too.
The week we launched this blog, my family ate cereal for WAY more meals than breakfast; I was down wearing bathing suit bottoms instead of underwear; and whenever anyone came to visit I yelled, “Quick, throw all this stuff in our bedroom so we can look like minimalists!!”
The truth is, perfect balance doesn’t exist and never will. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to incubate porcupine eggs: at the end of the day I’ll just have sore armpits. In the same way, it doesn’t matter if I stop watching Netflix, and wake up an hour earlier, and finally get Max to nap consistently. My life will. Never. Be. Perfectly. Balanced. The harder I try to chase after that ideal, the more I feel like a failure.
Wait a minute; doesn’t she talk about goal-setting all the time? Isn’t goal-setting all about balance? Why set goals if balance is impossible??
Part of the reason I’m interested in (okay, lets call a spade a spade- totally obsessed with) exploring this Sustainable Goal-Setting idea is that it has freed me from feeling like I have to be doing everything well all the time. By choosing a very small number of things I am going to give special care and attention to for a season, I’m free from stressing out over those other ‘shoulds' I don't have time for. It’s been a way for me to give myself grace and feel good about the things I am doing.
For instance, this summer I’m taking time off of painting and working out (aside from afternoon strolls) in order to focus on establishing this blog. It’s been so nice to work one thing without this inward debate of whether or not I should be using that time to make art or do a Zumba video. Being willing to let my life - *gasp* - go out of balance has been a relief. It's helped me be more satisfied with what I’m actually doing.
In retrospect, I think being told the porcupine eggs were fake and never going to hatch, as hard as that was to come to terms with, was ultimately a much better situation than for me to continue to rub my armpits raw and think the reason they aren't hatching is because I'm not trying hard enough. You know?