Until I was an adult, I never knew that I could have multiple desires that conflict with each other. Learning to balance them is a never-ending challenge.
For example, some of my adult values and desires include
- Professional success
- Romantic fulfillment
- Platonic relationships / healthy social life
- Creative outlets / expression
- Non-productive leisure time
- Physical health (e.g. via exercise and diet)
- To nurture life around me (e.g. romantic partner, pet, environment)
- To live in accordance with my values (e.g. patience, generosity, fostering joy)
- Strong relationships with family
The two most obvious conflicts between many of these that come up for me are time and energy, which is to say: there’s never enough time, and/or I don’t have enough energy. I certainly cannot spend dedicated time on each of the above areas of life every day. Naturally, this means I have to make choices frequently about how to spend my time and energy. It is this constant search for balance of priorities that I find to be far and away the most challenging aspect of being an adult.
Somehow I don’t recall the same conflict of interests/desires when I was a child or young adult. I think as a child, I had so few “real” responsibilities that I was always able to easily fulfill any of my interests like playing games or spending time with friends. (Aside: I grew up in an affluent household with 2 working parents. Although I had normal chores like doing my laundry and dishes, I had a fairly plush life growing up where my basic needs (and more) were always met. I recognize this is not the childhood everyone has, so my generalizations may not extend to those with alternative experiences.)
As a young adult, the primary driving factor in my life was “experience”, so it was somewhat easier to live in the moment without worrying about the effects that my actions would have on other parts of my life. This reflection makes me wonder if I’ve developed a higher level of anxiety as I’ve aged, at least with respect to mortality. As I age, I feel an increased sense to “make the most” of my time. I certainly do not want to “waste” my time because I’m more aware of the limitations on my time.
In many ways, this is a natural progression for my life. I live with a long-term girlfriend, so my schedule demands affect her too (and vice versa). I am working in a career that I enjoy and want to succeed in, so I have a desire to spend energy and time excelling in that area. I have realized that I value the pursuit of excellence in my hobbies, rather than the approach I took as a young adult of trying many different hobbies without any intention of mastering them; this increases my enjoyment from my hobbies but also takes more time and energy to sustain focused growth. As life becomes more complex, so do social relationships; since everyone is dealing with a similar web of complexity, it becomes more and more difficult to connect in the carefree way that I was accustomed to when I was younger.
In addition to the “big rocks” of life, there are also less obvious conflicts of interest. Sometimes the conflict might even be between two things in the same “category” of life, for example
- Desire to experience new music
- Desire to re-live old favorites
- Desire to occasionally experience silence
How does one balance such things? Particularly in an environment where music saturation is so high, how does one find adequate time to listen to new music meaningfully, while also taking time to enjoy established favorites?
There are obviously no concrete or specific answers to questions like this. For me, the most useful observation I can make is to recognize that I have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of energy. The key is to accept these limitations, and acknowledge that spending my limited time and energy intentionally is the best way to ensure I meet as many of my desires as possible.
As a younger person, it was tempting to believe that I could be “the best” at something. As an adult, its much more appealing to simply believe that I can spend my time on activities that align with my values and desires. It is important to remember that spending time is only valuable if the value comes from the activity itself rather than some hypothetical end state to which the activity might lead. Working on something personally valuable is where I find meaning now, because I recognize that it isn’t in my interest to be “the best” in any one area - doing so would mean forsaking another part of my life that I value, because being “the best” requires substantial time and energy.
Ultimately, I do not have all the answers to life. But for now, I’m satisfied with the never-ending challenge of finding balance among all the competing interests and values in my life. I’m just grateful to have such a rich variety of experience that finding balance is the hardest challenge I’m facing.