A canoe is the perfect metaphor for balance.
Because balance is not a state that you reach and then simply maintain, just as the direction of a canoe is never fixed but rather always drifting.
We have to control the drift as much as we can.
When we’re in a canoe, the tip — which determines our direction — will inevitably drift a little left, until we paddle on the right to course correct … and then drift a little right, before paddle on the left to course correct yet again.
All along, we must keep our destination in sight ahead of us and make sure that the tip of our canoe stays more or less pointed in that direction.
It will probably always be a little left or a little right of center, but our movement forward should be balanced in its sum.
The same holds true for the way we balance our roles as parents, partners, and people. Balance requires constant vigilance and intentionality. We must always be ready to paddle.
But here’s the irony, and the challenge …
The moment we do, the moment we take a course correcting action to get back into balance, we have set ourselves on an inevitable course toward imbalance — if we are not prepared to course correct in the opposite direction at the appropriate time.
Let’s look at a quick example.
Say you haven’t lifted weights in months.
You are out of balance when it comes to the development and maintenance of your physical strength. So you go to the gym and lift weights, doing a full-body workout to wake your muscles back up. This is a positive course correction. Well done.
But what do you do tomorrow? Do you go and do another full-body workout again? And another the day after that?
It might seem that doing so would help balance out all the time you were sedentary, but this is not so. You would quickly push yourself into imbalance in the other direction, because you would be depriving your body of necessary rest and recovery time.
Your course correction (finally going and lifting) will quickly lead you right back to imbalance (an overworked body) if not itself checked and corrected (in this case, right away).
Our ability to be intentional about this subtle back and forth, this dance with our decisions and circumstances, is what will determine our ability to maintain some semblance of balance as we move throughout our days.
Only for a brief fleeting moment do we actually reach balance, but we’re barely there long enough to feel it, see it, or touch it. We certainly can’t stop it, hold it tight, and keep it right there … no matter how much we may want to.
Just like in a canoe — where the tip lines up in perfect balance with our destination only for the briefest of seconds before the momentum of our most recent paddle moves us on past in the other direction — we must notice when we’ve drifted too far in one direction (it’s usually much sooner than we think) and then calmly, but firmly, paddle in the other direction.
Drift too far? It may take more than one paddle to get our course corrected.
Take our eye off the destination and allow the drift to continue on uncorrected? We may get lost entirely.