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Off-Balance On Purpose: The Future of Engagement and Work-Life Balance by Dan Thurmon

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Dan Thurmon at TEDxPSU

Following is the full transcript of dynamic keynote speaker and author Dan Thurmon’s talk titled “Off Balance On Purpose: The Future of Engagement and Work-Life Balance” at TEDxPSU conference.

Dan Thurmon  – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Today let’s talk about balance, from a little bit of a different perspective. You should see it from this side.

Life balance is a concept that is intriguing and desirable, and also completely unrealistic.

I mean even now look up here, and you’ll see I’m not balanced. I’m constantly making adjustments and corrections to protect myself on this precarious platform, and after all this work, after all this effort, I haven’t really gone anywhere. I’m still in the same place.

You see folks, we’re engaged in the art, the process of balancing throughout our life, which is making those adjustments, making decisions, making corrections over time, responding to opportunities and challenges.

But balance is something you never attain, and yet you’ve been told that this is the ultimate goal, the ultimate purpose, to achieve life, balance.

I Googled life balance this morning, and there were 367 million results. Think of that. 367 million ideas or observations or opinions on how you can attain the unattainable.

And so we beat ourselves up in pursuit of this idea of balance, thinking that if we work hard enough, or smart enough, or long enough, that we can get to this moment where it all evens out.

And I’m here to tell you it isn’t going to happen. You will never achieve perfect balance. And along the way, we beat ourselves up with the guilt, and we restrict our opportunities.

And the pursuit of balance I think actually is a negative impact on our lives. So I want to liberate you from that today with a new philosophy, a new approach. And I encourage you not to live your lives on balance, but rather off balance on purpose, off balance on purpose.

Because off-balance is your reality. That’s a good thing. You have to be off balance in order to learn, in order to grow, in order to love or serve others, or improve yourself in any meaningful way.

The question is are you off balance in response to your world, or are you off balance on purpose, deliberate, intentional, and connected to a sense of meaning, purpose, mission, that you bring to what you do every single day?

I mean that’s what causes change for yourself, for your family, your community for your world.

Purpose. The greatest organizations, and the most effective individuals are those that have learned to harness the power of purpose, and leverage that for amazing results.

And in that respect, while that handstand is a model for remaining and maintaining at the status quo, and our off-balance on purpose change transformation would be more like a backflip, you know, launching yourself into uncertainty when you can’t even necessarily see where you’re going with energy, with commitment, and with drive. Yeah.


Well thank you.

This may surprise you, but when I first learned to — when I was 11 years old and I was exploring these ideas, I was what they called a hyperactive kid. No, I’m totally serious.

And it was at that age I found purpose in an unlikely place. It was at the King Richard’s Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin, when I watched a juggler. I saw his act 6 times in a row, this guy was amazing. His name’s Mike Vondruska.

And after the last show of the day he had noticed I had been there, and he said, “Kid, would you like to learn to juggle?” Sometimes we find purpose, you see, when others take an interest in us, and give us an opportunity to grow. I wanted to succeed as much for his belief in me as for my own benefit.

And when I engaged the process, I loved it. I remember that moment when it finally clicked in with 3 balls, and felt amazing.

But almost immediately a new question came to mind. What was that? Of course, well how do I do 4? I am obviously so ready.

So I got the fourth ball, and I tried it, but I tried it the same way I knew how to do 3. They collided, they hit the ground, it was a disaster.

And I went back to my mentor frustrated the next weekend, and I said “Mike, what’s going on?”

He said, “Dan listen, when you add the fourth ball, you need to learn a new pattern.”

You see throughout life we engage patterns, patterns of thinking, patterns of action, patterns of interaction with others. We experiment. We find what works, and then we protect it, we defend it against everything else.

And you know what? If we want to grow beyond our abilities, we have to transcend our current patterns.

What Mike showed me is that when the balls cross with 3 balls, it’s not the same with 4. With even numbers you hold them a little longer. There’s actually 2 on that side, 2 on this side.

Basic — the basic patterns with even numbers do not cross your body, of course unless you’re doing some kind of fancy tricks or maneuvers. But the basic patterns stay on the same side.

And when he showed me that, just like you I went oh, that’s really cool. And I went home armed with this new knowledge, and I tried it again, and this time it still didn’t work.

Now I hadn’t practiced it enough to make it my own, I hadn’t worked hard enough, and dropped enough, and picked up those drops to confirm my commitment.

But a funny thing happened: as I continued to struggle, as I continued to put forth the effort with 4, I started to notice something unexpected. My 3-ball juggling was getting really, really good. Truth is I never really got the hang of 4 until I tried 5.

If you think what you’re doing now is difficult, it’s time to try something harder. You must be off balance in order to learn.

Now 5 balls goes back to a crossing pattern, check it out. So instead of having 1 in the air at all times, there’s 3 in the air at all times.

But what jugglers know, and what neuroscientists understand about the human mind is that we don’t truly multitask. We can’t do it all at once, we handle one thing at a time quickly, and perform what’s called the quick switch between our thoughts and our objectives.

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For example, when one of these balls is out of my hand, it’s also out of my way. Yeah, it’s out of my control, it’s doing its own thing. I need to disengage that one, and engage a new target above my other hand.

And the key is this: no matter how much is going on, 5 balls or 7, there’s still space between the throws and catches, space between your throws and catches, your thoughts and your actions, right, or what you were doing and what you are doing next, or what you hear and how you choose to respond.

And it’s in those spaces that we reclaim control of our lives. You know? It’s not about increasing your pace, because life speeds right up with you.

Ironically, by slowing down even a little, you begin to notice those spaces, those opportunities, and they expand for you.

Here’s the 5-ball pattern, and as you look up here and you see the 5 balls in the air, what I want to know from all of you is, can you see that pattern? Can you see what it looks like? Can you imagine? Can you? Yeah?

Some of you, not too many though. So you know what? This is TED. We need to employ some TED red, and some technology. Lights please. Oh yeah.

Now can you see the pattern?

[Audience: Yes.]

Yeah. Some say it looks like the wings of a butterfly. I see an infinity sign reflecting your infinite potential.

While our patterns are constantly changing and growing, it’s the patterns that engage us, and drive us forward. Lights please. Yeah?

So why do I tell you this? Well here’s why.

Because a moment ago you just saw a 5-sphere pattern in the air. I want to talk about your 5 spheres of success, your life. Check out the screen.

5 spheres of life

You see, this model will serve you personally, but also professionally as you lead others, as you try to understand what matters most. Your work, the first sphere, your relationships, your health, your spiritual growth, and your personal interests, the things you just love to do.

These are your 5 spheres of success.

First there’s your work, right, your professional pursuits and commitments, working on school, working ultimately toward a career, whether you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting your own business, or you’re looking for the right organization that really feels purposeful to you.

How can we lead others, and work to become the best at our chosen profession?

Well, we have to reconcile our family, our relationships, our friends, the people we care about, people we care for. And you know what balance books tell you? Protect your time, compartmentalize your life so that they don’t overlap, so that there’s not too much time in each area. Ridiculous, right?

Because there’s not enough time to do that, and they’re constantly intersecting where it matters most, in your thinking, in your decisions.

How about this sphere, your health? That’s how you fuel your pattern, right? What do you put in your body? How do you move your body? How do you rest your body so that you have the energy to move forward with purpose through life?

Health-related goals are vitally important. And you know what? Not only do we hope to improve ourselves physically, but also spiritually.

And while this means different things to different people, depending on your own beliefs, your practices, your spiritual principles, some it means just getting active, getting involved in community outreach or philanthropy.

Well the key is if you want to live a life on purpose, you need to know what that is and live in congruence with your spiritual purpose, and seek to know something larger than you.

The fifth sphere is this one here, mentioned it earlier, your personal interests, your hobbies, your joys, your passions, the things you just love because they make you you. They make you unique.

These are the 5 spheres. And as you can see, they’re always interacting in this model. I want you to remember this, I want you think about this.

Because the pattern that’s created by the way they move together is an infinity sign, reflecting your infinite potential. You never, you know, reach your full capacity to learn, you never reach your full potential, because you can always know more in each of these areas. And there’s an infinite way that you can define your life.

For each one of us, we can live a life that’s extraordinary and unique, and full of passion, and service to others.

But yet if you were to freeze frame it at any one moment, like this, it doesn’t look balanced at all. You know, there’s some things in your hands, other things totally out of your reach, and, you know, that’s okay, because it’s still connected, connected to you, it’s your pattern.

And more importantly, they’re connected to one another, and this is the key. This is what I believe, is if we construct our life from the inside out with these life lines, like this, if I were to draw a life line from work to relationships, that implies the question well, how do you connect those? What would that look like?

We work to provide for the people we care about, we go back to our relationships to get this juice to bring back into work, and in the flow of life there’s times when it makes sense and it’s close together, and other times it’s totally stressed to the limit.

Like for me in my life, as a professional speaker and author I’m on the road a lot. I have two kids, my son Eddie is 14, my daughter Maggie is 10. So there’s a lot of time that I’m away.

But throughout their life we’ve strengthened that life line by bringing them with us, you know, on different experiences, by talking about my clients and my audiences, what I’m learning along the way.

And see when I bring them along on a trip, and involve them in the show in some way, they’re growing, and they’re connected. And also that way all their travel, clothing, and food is tax deductible.

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So how can you, or how can your organization find ways to capitalize on this, to incorporate family into this concept of work, right, so that it becomes a purposeful pursuit?

In total there are 10 life lines. How about your work and your health? Does your work support your desire to be healthy, or challenge it in some way? And if so, what are you going to do about that?

Hey, the greatest organizations understand the power of wellness, the power of fitness initiatives and challenges.

How about work and spiritual growth, right? Are you practicing your spiritual principles in the context of going to school, or going to your job? Because that’s what it’s all about.

And also bringing that corporate philosophy to philanthropy. Interests, working at a career that interests you, right? Or bringing your personal interest into the workplace.

Relationships, share your desire to be healthy, grow spiritually, and you share interests with the people you care about too.

You see, it’s all connected. You can get healthy, you can grow spiritually while you do things you love to do. This is why I go mountain unicycling as my workout routine. It’s a great workout, trust me. And I do it with my buddy Bobby Coggins so we’ve got a friendship component too.

When life’s in the moment, and in motion like this, hey, the shapes and forms are constantly changing, but a connected life pattern will help you sustain those twists and detours as you move through life. It really will.

And so you look for those opportunities, those options which are in your hand, the possibilities are truly infinite. And again, the greatest organizations that get ranked among the best places to work are those that look at this, and say how can we create an environment where people don’t feel like they are choosing between life and work. It’s not either or, it’s all of the above.

To take this to another level, I have my son Eddie with me today, how are you doing, son? Tax deductible. Stand here buddy.

All right. We’re going to go up another notch to the top. Now when I — thank you.

When I first tried one of these, I learned a lot about balance, extremely critically.

First of all I tried it like this, I thought I’d be closer to the ground, just to be careful. But what I realized is if you focus on the ground, that’s where you go, immediately.

The only way to feel a sense of control in an off-balance environment in which you live is to elevate your focus, to elevate your vision, to be able to look farther than others are willing to go.

And then you tell me, what’s my first move to go forward? What’s the first thing I have to do? What was it?

Lean forward, right?

Off balance — on purpose.

What you do on a 6-foot unicycle is you lean forward, you start falling toward your face, and then you chase your body with the unicycle, so hopefully you don’t get to your face. It’s scary, all right? It makes you a little uncomfortable.

But here’s the deal. If you limit yourself to what’s comfortable, you deny yourself what’s possible. If you’re unwilling to lean into the uncertainty, if you’re apprehensive about change and growth, you may start going backward.

Or maybe I’ll just stay where I am, because I’m already successful, I’m already good. I don’t want to get too good too quickly. They couldn’t handle me out there. This is called idling, idling, right?

Because you’re not standing still, you’re going forward and backward, forward and backward to protect yourself. We want to lean forward into those changes, accept those new risks and responsibilities.

Come on out here, Eddie. Accepting risks and responsibilities, even though they may be daunting, these are very real folks. I have just upped my stakes.

And what I’m telling you is I’ve upped my stakes, so up yours. Up your stakes. Up your purpose, because you need purpose to engage in something you perceive to be a little bit risky, a little bit of a stretch.

Here the goal isn’t just to make a catch, but more specifically to catch the handle. They’re all unique. This one has double blades, and this one’s heavy. You know what, my friends?

I think we all can reach beyond our current levels of excellence. But in order to do that, you don’t have to be balanced, you don’t protect yourself against those opportunities, you embrace them. Embrace uncertainty with clear objectives, with clear targets, realizing it’s just one thing at a time, just one moment.

So be present where you are. And yet you need to let go of the idea of balance, and grab onto living off balance on purpose.

Thanks a lot.


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Resources for Further Reading:

Nigel Marsh: Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle (Full Transcript)

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone: Yubing Zhang at TEDxStanford (Full Transcript)

One Life-Changing Class You Never Took by Alexa von Tobel (Full Transcript)

Tony Robbins: Creating an Extraordinary Quality of Life at Oprah Winfrey Network (Transcript)

Sharing is Kindness in Action!