We conclude this discussion of balance with a look at a challenge made by a US president.
On May 25, 1961, just four months into his presidency, John Kennedy gave a special speech before a joint session of Congress. At the time he made the address, the big idea he promoted in that speech was criticized as too audacious to be taken seriously.
However, in the wake of the president’s assassination in 1963, the speech, and the big idea, took on historical significance. Aggressively moving ahead with the undertaking the president had challenged the nation to support became, to many, a way to honor the deceased commander-in-chief. There was a ground-swell of backing to give Kennedy’s unfinished presidency a lasting legacy and the United States a place of respect and lasting prestige among the nations of the world.
So, the assassination ensured that the nation would accept Kennedy’s audacious challenge.
Of course, I am referring to NASA’s Apollo lunar program. In that 1961 speech, Kennedy asserted that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landed three men on the moon. They returned safely to Earth. However, even though the nation had been determined to go to the moon, and even though the funding and all the necessary motivation was in place, it almost didn’t happen for reasons that had nothing to do with funding or motivation.
There were a total of 17 missions in the course of NASA’s nine year Apollo space program. The Apollo 8 mission would be the first manned trip to the moon… but not a moon landing. The Apollo 8 vehicle was to take 3 astronauts to the moon, orbit around the moon and return home.The significance of this element of the overall Apollo program was that human beings had never ventured beyond Earth’s orbit before the Apollo 8 mission. NASA’s experts had to figure out the complicated physics of how to actually get astronauts to the moon and back. If they didn’t get this right, there would be no moon landings and the Apollo program would end in failure.
The best model the experts could come up with, in terms of keeping the rockets on course, was only about 20%. In other words, the engineers – world class rocket scientists – could not find a way to keep their vehicle on course better than 20% of the time. The world’s best scientific minds not being able to maintain a “true” trajectory in such a costly and important mission was kind of a big deal.
The breakthrough came when the NASA engineers changed the way they looked at the problem. Instead of trying to stay on course all the time, they focused on developing superior measurement technology that allowed them to make constant small course corrections. The end result: Apollo 8 was indeed off course well over 80% of the time, as were subsequent trips to the moon.
And yet, on their first attempt to put a man on the moon, on July 20, 1969, the men in the Apollo 11 vehicle achieved success when they landed on the moon’s surface within 12 feet of their target. They achieved their on-target objective by making many tiny adjustments along the way.
To put it another way, from the moment the powerful Saturn V rockets propelled the astronauts away from the safety of Earth, they were in a constant state of being off course (out of balance) and they still accomplished their objective. And they did so because, as the rocket scientists discovered and accepted, there really is no such thing as balance.
That is the final, and biggest, reason I urge the reader to give up on seeking balance. There simply is no such thing.
The only things in the universe that can be observed to be in a state of balance are inanimate objects that are just sitting still. To my right I glance at the lamp on my desk. I see the extra computer monitor sitting to my left with a black-and-white photo of John F. Kennedy making his famous speech. Both objects stay where they are, balanced on the desk, and I have no concerns that they will fall.
Not so when you or I stand to our feet. Literally hundreds of nerves and muscles cooperate, at the direction of our subconscious, to remain upright … without falling down. Constant tiny adjustments are being made to ensure some semblance of stability as we sit, stand, or walk.
If you have you seen the high wire performers or the acrobats that rest objects on their chin, you have seen the quick little movements, the constant adjustments, being made.
This is a secret of success throughout all of life. Keep from falling. When you fall, get up. Accepting that true balance is never to be achieved by living beings in motion, you keep moving forward with the intent to use all information gathered from the last stumble to prevent injury the next time similar circumstances arise. And so it goes.
There is no mandate to be balanced. There is, however, contained within every human being, the capacity to make big and small adjustments as circumstances call for it. We can change. We can respond to events in a different way today than we may have responded a few years ago… or a few days ago.
As we conclude this series, the big idea here is simple: Be more committed to Belief than Balance. Belief is akin to a powerful rocket that can take you in the direction of where you want to go. Passion is the fuel. Your purpose is the life you’re aiming for.
There is no technology that will get you where you’re going pain-free, unscathed or “on-target” the entire time. That said, it is pointless to be upset at yourself for past missteps that have required course corrections. It is unproductive to burden yourself with huge unnecessary obstacles of unforgiveness when you chose to be bitter toward others for the pain they brought into your life. And it is asking for even more frustration to try to seek and achieve life balance.
Instead, believe in yourself and the unique set of God-given talents and passions planted inside of you. Believe you were made for better things. Believe you will get the help you ask for. And believe that with frequent little adjustments as you go, you will grow your way to where ever you want to go and whatever you want accomplish.
You do not have to achieve balance in order to say No to energy-draining distractions that lead to nowhere really, really fast.