“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” – this paragraph was a part of the speech of Brian G. Dyson, the President and CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises at Georgia Tech’s 172nd commencement back in 1991.
I happened to read the full text of Brian Dyson’s speech several years ago, at the time, when I was seriously considering quitting my high level job in a large multinational. During my corporate career, I accumulated valuable, enriching experiences, met outstanding people, led challenging projects and game-changing business initiatives. It was fun. But, at the same time, I felt juggling faster and faster, at higher and higher pace, trying to balance and keep in motion the spheres of my life. And in my daily struggle for balance, I had impression that the life was passing by me…
My story is not unique. Work-life balance as ubiquitous problem of nowadays has become a subject of numerous studies, publications and a buzzword of today’s workplace. Wide array of articles offers life hacks on how to achieve “better work-life balance”: Unplug. Meditate. Exercise. Leave work at work. Say “No”. Focus. Change structure of your life.
At that moment, I felt that, to achieve better equilibrium amongst my life priorities, first of all, I should juggle fewer spheres. So, that time I decided to take out one ball, called “Work”, the rubber one, but still important.
What have I gained? More time with my family, development of healthy lifestyle habits, pursuing my hobbies and learning new things. With the ball called “Work” idle in my pocket, I managed to slow down my life and started not only enjoying each day of it, but also recognizing the things, which were of real life importance for me.
I came to conclusion that, rather than trying to balance all main facets of life – family, friends, health, spirit, work, whatever – it is really important to cultivate an internal balance – an equilibrium amongst emotions, mind and body. We can call this “being at peace with oneself” – let it be another citation from Brian Dyson’s speech.
What helped me to come to peace with myself was rather my new understanding that, through the lifecycle, we proceed by stages of development and that, at different life stages, we ride different waves. I remember my priorities and aspirations changing over time. When I graduated from the university, started my career and went out to the world I was striving to make my mark. At further life stage, I was bringing up my children, building up the wellbeing of my family, advancing my career and developing international experience. My current life stage involves reflection upon the true meaning of my life and upon my further life path.
Exploring the topic of life stages, I came across the book “Your Life in Rhythm” by Bruce Miller that not only resonated extremely well with my thinking and emotions, but also was a kind of reflection of my conclusions and ideas on life stages: “Different seasons of life call for different kinds of living”1, call for different expectations and ambitions, opportunities and joys. Seasons of our life generate different waves, allowing us to benefit from periods of good fortune and success. I believe we should listen to ourselves, feel and sense, which wave to ride at specific life season or at certain life occasion.
The bitter truth is that the life is series of choices and decisions we make, of gains and losses. As for me, it might be possible to balance life priorities for insignificant, very short period of time, but is unrealistic that such balance will be maintained as the time flows. At certain times we need to work hard, to sacrifice in order achieve what we aspire for, but other times should propose us relief, renewal or contemplation. “We need off-season in our lives too, in order to recover and to be at our best during the peak times.2”
With these conclusions in mind, I have not decided giving up juggling life priorities as a concept. But, my view is that as a juggler I can decide how many objects to keep in motion in the air at the same time, alternately tossing and catching them. I will definitely juggle fewer of them at each given life period. I feel that whatever I have grasped from my exploration on life stages will allow me selecting the right spheres to juggle during each specific life season, putting the other balls safely in the pocket to take them out when their time comes. Albeit my crystal spheres have scratches and lines – I call these lines “life experiences” – I value them all. These marks and damages are results of my learnings, life choices and sacrifices, which I have made by now and which I will make further on.
- 1,2 Bruce Miller “Your Life in Rhytm”, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois
- Brian Dyson’s Georgia Tech’s 172nd Commencement