A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

How many balls are you juggling?

Do you know the story of the five balls? I've handed out this story many times in workshops, on topics ranging from body image for fitness leaders to work-life balance for government executives. So when I first saw this retired charm which, as far as I can tell, has the boring name of "lines and balls," I immediately thought of this story. I thought the charm had five balls, but turns out it has six. Read the story first and then I'll ask you what meaning I should attach to that sixth ball.

Now let me get me this out of the way right away. I have a thirteen-year-old son and you cannot say the word “balls” around him without lots of snickering. And I will use the word many times, so I hope you can manage to read this story without too much snickering.

The Story of the Five Balls

"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls. 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 it 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."

Don't you think that should be printed and pinned in everybody's work space? At the end of this post I've added a photo version of the handout I use in workshops. Please feel free to print it and post it in your own office.

I first encountered - and made note of - this story in James Patterson's novel Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, and he is frequently given credit for this quote. However it is more correctly cited as the Commencement Address at Georgia Tech in 1996 by then President and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Bryan Dyson. In his novel Patterson replaces the word “spirit” with “integrity” and I’m not sure which I prefer - I like both. Patterson also ends his version of the story with, “And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.”

Bryan Dyson
But Dyson's short speech, given almost twenty years ago, actually included more. This is the remainder of his speech:
"You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
How?

Don’t undermine your worth by comparing yourself with others. It is because we are different that each of us is special.

Don’t set your goals by what other people deem important. Only you know what is best for you.

Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart. Cling to them as you would your life, for without them, life is meaningless.

Don’t let your life slip through your fingers by living in the past or for the future. By living your life one day at a time, you live all the days of your life.

Don’t give up when you still have something to give. Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you are less than perfect. It is this fragile thread that binds us to each together.

Don’t be afraid to encounter risks. It is by taking chances that we learn how to be brave.

Don’t shut love out of your life by saying it’s impossible to find time. The quickest way to receive love is to give; the fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly; and the best way to keep love is to give it wings!

Don’t run through life so fast that you forget not only where you’ve been, but also where you are going.

Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.

Don’t be afraid to learn. Knowledge is weightless, a treasure you can always carry easily.

Don’t use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved. Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way."

Some references also include the following in his speech: "Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.” I like this summary.

When I had a major depressive episode in my twenties I realized that I was juggling a lot of responsibilities - or balls - and when I was thrown one more ball they all came tumbling down around me – like the Cat in the Hat. Do you remember that story? Well, just in case, here is part of it.
 
'Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.
I can hold up the cup
And the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship
And a little toy man!
And look!  With my tail
I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan
As I hop on the ball!
But that is not all.
Oh, no.
That is not all...'

Let’s pause here in the story so I can ask you, what are the things that you are juggling? Look at this picture of the Cat in the Hat and see if you can add your own labels to some of those things. Make one work and another family. Some of us juggle children, aging parents, even pets in our family. Others juggle going to school or getting training or professional development. Maybe you’re trying to make your marriage or relationship a priority. Add a label if you’re trying to find time to be involved in your community, church, or other volunteer opportunities. We try to find time for hobbies like gardening or photography, or other forms of recreation or exercise. Or maybe you want to fit in travel. We juggle managing our households, making meals, doing laundry. That's a lot to juggle, and I frequently drop the last one!

Now think of yourself as that cat on the ball juggling all those things - hopping on the ball is optional. How does it feel to juggle all those balls? Hmmm, do you remember what ELSE happened to the Cat in the Hat?


Why do we feel we have to juggle so much? When my children were younger I was teaching them some social graces and I told them that if someone holds out their hand to introduce themselves you should shake their hand and say, “Nice to meet you.” Or you could say, “How do you do?” Now, what do you think I taught them to say if someone says, “How are you?” Usually we say, “Fine, thank you.” But that doesn’t seem to be what most of us answer these days when someone asks, “How are you?” What do YOU say when asked that question? “Pretty busy.” “Oh, I’m so stressed.” "I have so much on my plate." Why do we do that?  Do we value being busy and stressed? Are we saying, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW!”?

Regardless of what you are taught - by society, your employer, or your family - it doesn’t make you a better person to be busy and stressed. It just makes you a busier, and more stressed person. If someone throws you a ball, you get to choose if you want to catch it or not. It's a choice, whether you want to juggle it or not. And remember, some of the balls are glass and some are rubber.

Some time ago I started collecting the retired classic Pandora charms and with the addition of a few current charms I've ended up with this bracelet I'm calling "Vintage Charm." Without really planning to, I've ended up with lots of charms with gold balls on them. Which brings us back to the question about the "lines and balls" charm. If the rubber ball is work, and the four glass balls are family, health, friends and spirit, what would we name the sixth ball on the “lines and balls” charm? Someone suggested the sixth could be "self-love," "my needs," or simply, "me." What do you think? Which balls are you going to grab?


Please feel free to save and print this to remind you of The Story of the Five Balls

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