This quote came across my feed a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. If you haven’t seen it yet (or even if you have), it talks about something that concerns all of us, especially when we are solo responsible for all or part of our lives and the lives of those around us.
All of us juggle so many competing priorities all the time. Whether it’s ourselves, our families, our hobbies, or our jobs, each of them has a stack of demands and desires to balance even before we try to rank them against each other. It can be nearly impossible to determine what’s important and what’s not, not to mention what needs to be taken care of right now. A lot of advice revolves around how to make those choices, and how to fit as much as possible into the limited hours of the day. We can talk about being efficient in how we get things done, and carving extra minutes out to squeeze out a few more checks onto our to-do lists.
But let’s be honest. Things fall through the cracks. All the time even. There’s no use in denying it happens, no matter how guilty or ashamed we feel about it and no matter how much we wish it didn’t happen. It’s simply the human condition of modern life, when there are so many fast-paced, competing demands on our attention. The real trick, I think, is exactly what Nora Roberts points out in her analogy: it’s not about which balls we juggle; it’s about which balls we let fall. Acknowledging that some will in fact be dropped a healthier perspective, and one that can help alleviate those bad feelings when something just doesn’t get done. More importantly, knowing that we can’t keep all the balls in the air means we can focus on the ones that are most important. Instead of trying to be Superwoman with a circus act, maybe a little more elegant and classic routine is called for.
I really liked the idea of plastic balls and glass balls, and suggest that it can be expanded and extended. Some plastic is brittle and shatters when it hits the ground. Some glass is that thick, bubbly stuff that just thuds and sits, waiting for us to come get it. Some aren’t even balls at all. Sometimes you’ll drop a ball you were sure was going to break, and it ends up just fine. Sometimes it seems okay to let a ball go, but it falls and bursts like a little bomb. Once in a while, one ball falls and a whole chain of others you didn’t realize were connected goes with it. Occasionally, one kind of ball stays whole after being dropped time after time, except that odd moment when it doesn’t. Or maybe a ball is fine unless it’s been dropped three times before. Other times, you struggle and struggle to keep all the balls up and after just one dramatically crashes to the ground, the rest suddenly become easier to manage. It’s not all about dropping balls either. Some of them will float into the air and seem to hang there forever with barely any effort. Others need to be caught over and over because they plummet so quickly to the ground. A few will feel perfect in your hand and perfect when they leave. A few more will scald you when you touch them then stick to your fingers as you try to juggle them. Whether it’s your self-care, your partner, your child, your pet, your weekend passion, or the thing you do to pay the bills – each is composed of a handful or more of balls of all types.
The problem is that we can’t always know which ball will behave how; we can only guess. Those guesses may be informed by observation, past experience, and outside input, and we can get pretty good at figuring out which ball is plastic, and which is glass…which one can gracefully float to the ground, to be picked up when there’s space for it again, and which one we must keep in the air at all costs. If we screw up? That’s okay. I promise. Pick up the balls that have survived and start by tossing one back up again. Then another. And another. Maybe bring someone in on the show and have them catch a few and throw them back. Soon, you’ll be back.