One of my daughters likes to journal. She doesn’t do it every day, but she does it more than me. I make excuses for not writing, although I understand the value of emptying one’s mind first thing in the morning, which is what Julia Cameron calls “Morning Pages” in her breakthrough book, The Artist’s Way. A mentor suggested she give some thought to what she called “the glass balls and rubber balls” in her life. I was interested when she told me the analogy, so I looked up the origin of the idea. As it turns out, the modality of thinking about your life is widely attributed to a 1991 Georgia Tech commencement address given by Bryan Dyson, the former chief executive of Coca-Cola. He closed with an illustration about five balls now widely called the “Five Balls of Life.”
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling 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.
We are all jugglers.
We try to balance our efforts and create a rhythm as we go about our hours, days, months and years circumnavigating the difficulties of modern life. I have been known to call it spinning plates—which conjures the same idea as juggling balls.
We get tired of juggling.
We get tired of spinning plates.
The more balls we have in the air or plates being spun, the harder the endeavor and the more skill and concentration required. We humans are like legos. We come in all shapes, sizes and capacities, but regardless, we have a defined number of connection points and a finite amount of ability for activities. I have been accused of having lots of capacity, but I note the Guinness World Record for most balls juggled is only 11. How many are you trying to juggle and are you treating glass balls as if they are rubber?
Divorce is so difficult because marriage is indeed a glass ball, and the more times it is nicked and cut from being dropped, the harder it is to keep in the air. Think juggling broken glass in your bleeding hand.
I am currently reading The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg. In the book, Stulberg writes about understanding one’s core values. Dyson would call them glass balls. Core values are described as“foundational principles that represent your best self or the person you want to become. A few examples include authenticity, health, community, spirituality, presence, love, family, integrity, relationships, and creativity.”
I picked family, health and creativity to be my core values —in that order. What will you choose? How will you prioritize the balls you can juggle or the plates you can spin, because it does not matter how talented you are, your capacity is finite. If you visualize yourself at the end of your life on your deathbed, how would that inform the plates you spin and the balls you juggle? I do not think I will lament times missed at work, but I may regret missed opportunities with my wife, my kids, maybe my dad and certainly my creative expression which informs the next generations.
If you are struggling with the glass balls in your life, be encouraged. Everyone does. There are infinitely more attention stealers in our world today than there were 100 years ago. Our technology has developed much faster than our ability to live with it, which is a contributing factor to the mental health crisis in our country, as slick marketers work to convince us that rubber balls are made of glass.
I leave you with the challenge to establish your core values and arrange your life accordingly. Define your glass balls. But remember, family is messy. Sometimes glass balls fall and they break. If the damage is not complete, you may be able to pick them up and continue. If the broken pieces are too sharp, you may have no choice but to leave them on the ground. While your juggling act will look differently, the proverbial show will continue, and as you skillfully handle the balls remaining, you may develop the capacity for another breakable thing to become a part of your life, which is a beautiful testament to the constant evolution of our lives.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 20 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he believes every case is his most important, and he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake –family, safety, and security. He values family, health, wellness and creativity.