I am constantly working on multiple different aspects of the business. It’s not about multitasking or single-tasking but simply the amount and diversity of work that needs to be done. From the time I start my computer or walk in the front door of the building until the time that I finally shut everything down for the night I am pulled in a plethora of different directions. I spend time building up the team and developing their skills, managing project work, facilitating the management of other’s project work, answering questions and problem solving, balancing coaching and empowering, responding to emails, answering phone calls, and a whole host of other tasks. While some of those words might not be words you’d use to describe your day (heck a couple of them you may not even be 100% sure what they mean), I assure you much of what you and I are doing are very similar. At least that is what I always think while I’m working. This is not specific to me, everyone has to balance this, we’re all in this together, and I am not being singled out with all of this work there is just much to be done and I’m fortunate to be able to contribute to it.
Recently someone pointed out all of the things I’m juggling and how I never seem to drop a ball. My first instinct was to insist that that is absolutely untrue I do drop balls, more than I’d like to admit. We moved on the in the conversation but my brain could not let go of that image. Am I truly juggling more than others and doing it better? That just doesn’t seem likely to me, there is nothing special about me and what I do that would set me apart so there must be some other explanation. Still the image of the juggler hadn’t left my mind. It made me think back to a friend I had in high school who was something of a renaissance man. He had talent in literally everything he touched and juggling was no different. He could juggle a whole bunch of different objects and throw one or two behind his back and catch them again. He could incorporate new things as people tossed them in and toss or kick some of them to people watching. And he did it all with a smile that could keep 16 year old kids who would typically rather be testing out their new driving freedom or texting, engaged while watching juggling.
I started to think of my own juggling act the same way. I’m doing the same thing as he was just with different balls. Some of mine are crystal, some are clay, and some are rubber. Obviously I need to keep the balls of crystal in the air. If one of those drops I, and anyone in the vicinity of me, are in big trouble because there will be shrapnel and there is just no putting it back in rotation. The clay balls might fall to the ground. Not ideal because they will surely be misshapen when they are picked up but they can also be smoothed out and put back together in the same, or nearly the same, shape they were in when we began. The rubber balls are the fun ones. Those are the balls that can drop to the ground and pop right back up into rotation. They might even bounce higher adding to the effect and engagement of those around you. Also important to think about here, these aren’t all my balls. Sure people might be throwing some in from the sides and sometimes I need to catch those and other times I’ll just smile and let them fly on past. Other times I need to toss a ball out, let it bounce to someone else, or let one of those clay buggers lay on the ground until someone else decides to pick it up and reshape it.
Something about thinking back to watching him juggle made me realize that I was right all along. There wasn’t anything particularly special about me just as their wasn’t anything particularly special about him. We both took something that we had the basic skills for, had a strategy, prioritized, and considered the consequences. You’re doing the same thing. Your balls of crystal might be critical work functions, feeding your kids a healthy meal, or drinking your water. It is whatever you deem to be the top priority and something to be treated as a non-negotiable part of life. Your rubber balls might be group project at work, the laundry, or reading books with the kids at night. These things can take a beat (or a bounce) before you jump back in or maybe they even bounce over to someone else’s plate. Your clay balls could be a passion project at work, spring cleaning your kitchen, upgrading your workout equipment. The clay is something that can fall and just sit, but only for a time, before you (or someone else) pick them back up, dust them off, and reprioritize them into the flow of the act.
At the end of the day, you have to have a good technique and skilled hands. You have to know how high to throw the balls and when to take your eye off one. You have to know which ones are yours to juggle and which ones to pass off. How to catch one being thrown in from the side and when to allow it to just pass you right by. The skill comes in prioritizing them and treating them with the care each requires that allows you to have the best act. Will there be times that a crystal ball drops, yes. It will be messy and troublesome and we’ll all survive and keep moving forward. Will there be a time that you forget the rubber ball is in fact rubber and treat it as though life itself would end should it fall, sure. You’ll learn from it to help you improve your prioritization next time. The magic comes not in a person being so special they’re able to juggle but in putting in the time, the willingness to drop a few, and the continued practice for a great performance.