June 26, 2008

You Have to Balance Before You Can Juggle

“Please don’t talk to us about living in balance. No one does. Even space shuttles veer off course during the trip, and they have computers to guide them. Just teach us how to be better jugglers.”

That was the desperate plea of a woman who had organized an event at which Joan Borysenko was about to speak. Did Joan fall for this line of reasoning? Not really, even though she today wrote a blog entry supposedly “busting the balance myth.” I don’t know if she really meant that or it was just an attention-getting headline, but after four paragraphs, Joan comes around to admitting that balance is not a myth, but a reality. If we fall over, our productivity suffers. “When I’m in balance,” she writes, “the unbalanced hodgepodge of things on the to-do list are accomplished more effectively.”

The failings of juggling as a life metaphor are easy to see if you approach juggling in its literal reality. How many of the people who aspire to “juggle” their lives ever actually picked up three balls, or bean bags even, and tried to juggle them? It’s not nearly as easy, or as practical, as it looks. I juggle, not well, but well enough to know that it isn’t possible to do it all day long. (Incidentally, the world record: 11 hours 4 minutes 22 seconds.)

If you juggled three balls for three minutes you would know that the idea of choosing between juggling and balance is nonsense. Lose your balance while juggling, and all three balls fall to the floor, and you may have to adjust your stance to avoid hitting the floor yourself.

And so someone who asks to be a “better juggler” as an approach to an out-of-control life is really saying, “I’m not ready to face reality. Let me try to live in my fantasy world a little longer.”

It is important to be gentle with people who are not ready to face reality, but let’s not keep this life-juggling myth alive. The real reason people try to keep so many metaphorical balls in the air at one time is fear. It is fear of nothing, the fear of what they would become if their hands were empty. Take away the fear and you soon find that you are juggling only for sport — not as a way to try to keep up with an impossible life, but just for the thrill of it. And that, frankly, is what juggling should be.

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