The Art of Juggling Life

Last week I found myself forgetting to pursue my only resolution for this year: I was scrolling the news feed of a popular work-related social media during my free time and a viral post caught my attention. 

It was an extract of a brief speech attributed to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, one of the most influential corporate leaders of the world. After doing some research, I found out that Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola, most likely delivered the speech at the commencement ceremony of the Georgia Tech Institute in 1996 (the downside of the internet – verify the sources!).

Regardless of the dispute about the authorship, the lines posted online offered a remarkable message that describes the difficulties we all have in keeping the different parts of our life in balance. 

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some 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.”

Those few words reveal the power of the metaphor. In just a few moments, I thought about my past experiences and those of many people I met over the last few years. At some point or another, we all have messed up on what was the material of the 5 balls we were gasping to juggle: we wrongly assumed that the “work ball” was made of thin glass and that the “family-health-friends-spirit balls” were made of the most robust rubber you can find.

I think about how much energy the people I know have dedicated to a job that, in some cases, is merely a month-end paycheck. I think about the uncertainty of fresh graduates that struggle to find job stability. I think about how many people feel drained and burned out for an unsustainable work culture (just to put it into perspective, the popular work-related website surveyed over 1,500 US employees across different industries, finding out that 57% of the sample was suffering this condition in 2021).

And what’s the reason for all this widespread struggle? While sometimes this is the result of a screwed job market, the reason at the base of an unbalanced life is also the pursuit of unhealthy values such as money, success, and social cliches. Paradoxically enough, many successful professionals – despite their “elite” job categories – are those more exposed to the risk of being trapped in this self-defeating rat race.

My last summer reading – Mark Manson’s bestseller book “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” – suggests a remedial attitude to this detrimental mindset.

This key passage reminds me how to see things from a different angle when I find myself being hooked on the same mentality: “The world is constantly telling you that the path for a better life is more, more, more – buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. (…) Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business”. 

I am aware that nice words won’t pay personal and family obligations, rent, and bills – unless you are a full-time writer. I just think that the current socioeconomic context leads us to lose our balance too easily, and sometimes we all need to recalibrate priorities.  

The next time I notice losing one of the 5 “life-balls”, I will just remember that juggling is not a task to perform, but rather a game to play. Will you do the same?