Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 31, 2014

Achieving Work-Life Balance...A Story of Balls

Sometimes life feels like THIS...

Sometimes life feels like THIS...

During weeks like this, when I'm juggling a lot of commitments, I think a lot about work-life balance and how freaking hard it is to achieve.

I got some perspective from a very unexpected source recently. I got my epiphany at work.

Many of you know that I do adult education by day and I currently work with a group of accountants. You wouldn't think an accounting firm would be a hotbed of sexy thought-provoking concepts... I sure didn't.

Yet, in the four years I've been working with them, I've learned more about writing and work-life balance than I ever expected to know.

THIS quote came up in a prep session for Not-For-Profit Corporations:

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.

~ Brian Dyson (b. 1935) CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises

I've had that quote on my mind all week.

I can't tell you what a freeing concept that was for me, after the many times I've gone far past my limits for work. So many of us have the notion that work defines us more than the other four balls.

[Newsflash: It doesn't!]

Here's a story from a writer who learned this lesson the hard way and wrote a lovely post using this same quote. And if that wasn't enough magnificence about "the balls," check out this video (watching this guy juggle mesmerized me).

Incidentally, here's the quote that headlined the Not-For-Profit workshop I mentioned above -- it mirrors our philosophy here at WITS:

You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.~ John Wooden

What are your thoughts on the "five balls?" Do you have a quote that you live by? How are you at achieving a good work-life balance? We'd love to hear about it down in the comments!

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

40 comments on “Achieving Work-Life Balance...A Story of Balls”

  1. I'm not sure it's possible to have balance all the time (like being happy all the time - it's elusive, and ever changing) but I think we have to stay aware all the time, to be sure we TRY.

    A great reminder, Jenny, thanks.

  2. Love the juggling balls analogy, especially since when life gets really busy I often say I'm juggling as fast as I can! To keep my priorities straight, though, my motto is always "family first." I'm not sure that balance is something we can ever achieve, but keeping our priorities sorted out ensures we focus on what is most important. Thanks for sharing the quotes, Jenny!

  3. Jenny, loved this post. As a recovering workaholic I can surely attest to the fact that the family ball will get bent. A single parent holding down two jobs, I thought buying them things was my major responsibility ... I am blessed that the family ball, although bent out of shape, has survived.

    I can only tell young mothers to take time for themselves. I waited until I was retired to follow a passion that had haunted me from when I was a child, a teenager pretending, a young adult imagining, a grown woman waiting. Don't wait. Carve out time for you. You can't take care of family, health or anything else if you lose yourself.

    My single pearl of wisdom came from a good friend, my best friend. She told me that life has choices and we can make them by considering everyone but ourselves, or we can make them and take care of ourselves.

    This is what she told me that I pass along.

    Don't throw away time. It is the only thing you can never get back. You can go back and fix a lot of things. You can recover financial loss. You can fix a broken bone. But you can never get back time. Once it's gone, it never returns. So use it wisely 🙂

  4. That's exactly why I went freelance years ago and then why I've cut back significantly on the freelance in the last couple of years. The family and spirit balls were looking mighty scuffed.

    Great post, Jenny. Thanks for the reminder (very good timing, btw)!!

  5. Great blog. I had a crit partner once who stayed home during Christmas while her family left to go to her folks home for the holidays. She did it because an agent said if she changed her book and got it back to her quickly, she could sell the book. So she missed Christmas with her entire family and worked on that book. When she handed it in, the agent said, not good enough. That agent soon went out of business, my friend's book was never published and she could never get that holiday with her family back. She quite writing altogether because she'd lost control of all balance. I'm no expert at balance myself--there's never enough time. I think it's something we writers struggle with a lot because we want so much to produce an art to proud of but at what expense?

    1. Shar, that makes me so sad to hear about her missing that holiday. You're exactly right -- that's the kind of thing that puts a huge dent in both the family ball and the spirit ball.

      I think the struggle to produce good work doesn't have to preclude the rest of our lives. I love the way Laura does it, just a little bit every day. It can work.

    2. Shar, I remember that Christmas well. Not only did she ruin her own holiday, she had all of us in the crit group editing day and night, trying to help her get that manuscript ready to send back to the agent. Never again!

      Jenny, you hit the nail on the head with this post. (Old analogy I picked up from my dad years ago.) Balancing a writer's life with family, spirit, etc. is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Some days I fail miserably, but others I set aside time for the most important parts of my life -- and I don't mean writing.

  6. Inspiring post. We tend to forget what is important in the rush to a false sense of accomplishment when really it's none of the things we think we need or must have. For me, I need faith, hope, and love, and those come from God, family, friends. The greatest, love, is the highest achievement. To love and be loved. What greater goal? What more satisfying life? Thanks for the reminder, Jenny. 🙂

  7. This post resonated with me more than many others on this blog (and I love, love, love this blog). I finally started writing when I saw this magnet in a B&N. The author is unknown. "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"

  8. A lot of bosses actually don't want their employees to overwork themselves. However, for some reason, they rarely say so. A lot of people wait for permission from management not to burn themselves out.

    1. I agree with that, Eric. It's really (REALLY) hard to set your own limits, and it's a constant battle I have with myself. My hubs is so good at saying no to the non-essentials, that I try really hard to emulate him. 🙂

  9. What will I regret at the end of my life? This is the question that I ask myself when faced with a big decision - and usually those work- or money-related ones. That almost always sets me on the right path and then I step back and appreciate that I have those choices in the first place.

  10. I spent my teenage years watching my mum and my sister, both nurses, always put the needs of their employers and co-workers before their own. And that word 'needs' is a bit of a loose one too. They could never say no and if they did their guilt was immense. I promised myself that I wouldn't follow that path. But, as a young teacher, I did.

    Now as a SAHM and aspiring writer I'm still working on getting the balance right. Between my children, the house work, my husband, our extended family and friends, my responsibilities and my desire to write and make writing a career - finding a way to balance these things is hard. But worth it I think and just as someone else mentioned, the key is priorities...and loving yourself as much as you love everyone else.

  11. This is hard. When I'm writing, I feel guilty about the dirty house. When I'm cleaning, I feel guilty I'm not writing, etc. And then there is squeezing in exercise, family time and even down time. I need to remember it's not about accomplishment, but finding satisfaction and experiencing love every day.

    1. I so get that guilt. The decision sometimes seems to be, "Ok, what shall I feel guilty about today?! Ha! I guess we should wait till the end of the week and look back. Things may look more even-Steven so we don't have to feel guilty.

    2. Okay, I'm going to confess it. I feel guilty about parenting a LOT. But my house? Almost never. I don't know why. I do know the best $80 I spend every month is to get my house cleaned by 2 people for 2 hours. I look forward to that day all month. 🙂

    3. can you afford some help with cleaning??? or hire someone to come in and do laundry?

  12. I really love that quote. I read it to my daughter and she said, "You can always get a new job, but you can't get a new family." So true!!! My problem is I feel so far behind. I just started writing 3 years ago, but I struggle for balance too. Work hard, play hard!!!

    1. You raised a wise daughter, Susie! I've found that the harder I work, the harder it is to break away and play. I don't know why. 🙂 Having a toddler makes a huge difference in how much I say yes to these days though.

  13. Great post and thank you SO much for linking to my staff writer's (Nellie Sabin) awesome post about her experience with work-life balance and those darned 5 balls!

  14. So much wisdom in your post, quotes and comments, Jenny. So glad I stopped by. (It's been a while, I'm a bit sad to say.)

    I try to go by "How important is it?" I too, fall under the educator umbrella, and you caught me in a week when I've got four reports due. I also need to get a head start on report cards, etc, and just learned I lost 11 days to get two of the reports done b/c of how spring break was reworked due to past snow days.

    Did you get all that, lol?

    Anyway, once in the past, during another looney week. an epiphany hit me. If, at the risk of sounding morbid, I somehow moved on from this life before the stuff was due---IT WOULDN'T GET DONE! Not for the short haul, anyway.

    Love the analogy and I look forward to watching that video 🙂


    1. I DID get all that, and I feel for you. And you're right, we're not indispensible in this life to anyone except ourselves and our family. 🙂

      1. God always gets me thru, Jenny, esp once I vent, lol. I do my best to up my focus and go from there. Now to apply that to my writing and speaking aspirations in the off hours 🙂

  15. I am a wife, mother, middle school teacher, a blogger, and aspiring author. The trouble I have is that with my job (teaching 8th grade English) I am never allowed to "drop the ball." If I drop that ball in any way, I will have students, parents, and administrators chewing me out. As a result, I am often full of resentment because work takes up at least 75% of my life and the rest I give to my husband and children. I get one hour a night to myself and I spend that time exercising because I need it to relieve my stress. So the only time I can do things for my "spirit" are at 5:30am on a Saturday until 7:00am when my kids get up. I think if I had a regular job I wouldn't feel so guilty slacking from time to time, but this job doesn't give me any leeway whatsoever.

  16. Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Ah yes, the eternal juggle! This time of year I am juggling more and more, s I'm writing new things, editing old, arranging to take my son on college tours and dealing with his stress over test taking, all while working full time and dealing with the stress of not having a boss. Sort of waving in the wind until we find out who we're going to work for.
    Sometimes I feel as if my quote is "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!?
    Do you have a favorite quote?

  17. The quote that stays with me is: "If not excellence, what? If not excellence now, when?" I made a small poster of this quote & had it hanging on the wall of my cubicle - to remind me to do my best every day, not to slough off on something just because I didn't care for it.
    I love the quote you started with!

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