Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 12, 2017

Achieving Writing Life Balance -- A Story of Balls

During those weeks when you're juggling a lot of commitments, especially for writing parents whose kids are out of school, writing-life balance is freaking hard to achieve.

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

One of my day job hats is adult education with a group of accountants. You wouldn't think an accounting firm would be a hotbed of sexy thought-provoking concepts... But in the seven 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 Dyson's quote on my mind ever since.

I can't tell you what a freeing concept "work as a rubber ball" was for me, after the many times I've gone far past my limits when it comes to work. So many of us have the notion that the "work" ball defines us more than the other four. It doesn't! I know it doesn't. But like the rest of you, I am still a work in progress.

James Patterson was also inspired and used this quote in his bestselling book, Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas. And if that isn't enough magnificence about "the balls," check out this video (watching this guy juggle mesmerized me and made me tired).

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

Here are a few more gems on writing life balance, from other writers who know way more than I do: 

Now go forth, y'all, and enjoy all the parts of your life to the fullest this summer. You've got this.

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!

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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 18+ 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, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm


Juggling photo credit: By Backlit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

35 comments on “Achieving Writing Life Balance -- A Story of Balls”

  1. Jenny, I have nothing to add, because I stink at any kind of balance (and no, that's not a broken leg reference, although, now that I think about it....)

    But for those who are struggling, know that it will get better. The kids WILL grow up. Someday you WILL retire (which does not suck, trust me). If you can't squeeze in writing in more than 10 minute increments right now, know that when your life eases, the writing will still be there.

    I did a Write Stuff video about this subject that may help: https://youtu.be/dx6fIVtnP5g

    Above all, DO NOT beat yourself up!

    Hugs to all the busy ones out there....

    1. I finally made this shift in my head the year my girl went to school. I took on an extra project that stressed me out and wiped out my family time...and the meeting in this post happened.

      Of course then I beat myself up and stressed that I'd shattered the family ball. But I talked to my husband, and asked him to remind me how this felt the next time I tried to take on too much. Thanks to that conversation, he's reminded me (gently) twice to say no to projects that would mess up our family life mojo. Yes, we have less money, but we are all happier.

  2. Wow. That quote is both liberating and slightly terrifiying, because I tend to treat the work ball as the one most likely to shatter. This will take some mulling over and some change in perspective on my part. I think it will help. Thank you.

    1. You're welcome, Kathy! I lived that way for years and, just in the last year or so, have adjusted my thinking to put my family and home life before the day job. I've been so much happier! As a writer, it's hard because if there are no books written, there is no money. Period. The struggle is real!

  3. Wow, Jenny Hansen! This is the most inspirational article I've read anywhere for months. Terrific post!

  4. Perfect timing on this post. Summertime here means five teenaged boys asleep in the bonus room (not all mine). I know I struggle with balancing family time and writing time. Picturing the bouncing ball is a mind-settler, a reminder to exhale. Thanks for this post!

      1. I only have two, others are friends that visit frequently. In the summer, I am definitely at the grocery store every other day. Boys and food, a happy combination.

        1. I have to confess it - I adore teenaged boys. They are such a glorious combination of helpless laughter, moodiness and soft hearts. Enjoy it!

  5. Work life balance has been a critical component of my life since I was in my early 20's. I was widowed at 24 and the mother of our three children 6, 4 &2. My first challenge was going back to school so I could get a job that would allow them to have what they needed in life. After school, when I went to work I chose school teaching for the love of it and the schedule that would match my children. I soon realized it would not meet my goal of providing for them in a manner I was committed to. When I changed to a 8-5 job I was determined to never work late of go in on Saturdays like so many of my co-workers and skipped chatting at the water fountain, wandering around the office socializing and long lunches. When I worked I worked and when I went home work didn't exist until the next day at the office. Both balls got 100% of me for their allotted time. That insured that my family and my job got the best of me. It requires determination and diligence not to be lured away from one or the other but it definitely can be done.

    1. You had a lot of loss early, and look at you, rising to the challenge. I'm all the way impressed with you! Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  6. Amen. Thanks for this reminder. I've gotten nearly nothing done on my WIP these last two weeks, but I have enjoyed visits from far-flung friends, smelled a lot of puppy breath, talked to my college-age kids (as opposed to watch them zip out the door or stumble past my office when they get up at noon), cooked real meals (the kind you serve with good wine), sang a duet with my daughter in my parents' church, picked blueberries, and harvested garlic. It's a conscious thing though, this closing of the laptop and pushing aside the guilt. I love the image of the balls - hadn't heard it before. I'm going to keep the superball I found (while vacuuming!) on my desk as a reminder.

    1. Go, Cara!!!! Work that summertime wonder. I am very jealous of that puppy giving you cute breath. We are totally getting a dog this Fall. I'm glad you can have a tangible reminder, plus cool playtime, with the superball. 🙂

  7. Perfect, Jenny. The number of times I have struggled with a work deadline as if the world would end if I missed it, and, you know what? Sometimes I did miss and the planet survived. But using that work as an excuse for forgetting to call my dad -- I can never get that back. Thanks!

    1. Those are indeed the hard memories...where you missed a moment that you can't get back. Thankfully, I have a big picture husband that nudges me out of deadline/work Minutiae Land. He's my secret weapon for work-life balance. 🙂

    2. Ouch, James. When I think of the times "The Big Guy" had corn flakes for dinner because I was writing and unavailable...

  8. Excellent post! I discovered the importance of life balance when I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. At the time, I thought my life would never be the same. Thankfully, I've survived and repaired the damaged glass ball. Thanks for sharing, Jenny 🙂

    1. Joanne, it made my day to hear that you have beaten that. I had a friend with inflammatory breast cancer and it was scary. Good on you for learning to balance the important things. You inspire me!

  9. Excellent post! As a life coach & coaching trainer (and writer, of course!), I work with life balance with all of my clients. The bouncing ball is a great metaphor, as it gives the image of recovery. A great tool (one I use for myself) is a balance wheel. Now, you can find these all over the internet filled out for you, but if you make your own, it's even more powerful. You're the expert on your life, so choose your own headings. Mine are, Family, Writing, Work, Finances, Travel, Play, Social, and Learning.

    The key to a successful balance wheel, is scaling your CURRENT LEVEL of satisfaction in each area, AND understanding they do not need be equal to signify balance. Instead, after coloring in your wheel and taking note of the created visual, ask yourself this question: "If I were to improve my level of satisfaction in one area, so it affected all of the others in a positive manner, which area would that be?" Make the adjustments on your wheel, then reflect upon what you notice.

    An example, based on mine, shows my CURRENT level of satisfaction in the area of Travel as a 3, while Writing is at an 8. And I'm good with that, knowing how important my current writing project is (and other areas in my life), my 3 in Travel is actually well balanced with Writing.

    Give it a try, and see how it works out. You might discover something new!. Cheers. -SRG

    1. You've just rocked some serious deadlines and had a LOT going on...I say you NEED that break and you shouldn't feel guilty about it at all. 🙂

  10. I so wish I'd known about the balls earlier in life... Thanks for an uplifting, resourceful-filled post, Jenny!

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