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Dropping All the Balls

Ever had one of those days?

You know the kind of day I am talking about. The day where all the balls you are juggling start going haywire? Right and left you are dropping them.

First you find out you forgot to pack your kids lunch. Then you realize you have an overdue bill. Next you get a call from your great aunt Lydia asking why you never talk to her anymore (for the record I do not have a great aunt Lydia). And finally you get an urgent task dropped on your lap by your boss or your church small group leader, and you stare at it in disbelief, knowing that you simply can’t get to it without burning yourself out.

Sound familiar?

I’m pretty certain most individuals have these days once in a while.

But… here’s the ugly truth… they shouldn’t be a regular thing. If this is a habitual problem in your life it is a YOU problem, not a life problem.

I hear you now… “But Maggie I don’t have any control over those things. I’m doing my best and they all come at me at once. It is just a part of my life”.

I know, I know. I once said those very same things. In fact I’ve said those very same things most of my life. I lived my life in a fairly constant “dropping the balls” state for a long time. I didn’t know an alternative.

Then something changed for me.

I got remarried.

To one of the most highly organized, relaxed, “in control” men that exist in this world. I was in awe. And… I was a hot mess.

Conflict began early as my “rush to keep the balls from falling” mentality clashed with his easy going, keep your responsibilities low, mentality. He pulled me aside one day so we could have some real serious talks about it.

I don’t recall it word for word but it went something like this.

Nathan: “Why are you so stressed all the time?”

Me: “There’s just so much to do”

Nathan: “Are they things you HAVE to do?”

Me: “Some of them”

Nathan: “And the rest?”

Me: “I feel like I have to do them to keep everyone happy”

Nathan: “What if you don’t?”…

And thus began some long discussions and explorations of the things I did because I thought I had to. The things I took on out of feelings of shame or expectation. I found that I filled almost every empty space with some task, as though being still was an indicator of worthlessness. So, even when urgent things came I could hardly manage them for all the non urgent things I had already committed to.

I began to look at the “balls falling” feeling as a warning sign. A sign that I had taken on too much. A sign that “I” was not handling life well, rather than a sign that “life” had come to get me.

The first thing I did was start to get comfortable with gaps. Gaps in activity. Gaps in my busy schedule. I began to view gaps in hecticness as not something to fill, but something to absorb and to receive. I thought I did this before as I had always loved unexpected breaks. But I still felt shame when they came… as though I was receiving a special treat I did not deserve. I cast out those thoughts and started to welcome those points of pause in my world.

I understand what you might be thinking. That’s all well and good but how does that actually affect the number of things on my plate.

Well, while it doesn’t directly, it does indirectly. I believe that what you put out into the world is attracted into your world. If you do not feel yourself worthy of breaks and feel shame when they come, then you will always find yourself in a busy atmosphere that makes you feel “worthwhile” albeit stressed. So you must start by analyzing what you ACTUALLY want… and ask yourself if the energy you are putting out aligns with that. Do you actually want breaks? Do you treat them with value when they come? Or do you routinely fill them up with energy expenditure because you don’t know how to manage the stillness? It is a valid question we all must explore.

So then, what happens once you do come to terms with the fact that you want more pauses in your world? That you are tired of always dropping the balls? Well first you need to truly analyze what life looks like, and evaluate the places that you need to begin to minimize.

My husband is an expert in this arena. Early in life he came to terms with the fact that one of the easiest ways to experience peace in his world was to downsize his world. Downsize financially, time wise, friendship wise, etc. He even lived the better portion of a year on a tiny sailboat (not the live aboard type), narrowing down his financial needs til he could enjoy the time freedom he craved.

Now I am no Nathan Miller. I wasn’t about to leave my world behind and live on a sailboat, but I was able to appreciate the minimizing mentality.

The first thing I did was a little exercise I created for these moments within my own business. This exercise has served me well over time anytime I need to take stock of my life and activities.

I sat down and made a list of every single time demanding activity in my life. Every. Single. One. Cleaning bathrooms, walking to the bus stop, planning for women’s group, mentor calls for my business partners, grocery shopping, responding to facebook messages… you get the idea. Whether it was enjoyable (watching movies with my husband), miserable (cleaning toilets), or somewhere in between (keeping up with our budget), it ended up on the list.

Then I went through each area and rated it on a scale of 1-10 in two areas. First, is it necessary/required for standard of living. 1 – not at all necessary, 10 – completely necessary. Then I rated it for enjoyment. 1 – do not enjoy at all. 10 – absolutely love.

If you decide to take the same analysis path now is the time to be really honest. Just because you volunteer at your kids class, does this actually make a big difference to your standard of living? Are you volunteering because it is a deep need within you to be a part of the school experience, or are you volunteering because you feel like it is something you “must” do out of obligation. It will be different for everyone. But if you are not honest with yourself nothing will get better.

I then analyzed those tasks that fell lowest on the spectrum in both areas.

Basically, if both of those categories were less than a five I had a serious talk with myself about whether or not this was an area to eliminate. I was shocked at how many unnecessary tasks I took on out of obligation to others, or even my own personal expectations of what a good “mom”, or “wife” was.

And wouldn’t you know it, a lot of those high numbers (especially on the enjoyment spectrum) were the ones suffering. Trying to keep all of my “low score” balls in the air usually meant I didn’t even get to invest in the things I truly enjoyed. I began seriously and earnestly removing these things. I stopped saying “yes” to energy expenditures before first putting them through this litmus. And before I knew it, I felt truly balanced for the first time in my life. My marriage improved, my mothering improved, and my mental stability improved.

Just like we hear on every plane ride, you must put on your own oxygen mask til you can put on another’s, the same mentality is at play here. You juggling endless balls out of the pressure you put on yourself, or the pressure you allow others to put on you, does not help anyone if you can’t keep yourself afloat when push comes to shove. When those balls start falling, everyone, including you, suffers. Take care of your peace and stillness if you value truly helping others. Give yourself the space and breathing room to feel and fill so that when the important things come you have the energy and time to give to them.

For all the individuals out there currently dropping the balls you are juggling, my heart goes out to you. There can always be scenarios where even a minimized life can be too full of emergencies and urgency to take those pauses, but as a general rule of thumb we often can craft the energy of our own life. Remember, that the world you have crafted is not the norm in every culture. It is worth pulling yourself back from your own bubble and recognizing the places that you can build a new normal.

Wishing you peace, stillness and a balanced “juggling” routine in the near future!