I learned how to juggle as a teenager. Today, aged 37, I learned that I can stop juggling.
It all started with a laptop, a camera bag, a jacket, a phone, two lost teenage girls, and a boarding pass. Oh, and a gentleman by the name of Arvind Gudi from Drexel University who caught me juggling.
He said “It will be okay,” as I reluctantly turned off my phone for the flight home, fretting about whether the girls last seen at our house an hour before would be located again or not. Then he asked me what I do. I said:
I write for magazines (local and national), maintain a blog, write stories, write marketing and promotional materials, run a marketing and promotions business, manage websites, build brands, connect businesses with online markets, manage other peoples’s blogs, volunteer at a soup kitchen, raise ducks, keep goats, cat, quail, fish, raise children, homeschool, clean house, do laundry, cook, run errands.
He asked me: “What if all of those things were the same thing?”
I said: “I’m not following you.”
He said: “If they were all the same thing, then you wouldn’t have to stress about getting it all done, because anything you do in one area is time spent in all the other areas too.”
I cleverly rejoined: “Huh?”
He drew an imaginary circle on the tray between our seats and verbally labeled it: “Things you do for the children.” Another circle: “Things you do for your clients.” A third circle: “Things you do for yourself or husband or whatever.”
He asked, “Would it be simpler if all of those things were just one thing (drawing a fourth circle around them all), if you were doing them all for the same reason?”
I agreed, though failing yet to see the point. After all, they’re *not* all the same thing, right? That’s why I have to juggle so much.
He asked if I had priorities in each of the categories—things that are more important than others. Yes, of course I do. He drew an imaginary pyramid based on the circle around the three circles and culminating in a point a few inches above.
“Isn’t there something up here that is the highest priority for all of these things below? Some common reason you do them all? What is that thing?”
I was still being thick and wanted to change the conversation to a subject I could sound intelligent on. He gently led me back, “We’ll come back to that in a minute. What is it that is the reason for all these things?”
I don’t know. I guess. Um. Well… I’ve done a little work in this sphere, in the realm of meaning and purpose in life so eventually I managed to trundle something out:
“Joy, I guess. I want my children to be joyful because of the gratitude they feel for all that they have and their hopes for the future, I want my clients to be joyful because of the way I free them up and open new opportunities for them, I want my husband to be joyful and me to be joyful… and then I guess gratitude is important and—“
“Okay, stop. Let’s just look at joy, just because that’s the first thing you said—maybe it is, maybe it isn’t the key, but we’ll assume for a minute that it is. Where does joy come from?”
Again, I rambled but the first thing out of my mouth was, “Gratitude for what we have.”
“Okay, gratitude. Now, assuming that’s the answer for you, then we now have a way to see how all of these things (circle around the circles again) are the same thing. Because everything you do is for joy, anything you do is the same thing. Time spent here (points to imaginary circle) is the same as time spent here (another circle).”
Wow. I’m not sure I fully comprehend it yet, but I’m beginning to see how this understanding is going to change my life. I’m writing this on my way home to my family after a week away. They will be waiting at baggage retrieval. The reunion will be joyful, but chaos will soon ensue. Life sure looks complicated when you’re in the middle of it.
But maybe it’s actually quite simple: What can I do to create the most joy for myself and my loved ones?
I’ll still go on doing the things that need to be done, but it won’t be a juggling act, because it’s all time spent on the same thing. Arvind carefully pointed out that it’s a lifetime’s work to master not juggling, but it’s an art I’m committed to learning.
And by the way, the teenagers were fine—just living in the moment, joyfully unaware that a walk around the neighborhood would set the adults into such a tizzy. We could probably all learn something from teenagers (though it would be nice to let someone know if we’re going to disappear for a bit).