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Distinguished speaker and leadership trainer Larry Bonine has been generous in allowing us to share his full analogy of the balls we juggle in life. The message from his inspiring narration is valuable food for thought.

Juggling Four Balls, by Larry Bonine

The story begins with the question of how many people can juggle four balls at one time.  In all the time I have been doing this exercise no one has raised their hand.  A couple, a very few have admitted to being able to juggle three, but there have been no four ball jugglers.

The point to be made is that we are all juggling four balls all the time.  The four balls are:

  • Our job
  • Our family and relationships
  • Our health
  • Our religion, our spirituality, our purpose

Now these are very special balls indeed.  Some are made of rubber, some are made of glass.  As a matter of fact, three are made of glass and only one of rubber.  If we drop the one made of rubber, it will bounce back with no problem.  We can drop it over and over and it always comes back.  The glass balls are a different story, drop one of them and they may shatter or at least when you bend down to pick them up you find they are damaged.

At this point in the story I ask the audience to please NOT raise their hands but there are people in this very room have been fired from a job.  There are people in this room who have at one point or another have said, “Take this job and shove it, I quit.”  And, there are people who have had to pick up and move because of a wife or husband’s move to another location.  Look at you, you all have jobs.  You all have good jobs.  And, you know what?  I’ll bet you could decide to quit this job you have right now, move to Arizona and within a month have a job at least as good as you have right now.  

Get the point, this job “ball” is rubber and bounces back.  The point is, how do we treat it?  Too many of us treat it as though it were made of crystal.  We sacrifice too many truly important things for a darn rubber ball that will always bounce back.

Take the second ball, family and relationships, is made of glass.  Again, please do NOT raise your hands but there are people in this room who are on second and even third marriages.  There are people in this room whose children are not strangers to drugs and alcohol or even the law.  And we can all think back to that best friend that we have lost touch with - that is no longer a best friend.  

The third ball, health is absolutely made of glass.  There are some things that happen in our lives that no amount of care and healthy living would help.  Some cancers, viruses - some things we just do not understand, happen to us or our loved ones and we have to just go on.  This is a very small percentage of what I am talking about in this health “glass” ball.  How would you treat a thoroughbred horse or a valuable pedigreed dog if they would win you fame and fortune?  Think about it.  Would you let them do the things you do, eat the things you eat.  Bet you would not. Again, don’t raise your hands but there are people in this room who have animals at home that they take better care than they do themselves.  I remember so well Rosemary jumping all over me for giving Shadow (The Wonder Dog) some biscuits and gravy I had left over.  “Don’t let her eat that!!!  That will make her sick and rot here teeth!!”  Now just one second before “that” had been on my plate and I had been eating it.  You get the point.  The thoroughbred, the pedigree who is going to win us fame and fortune is not a horse or dog, the thoroughbred responsible for fame, fortune, health and happiness is none other than us.  Think of the way we treat ourselves.

The last ball, spirituality, needs care as it can be damaged just like family and health.  I like to picture a small boat on the vast sea and just me alone in the boat.  I can see the North Star, I have the direction I need to go and I have grasp on the rudder steering my tiny vessel.  The rudder represents my purpose for being alive - my spirituality.  If I should throw the rudder into the sea, I am adrift with no direction.  I am dry in my boat but I am at the mercy of the currents of the sea as to where I am going.

Can you see how important this story is?  When the boss tells the story, she is giving permission to those listening, to the culture of the unit to pay attention to glass balls.  You start hearing people say, I have to scoot early – got a glass ball to take care of.  I might be a bit late tomorrow; I have a glass ball in the air.  The boss is saying, “I recognize that you have important things to care for beyond this job, and this job, while important will be here when you get back.  It will bounce back and some of those glass balls won’t.”

I was once asked if anyone at the Arizona Department of Transportation who heard me tell this story ever misused the spirit of the lesson and declared a glass ball frivolously.  I replied that I was sure it had happened – but it would have happened anyway.  The individual who would use the story inappropriately would have invented some other way to get over on the department.  The story was for the vast majority of people who I think sacrifice to their detriment things for their job.  The story tells them that a soccer match or softball tournament is important.  The job goes on, this could be the last time you get to see your son or daughter pitch or score a winning field goal.  Kids grow up, friends move away and the job remains.  We have to understand what is truly important to us and live our lives accordingly.  

When I am asked how I define success, I define it as balance.  These four components of our lives have to be nourished and cared for.  You could be incredibly successful with the rubber ball – power, influence and wealth and drop any of the glass ones and I would not consider that you were successful.  With the balance, good job, happy family, healthy lifestyle and aligned life – now that is success.


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