Life Is Like Juggling.

I found a scholarly paper on Juggling. ORG that points out that while many people can juggle 9 balls, and a few can juggle 12, no one can presently juggle 13 balls. It claims that 15 may be possible, but the problem is how do you learn? It takes a long time to pick up 15 balls when you make a mistake, so your practice time is inefficient. The limits are speed (how long is the ball in our hand before you throw it) and accuracy (how high and in what plane.)

You have elements in your life like the balls the juggler deals with. Things like relationships, career, business, debt, possessions, plans, money, friends, civic duties, and so on. The limits to “life juggling” are the same as for jugglers. Success depends on two things, speed and accuracy. Or maybe more appropriately attention and effect. How much attention to devote to the ball (speed) and the effect of your attention. (accuracy).

If you can successfully juggle nine things in your life what happens when life hands you the tenth? Just like the juggler, you drop all 10 of them.

We see that with people who develop a serious illness or who lose a spouse or child or business partner. Usually they cannot readily go back to juggling 9 balls either.

There are reasons for that:

  • The 10th is still there, even if you try to ignore it. It occupies some of the head space that allows you to control the other 9 and therefore you are unable to do it any longer. Stress and fatigue are important limits.
  • Frequently, the 10th ball makes one or more of the other nine heavier. For example, an illness may reduce income. Adding money troubles to a stressful situation makes it worse. It is the speed element in juggling. If some task takes a little longer to look after, then the limit of how many you can successfully attend to is lower.
  • When the 9th ball is not working properly, the accuracy of the others is impaired, further reducing the ability to juggle. Things like your distraction affects how your children, friends and coworkers behave.
  • What about health impairment when the stress occurs. Do you cancel the trip to the gym to gain time? That may increase stress rather than reduce it.

Your new limit might be 5 balls or even fewer. Eventually self doubt sets in. The limit then is zero. Crash! Good thing you are not juggling wine glasses.

How can we cope?

  • The juggler suggests that the way to approach the limit is to learn to juggle 9 balls at 10 ball speed. Probably there are fewer mistakes this way and thus fewer crashes. Working on accuracy. Eventually, with practice, 10 becomes possible. Speed and accuracy must both improve.
  • If you can only juggle 9 now, then build methods to reduce the effects of the 10th ball. That is one of the things life insurance, disability insurance and critical illness insurance does for you. It keeps the income ball from getting heavier and could even take the income need ball and the debt ball away.
  • Avoid having to juggle 9 balls. That is one of the things financial planning is for. Build processes that look after some of the problems. Essentially juggle 5 even when you could juggle 9. Have a budget. Have a safety fund. Have insurance. Have a support network. Have a plan that can tell you which balls are not worth the trouble to pick up and juggle. Do you really need that bigger house and its resulting mortgage? How about the Land-Rover lease?
  • If you want to live on the edge, juggle 9 balls at 10 ball speed and then juggle 10. This will be a lot of fun until the 11th appears unexpectedly. When it does you will need to pick up all 11 from the floor. Well, maybe only 10 because the other one rolled away and you can’t find it. I wonder which?

A fundamental choice for you to think through now, is what would you do after a crash? Surveying the 10 balls on the floor, which ball would you pick up first? (Relationships, job, health, friends, money, possessions.) If your circumstances then are such that you could, reliably, only juggle 3 balls, which 3 would they be?

Once you know that, you can decide whether the 10th ball you are considering is worth the risk to the other 9.

Life is fundamentally difficult and fundamentally easy at the same time. You pick a side by choosing how many balls are in the air.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

2 Comments on “Life Is Like Juggling.

  1. Great blog you have here but I was curious if you knew
    of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here?

    I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get opinions from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Many thanks!

  2. Pingback: Be Sure You Understand This | moneyFYI

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