Juggling in your Circus: The Art Form of Balance

Kishia holding up her Global Leadership AwardTwo and a half years into working for Emerson, I was selected to attend a year-long Global Leadership development training program and received a sponsorship to obtain my Executive MBA. This was under the caveat of maintaining my day job, which often includes a ton of traveling.  I’m also married and a proud momma of a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. If I’m not at work or studying, I’m involved in their education, as their school’s PTA Secretary. So, how do I accomplish it all?

Juggling. Google the word “juggle.”  Do you see it?  Underneath the definition of the word, there’s a picture of me and every other professional woman trying to keep all our responsibilities “in the air.”Juggling is an art form and the experience can be different depending on the person. Here are some definitions:

  1. “Continuously tossing into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others."
  2. “To manipulate or rearrange, especially in order to achieve a desired end, and attempt to hide a loss.”
  3. “A trick of magic.”
  4. “To hold or balance precariously by showing skill, cleverness or resourcefulness.”

These definitions are the perfect descriptions of me managing both my professional and personal life. (Notice that “balance” is not one of them.)

After years of trying to juggle it all, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as “perfect” work-life balance for me. I’m okay with that now, but I struggled early on in my career to achieve any sort of balance.

"Believe it or not, one thing that was holding me back was my own drive."  

I’ve always been highly driven with a desire to prove my worth to my organization and make my parents proud. Early on in my career I did what everyone tells you to do to get ahead- I worked late, came in on off days and took on any project asked, Kishia with her family on a ski trip.including the “voluntold” ones.  Adding insult to injury, I tried to give balance to my work life through organizing events.  I am a natural extrovert who thrives off people. I love taking on the role of social event organizer of my personal circus, classmates and colleagues.  Eventually, trying to keep up with myself caused me a great deal of personal grief and burnout.

My pivoting point happened when I received advice early in my career from one of the best mentors I’ve ever had. She told me that in her 25+ years of experience serving in the United States Navy, being a wife, step-mom and completing several international assignments, balance didn’t exist.

"She often stressed that life is your juggling act; you have the power to control it. You must be the one to determine the timing, how many “balls” you put into the act, their size, shape and ultimately, when they needed to exit the act."

Kishia completing her Texas A&M Masters program.Here is some other advice I’ve received on the art of the juggling act:

  1. “See perfection in the imperfect.” No person is perfect. Like all art, it takes practice, perseverance and patience, as you improve and evolve your act.
  2. "Address your fears.” Ask yourself what keeps you from adding a whole new element to your juggling act? If there were no risk involved, what would you be doing right now?  
  3. “Celebrate the first downs.” It’s a fact of life that you will drop balls sometimes. Learn to embrace it and understand why you did. Here is a great TED talk playlist on how to embrace failure.
  4. “Focus on the task in your hand.” There will always be several balls in the air while one is in your hands demanding, requiring and deserving your attention. Give it the attention it needs, while it needs it and then move on to the next. This is the balance I have learned to strive for.
  5. “You might have to throw out 'a ball.' That’s okay.” Over time, I know what I can juggle. When I say ‘yes’ to adding a ball I might have to potentially say ‘no’ to another one – which I’ve learned that is perfectly fine to do.

My “reformed” state of balance, includes only working after the kids go to bed, being okay studying in the hotel instead of sightseeing and saying “yes” to only projects and opportunities that create value in my act, not chaos. Yet, it also means showing up to class on two-hours of sleep because you and your team scored that touchdown, and were celebrating the night before. 

And, while I’d like to say I have practiced enough and have it all figured out, I don’t. When the juggling gets too much, instead of dropping a ball, relying on my network, including colleagues, classmates and my own family-circus, to step-in and help, is that trick of magic which helps me keep all the balls in the air. 

 How do you juggle your day-to-day tasks? Reply below to share your tips for creating balance?