I Keep Life’s Plates Spinning

Discussions of “work-life balance” and “having it all” can frustrate me. Partly because these discussions assume a level of choice, which itself assumes a level of privilege, and partly because the topics are seldom discussed in the context of male professionals, almost always female. But most importantly, what “balanced” means, and even what “having it all” means, is a deeply personal decision, and may change for different stages of life or even from day to day.

For me, “balance” is a state of dynamic balance. I’ve described this before as spinning plates, where various parts of my life, including work, are moving and evolving, demanding varying levels of attention during different stages of life, or even minute to minute, to keep them from crashing down. At times, I’ve focused on one or two plates, putting others aside for a time or letting them coast for a bit—the education plate or work plate or family plate demanding most of my attention until I’m able to pick up the other plates and get them spinning again.

Currently, I’m fortunate enough to have the flexibility to keep a number of plates spinning, including a family that needs my attention, clients and other work responsibilities, daily exercise that I need for mental if not physical health, and five hanging plants that I am determined to keep alive at least through the end of September. Or maybe just until the end of August.

This means I read maybe two pages of a book each night before I fall asleep. If I’m lucky I will finish it by 2019. It means that no one would mistake my home for that of Martha Stewart. And, because my friends are in similar situations, it means we are able to schedule a dinner together once or twice a year if we’re lucky.

It also means that sometimes, despite what seems like extreme efforts, I miss a spin, or am diverted by an emergency and miss a few, and one or more of the plates comes crashing down. The urge in those moments is strong to give up. But when that happens, I pick them up, realize they are not broken or even necessarily chipped, and start spinning again.

Is this balance? For me it is. Is it having it all? It’s having what I want and need, which is to say, having it all.