“Compassion is not a virtue – it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have. It’s something we choose to practice.” – Brené Brown
Now, more than ever, it’s time for us to take care of ourselves with the same tender compassion that we would offer a dear loved one.
I’ve been hearing from clients across industries that many people are having a very hard time this autumn. I’m thinking especially of parents who are working full time while facilitating at-home learning for their children, but the truth is that many people are feeling like they’ve hit a breaking point.
Though self-care is often the first thing to go during stressful times, it is by far the most important piece of the resilience puzzle.
Glass Balls vs. Rubber Balls
I believe it was Brian Dyson, then CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, who first introduced the world to the concept of “glass balls” and “rubber balls” when he spoke at a university commencement. He presented the idea that each of us juggles about five balls, each one representing a different area of life. Some balls are rubber: they’ll bounce back if dropped. Others are glass.
When I hear this I think, “He’s only juggling five balls?” The idea is laughable in 2020. If you’re a working parent with kids in some form of home learning, I know from first-hand experience that you are juggling about fifty balls right now.
I am a full-time single parent to a wonderful middle-school-aged son who happens to have several learning differences. For him (and us), remote learning is a nightmare. I also run a business and play multiple other roles in my life; all of them are important — they are all glass balls, and will break if they are dropped. You may feel the same way.
While many of the balls you juggle maybe glass, it’s also true that many of the balls are made of rubber. They will bounce back if dropped. Just this morning, I received notice from my son’s teachers that a full 80% of the assignments he promised me he turned in last week are missing. I don’t yet know if he simply forgot to hit “submit” on the assignments to turn them in, or if something else is going on (this is what it’s like to parent a child with learning differences, or kids whose executive functioning skills are still developing).
Dealing with this was not on my agenda for today. I have multiple client meetings and work projects… and I know that all of those are rubber balls. They will bounce back.
What won’t bounce back is my health and my son’s emotional needs. Those are glass balls, and they must be handled with care.
Care for the Glass Balls
Your health and wellbeing is a glass ball, as is the health and wellbeing of your family members. Humans need good sleep, healthy food, adequate exercise, mindfulness, and emotional stability in order to feel well and make good decisions. Fortifying these practices is how you build resilience. Having compassion for yourself first is the only way to feel compassion and empathy for others, and it must be the first priority.
Only when I’ve cared for myself properly do I have the stamina and compassion to care for my son and everything going on in his life. When I’m cared for and healthy, I can give him my full attention and make decisions that will benefit everyone.
As Brené Brown’s quote states at the beginning of this article, these are things we can practice and get better at every day. Be intentional about slowing down long enough to clarify: which are the glass balls? Which are rubber?
Today, I invite you to become still and truly consider the balls you are juggling. While you practice letting go of the rubber balls today, deeply engage in the practice of self-compassion. It will allow you to have empathy for others and make a positive impact on everyone you encounter.