Wild Heart, Wondering Mind

If you drop the ball, drop the one that bounces back


Sitting in the park, my friend tells me someone I love is suffering.

The whole world stops. I can’t see. I can’t breathe. I can’t hear a word coming from her moving mouth.

But then, simultaneous with the weight, comes a lightness. A burden is lifted: the burden of all the unimportant things I thought were so important.

I had spent that entire day worrying about all I had to get done, berating myself about all I’d procrastinated and at which I’d done less than my best.

Indeed, the morning raged as a cyclone of to-dos and must-manages, spiraling out of control in my head. My heart twisted with stress as I schemed how I would be more productive. I promised myself I could do it: If I get up at 5 a.m. … if I nix social media breaks … if I don’t check my phone ...

There in the park that afternoon, the sky dark above us and the laughter of a child’s birthday party carrying on the blustering wind, all those things morning had convinced me were the most important in my life suddenly seem so trivial I almost laugh — but only to keep from crying.

I won’t recall exactly how productive I was, how much money I made, or what tasks I managed or failed to complete come the end of the month — let alone the year, let alone my life. But I will remember someone I loved was hurting. And I will remember I wasn’t even thinking of checking in on that dear friend, because I was too busy worrying about how I was going to check all the boxes on my to-do list.

If I want to make the world a better place, it won’t be by working harder. No matter how hard I work, it will never be hard enough. Not only will I never get it all done, I will definitely never get it all done, because the more I do, the more I’ll be able to discern that I need to do. No matter how “productive” I am in every area of my life — be it mental, vocational, physical, even spiritual — as long as I think I earn my way to worthy by executing each and every “to-do,” I am missing the whole point of what the world really needs, and utterly overlooking where one truly can find worthiness.

“Worthiness” either means the quality of being good enough, or the quality of deserving attention or respect. I begin to touch on the feeling of being good enough by putting my attention on what most deserves attention and respect. I believe friends and family top that list.

A couple weeks ago, I opened an assorted book of poetry that had lain dusty on my windowsill for months: “Think Positive Thoughts Everyday: Words to Inspired a Brighter Outlook on Life.” Randomly, I opened to a page with this excerpt:

Strive for Balance

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” — Brian Dyson

Upon Googling this passage, I discover Brian Dyson, a graduate of Harvard Business School, was in fact the chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. from 1986 to 1991. He is famed for the above advice, which is known as his “five balls speech.”

I read this excerpt before recognizing I had dropped a vital “ball” of relationship in my life. I had read Dyson’s words, but they didn’t hit home until I realized I hadn’t heeded them. I had absorbed them intellectually, but not heartfully; theoretically, but not in practice.

What’s amazing is that since I have truly put my focus and devotion on the glass balls of friends and family, believing my work will be rubber enough to bounce back, it has bounced back more buoyant than ever: I am more productive and effective when I am less stressed about gettings things done and more dedicated to nurturing my most meaningful relationships.

So it figures that it was an executive of one of the most successful companies in the world who said that when we put our focus on what really matters — loving ourselves and those closest to us — the rest will take care of itself.

To those I love most: I got you. You can count on me to not drop the ball.