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You're juggling glass balls and plastic balls. What you choose to drop changes everything.

If you're feeling like every morning you wake up, fail at a few things, and then go back to bed, you're not alone.

Over the last few months, Mamamia surveyed almost 1500 Australian women, and discovered that in the midst of a pandemic and a recession, women's mental load has significantly increased.

If last year you were juggling 47 balls (work, maybe children, friendships, exercise, washing, floor being... visible), this year you probably feel like you're being shot at by an additional 400 balls. Made of concrete. And you keep tripping over them. And they keep dropping on your forehead at three o'clock in the morning which is why you're always so bloody tired.

That's where Nora Roberts' analogy about what to prioritise when you're busy and overwhelmed comes in especially handy. 

Earlier this year, a woman named Jennifer Lynn Barnes tweeted about being in the audience of a Q&A where best-selling author, Roberts, was speaking. 

"One time, I was at a Q&A with Nora Roberts," she writes, "and someone asked her how to balance writing and kids, and she said that the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic & some are made of glass."

She continued, "And if you drop a plastic ball, it bounces, no harm done. If you drop a glass ball, it shatters, so you have to know which balls are glass and which are plastic and prioritise catching the glass ones. 

"I think about this ALL THE TIME. I dropped more than one ball today. It is hard to drop any ball, and I hate it! But they were plastic, and tomorrow, it will be okay. "

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Barnes added that the balls don't represent 'family' or 'work'. There are "separate balls for everything that goes into each of those categories". For example, a deadline on a project might be a glass ball, whereas a perfect Book Week costume for your son might be more of a... plastic ball. 

The point, according to Barnes, is that "some kid stuff is glass and some is plastic, and sometimes, to catch a glass work ball, you have to drop a plastic family one, and that is okay." 

Rather than jumping into bed at night and running through all the balls you dropped today, it's more helpful to consider: Is that a ball I can pick up tomorrow? If it is, then you made the right choice. 

We discussed Nora Roberts' theory on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

The analogy is borrowed from Brian Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, who made a commencement speech at Georgia Tech University in 1991. 

He said: "Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some 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."

We spoke to some Australian women about what in their lives they consider plastic balls, and what constitutes glass. Here were some of their responses:

Plastic balls

  • Having a tidy house
  • Cleaning everything in the washing basket
  • Too much screen time 
  • Cooking a full meal (sometimes toast will do)
  • Ironing
  • Packing kids the perfect lunch
  • Replying to every email 

Glass balls

  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Checking in with friends/family
  • A good night's sleep (when possible)
  • Exercise
  • Being 'present' with kids after picking them up from school
  • Getting some sunshine

What are your plastic balls? And what are your glass balls? Let us know in the comments below.


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