Keeping the Plates Spinning

Did you ever see a circus performer put dinner plates on top of long sticks and spin them, balanced on the top of the sticks? Impressive isn’t it? Why? Because it’s hard to do. Balancing a plate on a stick is hard enough already, but he makes it harder by giving the plate a spin. Then, balancing one spinning plate on a stick is hard all by itself, but when he starts adding more and more spinning plates, it just gets more and more difficult.

Real life can be a lot like that circus act. Each “plate” is an aspect of our life that is important to us. A job is one plate. A spouse is another. Each child is another. Add in an aging parent or two, or three, or four, a handful of pets, a hobby, a friend, church, the house, and soon, you’ve got what amounts to that circus act – a ton of spinning plates, each balanced precariously atop a long stick.

One of the plates begins to wobble – you hear a rumor at work that layoffs are coming soon. You give that plate another spin – you begin working later hours, doing more projects, making sure the bosses know you are a good employee. Soon, a second plate starts to wobble – your spouse complains that you are never home. Give that one a spin and spin the job plate again and pretty soon, one of the dogs is sick and must go to the vet, on the same day you are to chaperone your middle child’s field trip to the botanical garden, and BAM! The church plate crashes to the floor, shattered. You end up not attending your church for months on end. However, no time to cry over spilt milk or broken plates, your mother-in-law has now left a message for the third time that she needs you take her to get a prescription filled and while you’re playing it back to get her doctor’s name, CRASH! There goes another plate. Your friends all planned a golf outing without you. Oh well, no time to worry about that now, the sewer just went out and – what’s that terrible smell?!?

The key to success is to limit the number of plates. I tell people in my practice that we, as humans, can do one thing with excellence, we can do two things very well, we can do three things pretty well, we can do four things at a passable level, and we can do five or more things at a variable level of failure and mediocrity. That is, when you get too many things going on in your life, you simply cannot do them all well, no matter what you think. Something somewhere is suffering, you just might not know it yet, but trust me, you will.

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