Work / Life Balance and the Superball

September 13, 2007 8:26 am Published by

This week I have been asked to present to my local Chamber of Commerce on “Work / Life Balance”. After thinking about it for a while, I chose to use the Superball as an object lesson. Now for those of you who are young and don’t know much about the Superball, let me fill you in.

The Superball was marketed by Wham-O (who also sold Hula hoops in the early 60’s, and the Frisbee in the 70’s). Introduced in the summer of 1965, by that Christmas they had sold 7 million balls (for 98 cents each). What was amazing about the Superball (the originals were about an inch in diameter) is that they could bounce over houses, and as they went down the street they almost seemed to pick up speed. They were fun because with just a little effort, they could bounce all around the house (or office).

Small Superballs

What does the Superball have to do with balancing work and the rest of our lives? Well, there are different sized Superballs — the regular 1″ diameter and then larger ones up to 3″ — which look really cool and like they could go incredibly high.

Big Superball

These large Superballs remind me of superstars in our culture — people who look like they “have it all together” — maybe some movie stars, rich athletes, and multimillionaire business owners. The problem is — they really don’t have it all together (as the news media reminds us virtually every day). They actually have some big chunks of their lives missing, like this.

Wedge Missing

You see, it is a very, very rare person who is “larger than life”, who is successful in multiple areas of their life, and who is well balanced. The reason is — we only have so much time and energy, and if you devote it almost exclusively to succeed in one area of life (business, sports, entertainment), then the other areas of your life are short-changed. And, as a ball, you may look good (if the missing piece is hidden), but you don’t bounce “true” — you get off-course.

So I propose the following “ABC’s of Work – Life Balance”.

Apply what you already know. Most of us know what we need to do in life. We don’t need more information. There is no “new groundbreaking research” that is going to solve the issue. We just need to consistently do what we know we should.

Balance? No one I know can “balance” a ton of bricks and a truckload of concrete. The issue really isn’t “balance”. The problem is that we are trying to do too much and, (surprise!) as a result, we feel overwhelmed. The feeling isn’t perception; it is reality. You really are trying to do too much. Let’s look at some of things we are all trying to keep in balance:

Work (including email, voicemail, “mail” mail);  Family (Spouse, kids, parents, extended family); Daily life tasks (cooking, laundry, lawncare, car maintenance, grocery shopping, errands, paying the bills); Finances; Community life (civic organizations, volunteering, church, school-based activities); Maintaining our health (physical fitness, leisure and recreation, spiritual growth, social support); Friendships; Career education & training; and so forth.

So what is the answer?  Well, we first trying something called:

Cutting back? This is where we try to survive by ceasing to do some activities in our lives. The problem is:  what we “cut back” on is almost always those activities that maintain our long-term health — physical exercise, rest and sleep, true restorative leisure activities, spiritual reflection, vacations (weekends), and friendships. So we wind up just shooting ourselves in the foot (I started to write “slitting our throat” which is probably more accurate, but too gruesome). But what we really need to do is —

Create space. This may sound the same as “cutting back” but the focus is different. We need to take out those time and energy wasters (some are small, some are big) from our daily and weekly lives, and create space for the truly important parts of our lives. I have been working on this for the past several months and the quality of my life has improved, from my perspective. It’s like this. A friend of mine recently came back from two weeks of uninterrupted vacation in the Rocky Mountains. He proclaimed that he and his family did not watch TV, watch any movies, listen to the radio, check their email or read the newspaper for two weeks and “it was wonderful”. He then indicated he is going to try to keep these activities to a minimum, because he realized he “really didn’t need them.” This may sound extreme to some, but have you ever been away from the news for three to four days, come back and realize that you really didn’t miss much of importance?

My point is this — there are a lot of mental & emotional space “eaters” that don’t really add significantly (if at all) to the quality of our lives. And if we remove these, we can create “space” for more meaningful activities. Possible suggestions:  don’t listen to the news while getting dressed in the morning; don’t listen to music while driving or commuting; turn off “talk radio” or your iPod; only read the paper once a week; quit checking online news multiple times a day; turn off the TV. Even with these potentially small actions you are “freeing up” a fair amount of mental space — time and processing energy that will allow some creative thinking.

Additionally, most of us need to learn to say “no”.  It works best if you link your “no” to a choice of something else more important to you.  “I’m sorry. I’d like to but I don’t have the time because of my commitments to my family. But thanks for asking!” And really, we have to say “no” repeatedly because they will keep asking. Often we’ll agree to do something out of fear — fear they will get mad, fear they won’t like us, being afraid they won’t ask us again. The problem is — if we make choices for our time and energy driven by fear (especially of what others will think of us), this leads to an out-of-control life. So, say “no” — it will be okay, really!

The final suggestion is —

Do something. Don’t try to change your whole life at once. Just make a little change — one thing today, or this weekend. Don’t be afraid to “fail” (i.e. not be consistent in your attempt to change). Try something for a while, then try something else.

The real point is this — don’t try to be a big, oversized Superball and do everything you can to look like “everything is ok”. You can’t do it all. No one can (I don’t think). Pull back — be ok with being a “regular” Superball who is balanced. It is a lot more fun, and you really do bounce pretty high!

We all only have one life to live. Be sure and live it in a way that brings joy to you and those around you.

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September 13, 2007 8:26 am

1 Comment

  • Trevor says:


    Thanks for sharing these insights. As a classic first-born/overachiever, I have struggled for many years to keep my life in balance. I think the difficulty of college curbed many of my over-committing tendancies but life lately has been very full and got me thinking about this again; your timing is great! Your analogy of balancing bricks and conrete is wonderful and will make a great guiding principle for me in the future.

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