Sunday, April 18, 2010

Juggling as a metaphor for life?

This morning while I was waiting for the milking pipeline to sanitize, I picked up a dairy trade magazine to read while I sipped my tea. This one featured a report on a conference, where the keynote address was delivered by a motivational speaker cum juggler. The photo showed him riding a unicycle while juggling a cane knife, a double-bit axe and some other sharp thing that I couldn't identify.

It was actually a pretty apt metaphor for the commercial dairy business today. Today's dairy farmer has lots of ways to get in trouble. If, and only if, he does everything exactly right and at exactly the right time, he might just avoid catching the cane knife by the blade or having the double bit axe split his skull while he's falling off the unicycle.

But to take the metaphor one step further, even the expert can't stay on the unicycle forever. The very best he can hope for is to safely catch (or drop) the sharp things while dismounting. It says a great deal about the dairy industry that such a performance would be considered motivational.

Another part of this man's talk included this pearl of wisdom: "When the ball is in your hand, throw it." He meant that you have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, not dilly-dally and figure you'll get around to it. In that sense, he's got a good point. But when put in practice by a person unskilled in the art of juggling, it generally leads to a lot of balls flying in random directions, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, and falling on the thrower's head.

We see this all the time in business correspondence via e-mail. Send an e-mail that asks three questions. With a certain type of person, you'll get a reply very quickly but the reply won't answer any more than one question, and frequently not even that. But it is out of the recipient's in box, and therefore no longer a problem on her end. The ball has been caught and thrown. The only thing more frustrating is to wait for a day or two and get the same sort of response.

Juggling is a fact of life these days. We all do it, and we all know what it means to have too many balls in the air. Very few of us lead the sort of lives where we can start a project, work on it until it is finished, setting aside all distractions, and then move on to the next one. But we have to realize that juggling is at its core an unsustainable and temporary practice. The greatest jugglers on earth drop things from time to time, and they all have to stop to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, if nothing else.

Learning how to juggle better is definitely an important life skill, but I think we need to start thinking about learning how not to juggle. How to give our undivided attention to that which needs it. Hold onto the ball at least long enough to figure out where to throw it, and how hard.

The next important life skill would be learning how not to need to juggle. Perhaps that is something akin to what the Buddhists would call enlightenment.

No comments:

Post a Comment