We are all jugglers. At every age and stage of life, we juggle from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep. Some of us are really proficient at juggling, others struggle. Often, the young juggler finds the act of juggling entertaining, even exhilarating. As time passes and life becomes more complex, juggling becomes stressful. By now, you are probably confused, wondering where I’m going and if you should close out of this blog. Stay for a minute more.
We juggle personal, family, work and social issues. Think of each task you have to do today as a baton in the air. When you catch it, you need to finish it so you can catch the next one. In your early life, you have just a few batons in the air. In time, you add new ones. So, your wife asks you to buy play tickets. You finally have a chance to do so. You have that baton in hand when your boss comes in and tells you he needs those figures he asked for yesterday, right now. So, you toss the play tickets in the air and catch your boss’s baton. You start churning out the needed figures when your mother calls; her computer is broken. You catch that baton and toss it in the air with the one labeled play tickets. The baton the IRS tossed you last month won’t leave you alone. You’ll tackle it later; so, for the time being, you keep catching and tossing it back into the air. In time you have so many batons in the air, that as soon as you catch one, you have to toss it back for fear of dropping the next one.
Boom, you dropped one and it shatters. Boom, boom, boom, you drop more. Welcome to a midlife crisis. When you are juggling so many items that you can’t possibly keep them in the air, you crash and so do those around you. I treated midlife crisis all too often. Sometimes my fed up, overwhelmed patient simply quits juggling, turns and walks away (or gets admitted to the hospital). ALL, THE BATONS COME CRASHING DOWN AT ONCE! IT’S A DISASTER! Family, friends and work suffer simultaneously. Other times my patient manages to safely deposit enough items on the floor to maintain some semblance of life and tries to rebuild.
So, what can we jugglers do? One recipe for success looks like this:
- On a regular basis, everyone should take a break from juggling.
- Put each baton carefully down on the table and step back.
- Analyze what is on the table.
- Get three boxes and label them past, present and future.
- Sort the batons in to three piles: those that you can do nothing with; those that need immediate attention; and those that you can’t do anything with but will need to be handled in the future.
- Fill the boxes.
- Only juggle the items in the current box.
Too often, my patients have old items (guilt, regrets, hurts) in the air, catching and tossing them to no avail. Getting them out of the air and into the past box is a big relief. Putting them away frees up time to work on the current box.
Often, my patients are tossing and catching items that are coming up at some time in the future (jury duty, a visit from the dreaded in-laws, colonoscopy). They cannot do anything with those items now, but they can’t quite let them go either. Putting them in the future box frees up time to work on current items.
With added time and less batons in the air, you can get proficient at finishing and throwing away those items that need present time attention. As you deal more efficiently with the present box, you’ll find time to go into the future box, remove and finish those items and avoid that dreaded midlife crisis. When you are really doing well, empty the items in the past box into the waste basket.
What if the above recipe doesn’t work? That’s when you turn to counseling, family and community. A skilled counselor will help you safely get the batons out of the air. The counselor will help you sort each item and move it to a place of safety for future action. Perhaps you need to toss a few items to your family and your community. Perhaps you need to say NO to those who are tossing their batons to you. There are many ways to avoid the crisis. Whatever you do, just don’t quit and walk away!