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Glass Balls: A Parable of LIFE-Work Balance

Glass Balls: A Parable of LIFE-Work Balance

Q&A with Rebecca Ryan, Principal
Next Generation Consulting

Ryan is the author of Live First, Work Second (2008). Her company, Next Generation Consulting, is a market research firm committed to engaging the next generation.

She talked with LMW on June 12, 2008.

This is a portion of a four-part interview with Rebecca Ryan. Additional discussions include: Parking Lot Photos, Salary Adjustments, and Four Steps to Effect Change. 

LMW: You talk about life-work balance as opposed to work-life balance. Why is that an important distinction?

Ryan: Life is the big category, and work is a subcategory. You always hear, “You’re never gonna be at your death bed wishing you’d worked more.” And, of course, we’re here trying to spin all the plates and juggle all the balls, and be super-people.

My Dad was in hospice and it was clear that his death was imminent. There was a part of me—the entrepreneur and a person who is pretty success-oriented. I asked the hospice nurse straight up when he was going to die, because I knew I was going have to juggle some things at work.

It wasn’t my proudest moment. In fact, it is hard for me to retell this story, but the lesson was so great. Kelly, the hospice nurse, she said to me, “Why are you asking me this question?” (And I asked it right in front of my dad and my mom and my brother.)

I said what most polite people would never let come out of their mouth, but I think we probably all, in some way, can identify with asking the question. And so, when she said, “Why are you asking this question?” it gave me sort of any opportunity to sort of save face.

And I said, “Well, I’m not trying to be insensitive, but I have this huge client next week and I’m trying to figure out what I need to do.”

And that’s when she told me about these five balls. She said, “You know, Rebecca, in life all of us are given five balls. One is rubber and four are glass.” She said, “Your rubber ball is work and, if you drop it, it will bounce back.”

Kelly had a few more years of experience than I did and so, when she said this to me, I just thought, “Okay, she’s speaking from a place of experience.”

But she said, “Your four glass balls are your family, your friends, your health and your integrity, and if you drop one of those it doesn’t bounce back.”

And in that moment I sort of took my entrepreneur hat off and I put my daughter hat on, and I thought, “Okay, I just need to hold this glass ball right now and just really be here for this.”

And the amazing thing was that she was right. I mean, the client was awesome when I explained what was happening and they hired me back the following year. They sent me this huge bouquet to my father’s funeral.

I mean, I had no idea that people could be this cool about life when it impacts work, but I’ve just found that again and again and again. So, that’s why I call it life-work balance.

Next Generation Consulting works with companies who want to become great places to work for the next generation and with communities that want to attract and keep young professionals.

Image courtesy of Gabriel Lima/Flickr


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