Don’t drop the ball

U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Russell Stewart/Released

U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Russell Stewart/Released


As military service members, our careers inherently make prioritizing our work and personal time difficult. With all that our service duties entail, we have to make a concerted effort to find time for ourselves. Whether the time is for family, spiritual growth, friends, or leisure it’s important to keep everything in focus. To achieve balance, we need to distinguish what we value in our personal lives, while still accomplishing the mission and being successful in the workplace.       

Years ago former CEO of Coca Cola, Brian Dyson, delivered a commencement speech at Georgia Tech where he provided a unique perspective on how to de-conflict life’s priorities. In his speech he said, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.”


Dyson makes a great analogy, but for the less than one percent of Americans that serve in the ranks, it’s more complicated. When we raised our right hand and took the oath, it was understood that when our nation calls, we answer. We sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves, and by doing so, we run the risk of potentially damaging the aforementioned glass balls.  Let’s modify Dyson’s idea to make it applicable to military life. Instead of dropping the glass balls, set them down gently to be picked up later.


Military work tempo is taxing at times, as it should be. This can make achieving work-life harmony challenging. We all want to be successful and reach our highest potential, which often means dedicating additional time in our work centers. While striving for maximum efficiency and excellence in all we do, sometimes there is more work than hours in a day. It’s these instances where Dyson’s analogy can be applied to military members. When given tasks at work, we need to prioritize. The military is essential in the defense of our nation; mission will dictate which tasks need to be completed immediately to ensure success. At other times the work will still be there tomorrow, but will your child’s first tee-ball game or your best friend’s graduation?


During the moments when the mission turns work into a glass ball, we need to communicate with those important to us. Doing so doesn’t drop the glass ball, but instead it’s a means to gently put it down. Establishing expectations with friends and family is a good way to do this. It’s important to be on the same page as your support system. When you can’t make it to those memorable moments, they understand and the ball is intact when you return.

When it comes to work-life balance, Dyson was spot-on. Devote adequate time to your personal life. Work will still be there tomorrow. When your military service is over, how many significant personal life memories will you have to reminisce? Prioritize what’s important now, and keep in mind that nothing needs to “break.” But the next time you’re tasked to answer our nations call, remember this, set the glass balls down gently, so when you return, they can be carefully picked back up.