Take a good look at all your glass balls


By Hannie Viljoen

In 1991, Bryan Dyson, at that time the chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises, delivers his iconic five life balls speech at the opening of the Georgia Tech Institute.

He draws a powerful analogy between the various aspects of life and balls that must be kept in the air. He describes work like a rubber ball, something that can bounce back if you drop it. Your family, friends, health and spirit however, are as fragile as delicate glass balls and must be handled with great care.

Dyson’s message was clear: To maintain balance in life, one must prioritize the “glass balls” over the “rubber ball”.

In today’s hectic life, it would appear that the dynamic of the balancing act has shifted. Work was previously considered a resilient rubber ball that could bounce back, but in the current economic conditions, with unemployment in South Africa among the highest in the world, it has also become a glass ball. The modern workplace demands long hours, competition and technological availability and skill from us.

It has transformed the nature of work.

In our contemporary professional landscape, the lines between our work and personal life have blurred. The work-life balance has taken on new meaning. We are expected to be constantly available, to respond to emails and WhatsApp messages at any time, to stay “plugged in” at work in the evenings and weekends. This makes it increasingly difficult to put down the “work ball” when we are at home or to put aside the “family ball” when we are at work.

Yet the essence of Dyson’s message remains more relevant than ever. We have to adjust our balancing act to our changing circumstances. Just as we once put down the work ball when we were at home, we must now learn to safely put down the family ball when we are at work. This does not mean that we should neglect our loved ones or sacrifice our values; rather, it’s about setting aside dedicated time for our work while protecting our personal lives.

In this evolving paradigm, maintaining a glass ball for work means that we must put quality over quantity. This involves setting boundaries, prioritizing tasks, and embracing time management strategies to ensure that we can handle our work and family with care. Although work can indeed be a glass ball in the modern world, a critical aspect of our lives that provides financial stability, personal growth, and a calling, we may and should also put it down when we are with our loved ones.

Solidarity Helping Hand believes that healthy families are the cornerstone of a healthy society. The key to a balanced life lies in nurturing our family, friends, health and mental health.

Our first calling and priority should always be our family, then our day job. Regardless of how much work in the modern world may seem like a glass ball, it is the family ball that must always occupy a special place in our hearts and actions. Evenings, mornings, and weekends should be reserved for caring for our relationships, our physical and mental health, and our overall well-being.

The changing nature of work in the current economic circumstances calls for a new approach to the old balancing act. Work has really become a glass ball, but with two capable hands we can still handle both balls – work and family – carefully.

We must recognize that both are important and find harmony in the delicate art of balancing life’s ever-changing demands. It will require that we sometimes have to set aside time for our family and health and that we have to preserve our mental health and faith. We need enough rest and relaxation to protect our humanity. Work may be a glass ball, but our family, health and mental health remain the most important.

  • Hannie Viljoen is head of programs at Solidarity Helping Hand.