The Myth of the Spinning Plates

 My email inbox was full of promise this morning. Then again it is almost every morning. Everyday I am bombarded with articles that offer solutions to my problems. And, these solutions, they will solve those problems permanently. Yep, I was just given the key to achieving better health by walking thirty minutes a day. I’ve been aiming for better health for years and I am so relieved that I can achieve this lofty (albeit relative) goal once and for all with a simple, quick solution. And it gets even better. By reading these articles I can also declutter my home for good and permanently lose that extra ten pounds by doing one simple trick. So why am I not jumping on these miracle solutions? I would be crazy not to make my life shear perfection in a matter of days. I’m not rushing to apply all these miracle solutions because I finally realized the myth of the spinning plates.

Do you remember the spinning plates act at the circus? The one where the girl starts a few plates spinning on top of slender poles, then goes on to add more and more plates on poles. They are usually all in a row and she must continually go back to the first few plates to give them a little nudge and keep them spinning while she continues to add plates. For the finale she stands there for a moment with all her plates spinning at the same time–but only for a moment.

 It’s the perfect metaphor for life. We set things in motion: jobs, family, home, hobbies, events, then we start the mad dash between them, keeping them spinning. At some point most of us discover that perhaps we’ve put a few too many plates in motion.They are wobbling all over the place and people are starting to notice. My personal plate is a little heavy around the middle, my house plate has a thick layer of dust, my kid’s plates are wearing mismatched colors and are smeared with chocolate. God forbid someone throw another plate at me like the committee I would hate to say no to. Let alone a day or two of illness that would keep me from being able to do the mad dash of plate spinning and bring on massive wobbling.

Once I got this metaphor I could also see the good news and the bad of this reality. Bad first (let’s get it over with). You will never permanently lose that last ten pounds. Your house will never be organized for good. You will never achieve perfect health. As humans we are constantly changing and therefore our plates are constantly changing. As my kids get older I have to physically care for them less (let that plate start to fall) but I’m now teaching them bigger life skills; like how to find and keep a job (finger’s crossed). I might be able to get one or two closets cleaned out and looking marvelous, but as I do this, new piles and messes are forming around my house. It’s part of four people with multiple interests living in one space. My youngest is taking up golf so now we add his golf bag and supplies next to his dad’s in an already-pack (but once organized) sport’s closet. 

The good news–these are your plates. You get to decide if you want to add a room-mother plate or just how decorated and fancy all the holiday plates need to be. If you back up and look at the big picture, that last ten pounds may not look like a priority in relation to all your other obligations. And they don’t have to be perfect. Let me repeat that. Your spinning plates don’t have to be perfect. They will wobble, they will get dirty, one or two may even fall, but you will survive. Even the girl at the circus can only hold on to the illusion of perfect for a moment.

Part of midlife is making peace with your plates. After years and years of working your ass off trying to achieve all-plate perfection, you throw up your hands and decide to allow them to wobble and you stop giving a damn who sees it. I’ve consciously decided to let a few plates fall (que the gasp.) Yes, I’ve broken the cardinal American rule of never, ever quitting. And in contrast to every motivational speech I’ve ever heard, I don’t feel worse. I don’t feel like a loser. I feel better, lighter, more in control of my life. That also freed up room for me to slowly add some new plates. Not ones that were randomly flung in my direction, but plates I lovingly chose because they dramatically added to the quality of my life. 

So how do you escape overwhelming plate spinning? Start with your inbox. Unsubscribe to all the empty promises and obligations you didn’t even know you had (Was your child’s party Pintrest worthy?). Take a good look at your current plate load. Are there any you can let go of? Can you also let go of the useless guilt that might come with that action? Once you’ve done that you can get all zen about the plates you still have in the air and embrace them as your ongoing, ever-changing life. Peace of mind comes from seeing through the myth of the spinning plates.

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