Life is a game of spinning plates. We are all like a circus octopus trying to keep the dishware of our lives spinning and twirling.
Because we exist in communities, everything we do has a twofold effect. It builds (or lessens) our own character and it has an influence on the people in our sphere of impact. This latter idea is called Referent Influence and it is the most powerful and effective way humans affect one another. Think about your heroes, your dad or mom or the mentor that has helped you through tough times. Think about Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Harriet Tubman. We are most affected by extraordinary character because it is the thing we most want for our lives.
The great challenge of our lives is how to live this life of reference, the life that benefits both us and others. A life of virtue and value.
Naming The Plates
Back to the spinning plates.
We often think about them as nuisances, as meaningless busywork meant to get us frustrated, dizzy, and confused. We don’t know why we are chasing what we are chasing. We don’t know if we’ve got the right plates swirling and, even if we do, how we are going to keep them from crashing down.
The plates are all opportunities for us to learn, grow, and develop character. They are the arenas of life, the building blocks for Referent Influence.
The six plates are Intellect, Social, Financial, Spiritual, Family/Team, and Physical.
When we approach these areas of our lives as if they are unfortunate duties, meaningless tasks that serve just to make us crazy, we miss out on the reason for their existence.
Why, O Why?
Here is the truth. You can spin the plates. You are capable. You are made for plate spinning, not just to keep you busy or drive you insane, but as a steward of the gifts, talents, and opportunities presented to you. It is going to take sweat and it is going to cause confusion/frustration, but you live your life by trying your best in each of these areas.
Two things will help.
First and foremost, figure out WHY you are spinning these plates. You are working on your character and managing your ability to influence those around you. But why? Why does that matter? Why is life important? What are your vision and values? Grasping the bigger picture will help motivate you as you live the day to day of plate spinning; it gives you a sense of perspective and mission.
Second, reframe your idea of what success means and get rid of the plates you don’t need. So, the financial plate is not so much about making as much money as you possibly can. One look at the personal lives of celebrities is enough to show us big bank accounts do not lead directly to character growth. Spinning your financial plate is about spending what you have wisely; it is about stewardship not gain. Same goes for every other plate.
Adopting this perspective helps you relax a little. You don’t have to spin it that way. You don’t have to be something you are not or pretend at a success that doesn’t matter. Your plates should spin to the tune of your vision and values. Everything else really is a waste of time. Let the ones that aren’t in harmony crash. You’ll be better off in the long run.