My Life as a Three-Ring Circus

By Tina Noe, IPLI Mentor & Principal at Danville South Elementary

Juggling.  It’s a skill very few can master.  It requires focus, planning, and synchronization.  Without these, what’s being juggled can quickly go out of whack, can fall to the ground, or frankly hit you over the head.

I’m a juggler.  Not literally, but I’m always juggling something in my life.  Some days I’m good at it, and some days, not so much.  I’m an elementary principal with 16 years of experience, so you’d think I’d get the hang of juggling the aspects of the job.  I’m also a mother of five teenagers, so you’d think after 14 to 19 years, I’d have the hang of juggling all it takes to raise children.  I’m a wife, friend, and have been a member of my church and community organizations for years; so again, you’d think I’d be an expert in juggling all that comes with it.

Let’s face it. No matter how much experience you have, someone can always throw another ball into the mix and disrupt your flow.  Your boss might add additional duties to your already full plate, a family member might experience a serious health issue that requires time and attention, and all other aspects of your world will have needs that pop up that you weren’t expecting.  After juggling all other aspects of life, there is often no time left for practicing self-care.  So how do you manage? How do you juggle all these balls that you have in the air?

I recently came across the book Juggling Elephants by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig.  The title grabbed my attention right away.  Juggling elephants describes my life. Leading a school, raising children, serving a community – those are elephants.  They are big and they are important.  When I read the book jacket online, I quickly placed my order on Amazon (two-day shipping, a handy tool for a juggler), read the book in a day (because it is a quick and easy read), and then got back online and ordered several copies for the principals that I mentor and some of my close friends.

The book made an impact on me.  I found that it easily applies to everyone, because we are all trying to manage all the “stuff” we have to accomplish in a day.

The premise is simple.  If your world feels like a three-ring circus, then take control by becoming the Ringmaster.  Loflin and Musig do a great job of weaving practical advice into a lighthearted story that highlights life’s top three rings: 1) your family, 2) your job, and 3) your personal life.  They share how “the ringmaster has the greatest impact on the success of the circus.” This made me pause and reflect on whether or not my circus had impressive synchronization or if it felt chaotic, which unfortunately is often the latter.  In order to achieve better synchronization, the book shines a spotlight on the following:

  • The ringmaster cannot be in all three rings at once.
  • The ringmaster always reviews the next act before bringing it into the ring.
  • The key to a successful circus is having quality acts in all three rings.
    • List the acts that should be in each ring.
    • Decide which ring to be in.
    • Decide which act within the ring deserves the most attention.
    • Look for new acts that may need to be brought into the lineup.
    • Line up the acts.
    • Determine how to make the existing acts successful.

There is never a shortage of acts in our circus.  This is evidenced by the growing “to do” list we all have by our sides at each moment of the day.  To help with this, Loflin and Musig continue by sharing, “Every act must serve a purpose.”  It’s easy to get sidetracked by trying to juggle other people’s elephants.  There are always others who will drop an elephant on your desk and ask you to add it to your line up.

Stay focused, know your purpose.  The big takeaways from this key idea from Juggling Elephants includes:

  • Not all acts belong in my circus.
  • All acts need to fulfill my purpose.
  • I have to have the resources to make my acts successful.
  • I need to line up my acts based on what will create an effective performance.
  • I need to maintain my efficiency and effectiveness by scheduling major acts at different times.

A few more big lessons learned from the book: we should note how other people play an important role in our circus.  Loflin and Musig share “the relationship between the ringmaster and the performers affects the success of the circus.”  Relationships are key, and we must spend quality time fostering those relationships.

We also must take time to step away from the circus.  “Intermission is an essential part of creating a better circus performance.”  Take a break.  My suggestion for your first “intermission” is to hop online, order Juggling Elephants, and read for yourself from an entertaining book of how to balance the most important things in your life’s circus.