Spinning Plates


One of the acts on the old Ed Sullivan TV show was a man who kept about 16 plates spinning at the top of tall, thin poles. One-by-one, he would start a plate spinning on top of a pole, then move to the next pole. He was constantly checking previous plates and returning to keep them spinning. After some time, all the plates are spinning, and he gets a round of applause from the audience.

I have often used the analogy of “spinning plates” to explain all the work, jobs, and tasks I am trying to keep balanced every day. It seemed to fit my frantic, hectic, chaotic life. It wasn’t until recently that I viewed the spinning plates analogy from a different angle.

From a distance, I see a person taking on a challenge of his own choosing and creation. He pushes himself to take on more and more plates to spin simultaneously. He spends time – sometimes a great amount of time – checking the spinning plates as he adds yet another plate to spin. He is constantly moving, almost frantically, alternating his attention among an ever-increasing number of spinning plates. Eventually, after all that effort and constant movement, all plates are spinning. He has his “Ta-da!” moment and receives his praise. Then, the next moment, all the plates start dropping off and falling. Seen from this perspective, using the spinning plates act as the analogy for my life gives me pause to wonder:


Why would I take on so many tasks and assignments? Why would I continue to add more tasks when I am frantically moving to balance the tasks I already have? Am I seeking the satisfaction of the “Ta-da!” moment when I have all my tasks going? Am I seeking the praise?

The “Ta-da!” moment is fleeting. While I am taking my bows before an appreciative audience, the tasks are starting to fall/fail. I have exhausted myself in the process and can no longer catch the tasks before they drop. Success – sweet and temporary in this case – comes at a high price: pure exhaustion and the crashing of plates all around me. I look at the broken plates and wonder: What did all of this accomplish? What lasting results did it create? Of what service to others are broken plates?

It’s time for a new analogy, a new approach to my life. Don’t try to be everything to everyone – it’s exhausting, and I end up being of no help to anyone, including myself. Focus on a single large Goal, Dream BIG! Limit the tasks I take on to those that lead me to my Goal, that make my Dream materialize. Distractions, such as being tied to my inbox looking at all the great offers, spending hours on Facebook reading everyone’s post to find the ones that resonate and give me new insights toward my Ultimate Goal, and watching an informative YouTube is great, but becoming distracted by the attraction of the millions of other videos, steals time and does not progress me toward my Goal. Giving in to distractions leads me back to the “spinning plates” mentality, the “shiny object” syndrome, the “squirrel!” chase.

I’m not going to remove these attractions/distractions totally – they provide humor, insights, a break from the routine, and a whole host of other responses and feelings that make life interesting. However, I will not become lost in them, enmeshed in them, and taken off my path toward my one Goal, my true purpose and mission, which requires my full attention, focus, and commitment.

I will no longer see how many plates I can keep spinning – the only purpose of which is to prove that I can. I pick a few of the tasks that are on my path, reimaging my analogy to a “Journey,” a grand venture toward the fulfillment of a Goal much larger than myself. I do not stray from my path, to see trinkets and glitter in the bushes. However, I am rewarded with nuggets of joy, insights, tools, help, and inspiration on my path. I can reach my Goal by focusing on my path – expending much less kinetic, chaotic, spinning energy in the process. The Goal I have is well worth the journey.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”Napoleon Hill