Work-Life Balance: Juggling Glass and Rubber Balls

Friends sit together for a meal.

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If you hope to achieve a healthy work-life balance, you might want to familiarize yourself with an illustration made by Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola. It addresses priorities in life through five juggling glass and rubber balls. Learn more about what his illustration means and how it can apply to you.

Key Takeaways

  • Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola delivered a commencement speech at Georgia Tech in September 1991. He closed with an illustration about five balls that’s now popularly known as the “Five Balls of Life.”
  • Dyson referred to work as a rubber ball, and family, friends, health, and spirit as glass balls.
  • If you drop the rubber ball of work, it will bounce back. If the other four balls fall, they’ll likely be damaged or shatter.

The Juggling Glass and Rubber Balls Speech

Dyson discussed the juggling-glass-and-rubber-balls illustration in the final moments of his 1991 commencement speech at Georgia Tech, which he named the “Five Balls of Life.” Here’s what he said:

"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you're keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

In essence, Dyson was saying that you can bounce back from dropping a job in favor of your family, health, friends, and spirit; but dropping your family, health, friends, and spirit in favor of your job will result in long-term damage.

How To Manage the Work Ball

Dyson’s illustration emphasizes professional resilience: You can overcome professional setbacks, in most cases.

"The rubber ball in Dyson’s explanation of work relates to how we cope with work-related trials and tribulations, such as losing a job or leaving a job” said Matthew W. Burr, a human resources consultant at Burr Consulting, LLC, in an email to The Balance.

Burr said that even though it’s not easy, we have to bounce back from our professional setbacks. While bad days and difficulties are inevitable and a part of everyday life, the way you respond or bounce back can impact you positively or negatively.


Bonnie Whitfield, human resources director at Family Destinations Guide, said in an email to The Balance that sometimes it’s okay to prioritize work. “But also remember: There's a rubber ball in the mix! That means that sometimes, you need to learn how to let go of your guilt and just do what needs doing—whether it's working late or missing a holiday party,” she said.

How To Manage the Family, Friends, Health, and Spirit Balls

How you manage your glass balls depends on your experiences, profession, priorities, and career goals, Burr said.

Take some time to figure out what your background, job, priorities, and goals are. Doing this can help you know how to manage your work-life balance.

“Make time for the things that are truly important to you, and don't be afraid to say no to work if it means saying yes to something else,” Claire Randall, human resources director at Heat Pump Source, told The Balance in an email.


A lack of a work-life balance can take a toll on your family life and cause you to miss out on important moments, like tucking your kids into bed or enjoying a game night with your partner. If you set boundaries for yourself early on, you can ensure work doesn’t get in the way of your time with your loved ones.

“By setting clear expectations for yourself and sticking to them, you'll feel less stressed out about whether or not you're doing enough for everyone else—and more in control of your life overall,” Whitfield said.


The glass ball of friends can break or be damaged as a result of a poor work-life balance, just like the glass ball of family. “Make sure you’re taking time to be present with your family and friends. You don't want to be so focused on your career that you forget about the people who are most important to you,” Whitfield said.


Don’t be afraid to rely on your friends and family for support. Talking with your friends and family can play a key role in your relationship success and overall health.


When the health glass ball “breaks,” you may suffer from health issues and complications that interfere with your overall quality of life. To avoid this issue, Randall recommended prioritizing self-care. “Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. These things will help you stay focused and energized so you can keep juggling all the balls,” she said.


Your spirit refers to your character and feelings. Unless you maintain a healthy work-life balance, the glass ball of spirit is bound to “break.” To protect your spirit, Maciej Kubiak, head of people at PhotoAiD, recommended you schedule regular breaks into your day so you can refuel.

“Don't be afraid to delegate tasks or ask for help when needed,” Kubiak told The Balance in an email. “Offloading some of the burden will free up time for you to focus on other aspects of your life outside of work.”


“Know where your heart is. As you know, rubber balls bounce back. Make sure you're taking care of the things that really matter first in life,” Kubiak said.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who gave the “Five Balls” speech?

Brian J. Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola gave the “Five Balls” speech at a commencement ceremony at Georgia Tech on Sept. 6, 1991.

What are the “Five Balls of Life”?

The five balls of life are work, family, friends, health, and spirit. You should do your best to treat all of them with care and respect. Remember that as you’re juggling your work-life balance, your work ball is made of rubber (it can bounce back) but your family, friends, health, and spirit are glass balls that will shatter if you drop them.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Georgia Tech Whistle. “Volume 17, Number 27—September 30, 1991.” Page 3.

  2. Mental Health America. “Work Life Balance.”

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