Catch a ball, toss it back up; catch another ball, toss it back up; catch yet another ball, and so on, and so on. Throughout life, most of us juggle many balls at any given time, giving each one its due, often briefly but with purpose, before moving on to the next ball—and the next ball, and the next ball.
Sure, we might occasionally drop a ball, but most of the time it’s OK, because other balls are doing just fine and most mistakes are far from fatal. Whether referred to as juggling, having many irons in the fire, or having one’s hand in many pots, multitasking is vitally important to a full and successful life.
I used to believe that the only way to do anything well in virtually every domain of life, was to focus on one thing at a time, to the exclusion of other things—one research project at a time, one novel at a time, one sport at a time. I believed that, in order to keep my commitments, it was important not to take on too much. This is true, to a point.
I have since come to believe that we tend to underestimate our capacity and capabilities. I remember the counsel of Douglass Adams, MD, who was one of my attendings during my body imaging fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in the 1990s. Dr. Adams tried to dispel this mindset of “doing just one thing at a time” from my worldview. I, however, was not yet capable of heeding his advice. It was not until years later, thanks to a decade of motherhood, that I realized my mentor was correct. It IS possible to juggle many balls at one time without losing one’s mind—at least most of the time.
As radiologists in busy practices we constantly multitask, switching between protocoling and interpreting studies, teaching trainees, responding to the concerns of many stakeholders, consulting and bantering with colleagues, and dealing with personal matters. Human minds clearly can partition things: we can speak more than one language, we can follow more than one story line, and we can participate simultaneously in more than one project.
Saying yes to the opportunities that come along is a great way to add dimension and meaning to one’s life, both inside and outside of work, though it does take a measure of faith that things will work out and the ability not to worry too much when they don’t.
Multitasking can be disconcerting at times, especially when deadlines converge. But it helps to realize we are always dealing with other human beings, people with similar struggles and experiences, and it is usually possible to secure their understanding and accommodation when things don’t go quite as expected. Thankfully, life is not like grade school, where rigidity in deadlines and even the way papers are stapled reigns supreme.
Juggling many balls, giving each one its due as it lands in our hands, adds balance and excitement to one’s life. Indeed, we can’t live a full life without it.Back To Top
Ackman JB. Juggling for life fulfillment. Appl Radiol. 2019;48(5):4.
Dr. Ackman is Director of Thoracic MRI in the Division of Thoracic Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, and an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. She is also a member of the Applied Radiology Editorial Advisory Board.