Some days, it feels like the universe is trying to send you a message.
For me, today, it was a reminder that I am so busy trying to figure out how to do good work and provide for my family and work on myself and lose weight and get healthy and adequately de-stress so I don’t come through the house like a neutron bomb that I don’t really spend any good time with the people I love.
I used to read to my children every night and give them baths. For a while, when I was a “stay at home dad” instead of a dad who happens to work from home, I had a blog about all the funny things my kids say and the little experiences we had together. And then, there was that one time when I made a story book for my son that was so intensive I did nothing else but work on it for a week straight – and then turned it into a video.
But all of that feels like forever ago.
Now, my kids mostly see and hear from me if there’s a discipline problem. Or if I have to take them somewhere, or when I give them a hug and a kiss at the end of the night and send them off to bed. And usually that’s because they come to see me, still plugging away at my computer, at the end of the night.
Yeah. I’ve become that guy.
This morning, this realization was bugging me more than usual. So I drank a little less coffee, and was a little less intense, and when my two youngest came in and breathlessly told me about a spiderweb in the living room, I stopped what I was doing and asked them dramatic questions and ran with them to go deal with it like we were fighting a monster.
When they came back a few minutes later to ask me if they could build a fort, instead of saying, “Go do it, but don’t make a mess,” without looking up, I made myself get up and go build one for them.
I had work to do. I didn’t have time. It bugged me a little. But they were happy. And for once, I didn’t say, “I can’t right now, I’m working.”
These are small victories, and I know it. Easily won. Harder to maintain.
Lately, it’s been hard. I have a lot of expenses to cover. My work has been a huge emotional drain. I’m trying to get healthy, but I’m constantly stressed out. I’ve been losing weight through intermittent fasting, but I haven’t made time to exercise. I’ve drastically cut my alcohol consumption, but it means I struggle to relax and shrug off the cares of the day. I’m in the middle of lots of processes of self improvement, and I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels.
One of the perils of working from home is that you’re there all the time, except that you’re not. You seem like you should be available, but you’re busy. You still have to get your job done, but you’ve also got to navigate the social intricacies of a house full of people you’re supposed to pay attention to and love.
Especially during Summer vacation.
I had all of this in my mind already, and then, as I found myself in a down moment scrolling through Instagram (yeah, I know, I find time for social media. I’m aware.) I came across a video from business guru Gary Vaynerchuck that really drove the same message home. It’s full of profanity, but you should watch it if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you. The energy in the video was authentic.
In case you don’t watch it, the jist of the video is that at one of his typical Q&As at an audience event, a guy named Raj got up to the mic and told Gary that he works in healthcare, and that the reason he works in healthcare is because his dad had polio and his mom almost died of an aneurysm when he was very young, so he became convinced that health is the most important thing. It matters not to lose the people you love. And according to Raj, who works in an Emergency Room, there’s this issue where he hears people complain all the time about everything, and they have no perspective.
Gary responded to say that Raj was absolutely right. Gary is a very successful entrepreneur, author, business coach, and a multimillionaire. As an immigrant to this country, his goal from childhood was to work until he could afford to buy the New York Jets. He’s famous for this aspiration, and it drives him.
All the same, he said, “I love what I do, but I could buy the Jets tomorrow and then get a text that my kids and wife were hit by a bus and died, and do you think I’d be pumped that I own the Jets? What’s the matter with people?”
“Nothing on Earth scares me,” Gary added, “because every time I wake up and somebody didn’t call me in the middle of the night, right? Like, I’m super pumped, too. I wake up every morning fired up, ’cause I’m like, another day that something atrocious didn’t happen to the nine people that I love the most. Guys, perspective is the game. Realizing what we’re talking about and then realizing the reason you shouldn’t value everybody’s opinions is because they don’t actually give a f*** about your life. They’re worried about their own.”
I realized that I need more perspective.
I realized that I need to not be scared of so many things, because everyone I care about is OK.
I realized that I need to be there for everyone I love, because they might not always be. Or I might not.
I realized that being a good provider is important, but if it comes at the expense of being someone important in the lives of the people you’re providing for, who cares?
And then, as if to drive home the message, my wife sent me something this afternoon. She’s been working on learning the same things I am. We’re trying to figure out together, by pairing our unique skills, how to do some new things, and pursue some new opportunities. (I’ll probably be sharing more about those here soon, once I have more to talk about. Right now it’s kind of a mess.)
A message popped up on my screen about an hour ago. It was from my wife, in her office, on the other side of our house. “I know this has nothing to do with what we’re working on right now,” she wrote. “but it has EVERYTHING to do with the goal.”
I opened it, and it was an article about a pediatric palliative care doctor who asked terminally ill children what they enjoyed most in life. Where they found meaning.
There were a number of answers, most of them as informative as you’d expect.
“NONE said they wished they’d watch more TV,” he said. “NONE said they should’ve spent more time on Facebook. NONE said they enjoyed fighting with others…”
And then the ones that started hitting home:
“ALL of them loved books or being told stories, especially by their parents.”
“Almost ALL of them valued kindness above most other virtues.”
“Almost ALL of them loved people who made them laugh.”
“They ALL valued time with their family. Nothing was more important. ‘Mum and dad are the best!’ ‘My sister always hugs me tight.’ ‘No one loves me like mummy loves me!'”
The “take home message,” the doctor said, was this:
“Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them.
These are the things these kids wished they could’ve done more. The rest is details.”
All of this probably seems cliche. It’s not like you’ve never heard it before. It’s not like you’ve never watched that movie or after school special. Eve so, it can still be tough to keep it top of mind.
But something has to change. Maybe a lot of things.
When it comes to work, I’m recognizing that it’s time to branch out and diversify. I’m going to be working on some new projects that will help pull me out of the day to day grind and, if I play my cards right, free me up from some of the daily grind that has run my creative tank dry. I need to give myself time to rest, reflect, and regroup with the people I love, and I’m working on a path to get there.
I look at my family’s life over the past few years, and it’s been a roller coaster ride. We’ve gone through one major family crisis and several smaller ones. We’ve moved three times in six years. During all of that, my wife and I have both been running our own businesses. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, all of that considered, but it hasn’t come without a cost.
I keep finding myself looking back at a road trip we took to the Redwoods and the California Coast. It’s hard to believe it’s already been almost two years. It was a spontaneous trip. It happened because my daughter was heartbroken about something, and I had a rare moment of clarity. I saw that we were all at our limit, and we needed something to bring us together. I made the impulsive decision to pull all the kids out of school, pack up the van, and just go that same morning. It was one of the better choices I’ve ever made. We made memories that week that we’ll always have. It was good time spent together, and we shared the adventure of figuring out what was next every day.
Near the end of the trip, we landed at an Airbnb in San Diego, just a stone’s throw from the ocean. Each morning my wife and I would wake up early and take whichever of the kids were awake with us as we walked down the block to an old camper trailer converted into a coffee shop. We’d order lattes and walk along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, smelling the salt air as the morning sun struggled to get warmed up, and just close our eyes and breathe.
It was peaceful. It wasn’t rushed. People could live like this. Some day, we could live like this.
I want — maybe I’ll go so far as to say I need — to build a life where there’s a lot less stress and negativity, and a lot more room for family and adventure. I want to figure out how to get to know my kids again, and to be a positive presence in their lives. I have a daughter who is starting high school this year, and a son who isn’t far behind. I’m already a grandfather, and my youngest will turn four at the end of the summer. Life isn’t slowing down for us. We need to find a way to make room for ourselves to slow down.
Things are going to change for us — they’re already changing — and I plan to start making use of this space again to share some of our journey with you.
I hope you’ll stick around. Maybe if we do this right, we can learn something together.