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It Don’t Come Easy!

August 2, 2008

I come from a long line of workaholics.  My Dad taught me to work until the job was done – even if that meant having little kids stand around holding dying flashlights on the task at hand.  So, really, I come by it honestly!

It was a real shock when I had my first job away from home.  The crew started putting things away before quitting time – regardless if the task was finished or not.

At college I worked for plant maintenance.  One day we were putting in a new sidewalk in front of the boys dorm.  My boss actually told me to slow down, I was digging too fast.  He might as well have been speaking Chinese, I didn’t know how to dig slower.

My boss actually told me to slow down, I was digging too fast

Tonight I ran into a friend.  His son was recently caught steeling medications from his employer.  Yes, to feed an addiction.  Not only was he fired, but now he is staring down the barrel of a felony theft charge.  My friend gave his son an ultimatum to call me and we’ve been meeting.  I’m not a drug counselor and I’m not a therapist though.  I’m a life coach.  That’s all.

When my daughter was born, a mere three and a half years ago, it suddenly occured to me that I was reliving my Dad’s life.  Not all of it, mind you, just the 80+ hours a week part.  I have always worked more than I needed too.  Not for money, but because I loved what I did.

Even when I was going to grad school, I didn’t get enought sleep.  Between student government, a part-time job, voluntarism, and school, I once figured I was putting in 110 hour weeks.  That left very little time out of a 168 hours for eating, sleeping, spiritual growth, exercise, and relationships.  I have been seeking balance ever since.

But several years out of grad school, now married, and with a two year old daughter, I suddenly realized that if I didn’t make changes soon, my kids would grow up with the same lonely hurt inside of them that I grew up with.  I was not going to let that happen.

if I didn’t make changes soon, my kids would grow up with the same lonely hurt inside of them

In the Fall of 2006 we took a week off and went into the Rocky Mountains for a family retreat.  No phones, no Internets, no distractions (like TV).  We stayed in a 100 year old, refurbished log cabin and just had a great time together.  We read, we hiked, we played, and we slept.  It was great.

Upon our return home, I began to make drastic changes in the number of hours I worked.  It wasn’t easy.  It never is.  Change is hard.

My friend stood there in shock. Absorbing…absorbing…absorbing……

Now, almost a full two years later, I am proud to say I have my average well below 50 hours a week.  I still have work to do on being emotionally available.  It is one thing to be physically present, but if I still have a keyboard in my hands (desktop, laptop, crackberry, phone, etc) – I’m still not there.  We haven’t achieved perfection yet, but we have made progress!

So, as my friend is telling me things about his family, little bits and pieces slip out here and there.  Pretty soon I couldn’t contain myself anymore.  You see, though I lack compassion, I make up for it with intuition and insight.  Finally I said, “Your family is in crisis.”

I’ve found that some people handle being beaned with a 2×4 much better than others.  Some will cover their heads, cower, and run for shelter.  This is the preferred method for most comfort-seeking Americans.  However, there are a few who will take the ball and run with it.

My friend stood there in shock.  Absorbing…absorbing…absorbing……  “You’re right,” he finally replied.

“You’re going to have to take drastic measures to save them.”

And then I went on to suggest some harsh realities and remedies.  To paraphrase, I told him to quit digging so fast.  Slow down.  (Ironic, isn’t it?)

It wasn’t an easy conversation for me to have.  Through it I realized that I still have a lot of growing to do myself.  I know that in just over a decade, my kids will begin to exclude me from their lives and I will cease to have significant relevance for them.  I know that I could be having the other side of this conversation in just a few short years, especially if I don’t continue to grow as a person, as a husband, and as a dad.

less stress, more peace, and greater satisfaction

First thing is that I need to take care of myself.  As an older Dad (approaching 50 at the speed of sound), I have to begin to take active care of my body.  I need to find appropriate ways to get recharged (I’m an introvert.  I need to be alone to recharge.  This is hard to do with a family.).  I also need to continue to keep my mind fresh, sharp, and pure (shouldn’t be too hard, especially given tat I’m still taking classes for my MA).  I also need to continue to grow spiritually.

First thing is that I need to take care of myself

Second, by taking care of myself, I’m not giving my family the leftovers.  You know, like when you throw a dog your table scraps, or suck the last of that Burgerville fresh-seasonal-fruit smoothie from the bottom of the cup?  If I stay fresh, healthy (emotionally, physically, socially, psychologically, etc), then I can give to my family the overflow.

When I don’t take care of myself, I tend to be more of a jerk: grouchy, crabby, sleepy, and I want to escape.

Finally, when I take care of myself, and I take care of my family, I have more to give my job, my friends, and my extended family.  I live with less stress, more peace, and greater satisfaction for a life lived in success.

But it’s like learning to ski in deep powder snow.  The first time I tried it on One Bowl at Mt. Hood Meadows, I spent most of the time digging my skis out of four-foot deep snow and cleaning my goggles.  By the end of the day, about every seventh turn felt like I was flying.  “Ah!  This is why people love powder!” I would think, right before making another soft somersault in a cloud of wonderful snow.

Most skilled artisans didn’t come out of the womb that way

Most skilled artisans didn’t come out of the womb that way.  They had to work at it.  Most of us weren’t born good parents.  Ha!  Most of us didn’t even have good role models.  “This is hard work,” I told my wife recently.  It takes practice to become the parent.  It takes hard work to become the husband that I would want my wife to be married to.

Ringo was right, “It don’t come easy.”

Practice, practice, practice…

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