In my early 30s, I gave up climbing as a favor to my family. It was a choice that left me starved of my core need to exercise alone in nature. The “gift” I gave my family had the unintended consequence of starting me down a path that lead to triathlon, as well as my divorce.
Do you know what provides deep personal satisfaction?
Anger, drug and alcohol abuse, fear, depression, gluttony… in my life, these are a sign that I’ve fallen away from a life with meaning.
As a husband, and father of three young kids, I can feel good about putting marriage and family first in the short term. However, if I lose track of my own needs then I end up depressed, angry and full of resentment for the people I was trying to help!
Here’s a game that you can play to stay on track.
Think of yourself and fill in this blank 2 or 3 times…
I am most myself when__________
In my case, I came up with when… I’m riding, uphill, at altitude, in a forest, on a cool day.
Another visualization was when… I’m standing on a ridge line, far above the valley, in the sun.
Another… I’m standing in a forest, it’s snowing and very quiet.
When I see my essential self, I tend to be alone and up high. Mountaineering was a good fit for me.
Then shift your focus to your spouse. In my case…
Monica is most herself when__________
You are likely to find that you skew your view of your spouse based on how you see yourself. I saw my wife swimming (alone) in a pool.
After you’ve had a chance to think through each other, compare notes. I found out that I got my spouse-vision completely wrong!
Monica’s self-image surprised me (at first) because the visions were about helping people. She’s in a good spot as a mom and swim coach – those roles are how she sees her true nature and consistent with some profiling that we’ve done (Myers Briggs).
I hadn’t realized that swim coaching was feeding a core aspect of her personality. It turns out that coaching is a source of energy, satisfaction and meaning for her. It was an important realization for our marriage – we’d be smart to keep that work!
With a young family, you’ll be tempted to lose yourself for the benefit of the kids, or your spouse. You will need your spouse’s support to keep your essential nature in the marriage. The visualization game is one way to start the conversation, and far better than the trouble we cause ourselves when lost in a relationship.
If you keep a daily dose of your essential nature then you’re likely to be a better, and happier, parent and partner.
And now, I’m off for my walk in the forest (uphill, alone, at dawn) after writing my article (quiet, alone, sharing).
It’s important for me to remember that the value of time alone isn’t in the leaving. The value lies in my ability to continue to do work in the world.
Further Reading: How To Make Love All The Time by De Angelis (yes, I read it)