It’s possible to spend one’s entire life getting stuff done and making no true progress.
What do I mean by this?
I took a week off at the start of August and looked deeply at my life. Here’s what I noticed.
Problems: when folks are seeking to help us, they often remind us to count our blessings with a stock phrase such as…
Many people would love to have your problems.
This is both true, and false. True because I have an excellent set of problems. False because my problems are more accurately described as my “to do” list. They are simply things that need to get done.
…and that’s where a habit of grinding away, can get us nowhere.
Before we can fix something, we need to identify just what we need to address.
I spent the start of August alone, wandering around the mountains. It was a unique opportunity to get outside my life.
When was the last time you unplugged and got outside of the box?
By the way, I’m writing this from my box – my home, my home office, staring at screens. Too much of that in COVID!
The first thing I noticed was my point above, what I call my “problems” is merely a to-do list. They aren’t problems in a structure sense – time will wipe them out.
The key issue of the last 12-months is a periodic, penetrating sadness. Ticking off items on my to-do list doesn’t have much of an impact on it. My cost of living – no impact on it. Portfolio returns – no impact.
This insight was useful for me. It spurred two follow on questions:
- What am I doing when I’m not-sad?
- Are there triggers that set me along a downward spiral?
There’s a paradox in my life as a father. Doing the actions required to be a great parent, wipe me out. Not a big deal – I don’t mind fatigue all that much.
However, listening to my kids bicker brings on nausea. It’s my kryptonite.
Combine the two, bickering at the end of a long day, day-after-day, week-after-week, for the last 10+ years.
Across the summer, it was getting to me. I decided to opt out of anything that had all three kids involved.
Digging deeper, I realized no one can make me drive a car, take a trip, sign a lease, deal with rush hour… anything really. Parenting can leave me feeling trapped, but it’s a trap of my own creation.
I have a central role in tolerating the triggers of my sadness.
Back to the “to do” list.
It all-too-easy for couples to get bogged down arguing about their “problems”. They never get anywhere because they aren’t addressing the issue at its deepest level.
My family asked me what I wanted.
Spend more time _alone_ with my wife => I make this clear each time the opportunity arises. Sometimes this is as simple as being able to finish our sentences to each other (without being interrupted by an addition to my to-do list, which the kids could do themselves!).
Help with the low-value tasks in my house => stepping outside my life in August made me realize how much time I spend on other people’s BS. In this regard, my sadness did me a huge favor when it nudged me to jettison Facebook (August 2020). Dealing with other people’s crap feels never-ending. In fact, it started to end the moment I decided I was done tolerating it.
In the meantime, I decided to stop:
- Stop => helping anyone who is rude to me.
- Stop => supporting anyone who wants to be a passenger.
All the while, modeling the the actions I want to see around me.
Which brings me to the #1 directive I gave myself, which I learned from our youngest daughter.
Not just because it works.
Because the opposite of polite => rudeness, disharmony, noise, bickering, petty squabbles is a HUGE sadness trigger for me.
Winning an argument won’t solve my problem because engaging in argument is a trigger.
The opposite of sadness => call it not-sad.
It isn’t happiness.
For me, it’s enthusiasm.
My retreat enabled me to reconnect with my enthusiasm:
- Up before my alarm
Luxury is watching the sunrise.
I’ll take some more of that.
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