I’m traveling in London. When we got here over the weekend one of the first things we did was to hop into a cab (which are way cooler than in the US) and head to the hotel. The cabbie was a British white guy, with a heavy accent and a seemingly unending supply of opinions that he assumed we shared. It turns out you can find racist people in the UK too, who knew. Of the many things that he said that we found both disturbing and amusing, one of them was a derogatory comment toward Chinese people. Since both Jeff and I have adopted children from China, we were definitely not on his team with that.
I guess the moral of the story is to be careful. Just because you are a white dude driving some white dudes around a big city doesn’t mean that you share something, or really anything at all in common. In fact, I hope I don’t share much in common with that cabbie, other than perhaps an admiration for the insane cost of an Astin Martin.
We all understand scarcity and priorities. Money can be scarce, so we make groceries a priority over going to the movies. Time can be scarce on a trip, so we prioritize one attraction over another. It seems to me that humans do this really well is many areas of life, but not so well in relationships.
I think we grow up with this idea that relationships are always there, largely because that’s how the relationships within families often work. You can beat them up, ignore them, even forget about them and then circle back to them and bam, the relationship is there, practically unchanged. We think this true for all relationships, but I’m not sure it is. I think instead relationships have a component of scarcity that we don’t realize because relationships take a long time to fizzle out and we tend not to notice until they are dead. Relationships need attention and our attention is a scarce resource that requires prioritization.
Let’s do this for a thought experiment. Consider your top 10 or 15 relationships, make a list. You will likely start with your family, then likely your closest friends, then probably people from your work. Of the people on that list, who have you talked to in the last week? How about the last two weeks or month? Scary right?
Or, how about this? Of the people at the very top of your list, can you name something significant that has happened to each of them in the last two weeks that you didn’t read on Facebook? To be honest, I’m sure I cannot.
These questions have helped me realize how precious some relationships are to me, and how I need to give those relationships more attention. I realize that I must change my thinking and my actions and make real plans to keep in touch with the people I care most deeply about. I can’t let the busyness of life, work, or anything interfere with the most important people in my life. I won’t let busyness interfere with the people most important to me.
Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash
For some people working from home means working 24/7. I work from home but choose to ignore that temptation. I want time with my family, time with friends and community, and time to be a whole person, not just a business person. So, I make sure my day ends at 5pm sharp to leave time for the things that are important.**
I believe that if something can’t be done by 5pm that means either:
- I am trying to do too much or
- I haven’t prioritized my time well
I keep a notebook with notes from each day, and I love to write at the top of the page, “Day ends at 5pm!” Seeing that note at the top of the page all day forces me to prioritize my time and make tough choices to meet my deadline.
** – I’m not perfect at this every week, but this is my goal, and I hit it 90% of the time. I also start my day early to make sure I can be very productive but still clock off at 5pm.
It was the fall of 2008, and my dream of being a Church Planter was winding down quickly. I had been on a journey to start up my dream church in my dream town, Decatur Georgia, but the dreams weren’t working out. So, as the church wound down with little hope of winding back up, I was scrambling to keep my family afloat. At that time the church paid me $2,000 per month, and the tiny house that we had rented so we could live in the community was costing us $1,500 per month (how we got into that house situation is another story for another time).
To say things were tight would be an understatement. I was coping with the loss of a dream and had to figure out how my family would make it. That is when I ramped up my website work, and that work would later turn into Sideways8. But, doing side website projects still wasn’t cutting it at the time. So I also took a job as a long-term middle school substitute teacher at a school that was about a 45-minute drive from our home. I was a teacher, freelance website designer, pastor, father, and husband, and I was drowning. I learned a lot.
There is a poem by Anis Mojgani called “Shake the Dust.” One of the stanzas reads:
This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them.
This is for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns
And for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs,
Simply to hold up their children.
For the nighttime schoolers
And for the midnight bike riders trying to fly
Shake the dust.
There is something about that moment in the poem that says, “for the men who have to hold down 3 jobs, simply to hold up their children” that brings tears to my eyes every time. That was a short time in my life, but it may have been the most challenging I have ever had.
The main thing I learned during that time is at the end of the stanza; I learned to “shake the dust.” I learned that, though my situation seemed impossible, it was only for a time. I learned that I could endure working insane hours for the sake of my family, but more than that, I learned that hardship is temporary. Hardship is temporary, it will shake off sooner or later. I learned to shake the dust from my failures, from my shattered dreams, from my tired mornings and endless nights. I learned to shake the dust from my disappointments and my delights. I learned to shake the dust from this moment, recognizing that the next will come and will bring unlimited possibility.
When things are tough, remember to shake the dust, a new day is already near.
If you want to check out the full poem, you can see if performed here. It is worth 4 minutes of your time.
There is a church with a large parking lot across the street from my kids’ school. To make drop off easier, each morning many parents will opt to park there and walk their kids to the door rather than going through the long carpool line. The parking lot is directly across the street from the sidewalk to the school, and when standing at the entrance to the parking lot looking at the school, there is a crosswalk less than 50 yards to the right. The crosswalk is complete with yellow flashing lights and the stripy (yes I’m making that a word) crossing lines that indicate a walkway. What is fascinating to me is how few people use the crosswalk (did I mention it’s less than 50 yards away)!
Instead of using the safety of the crosswalk every morning I see parents (usually dads) dart across a busy street with a ton of traffic (and buses) going back and forth, holding tightly to their child’s hand and coming closer to getting hit than I would like. Every time I am amazed. I often yell at them (as if they can hear me with my windows rolled up) and genuinely wish that would value their child’s safety and the lessons that they are teaching their children more than they do in that moment.
But, here’s the thing, I think these are good parents. They are good parents making a bad decision because it’s the easy thing to do. No parent would put their kid in danger on purpose, but because of the allure of getting across the street more easily, they do. No parent would be a bad example of their kid on purpose, but because of the ease of just running across in between cars they do.
I don’t do this; I cross at the crosswalk. However, with that said, I am self-aware enough to recognize that I do this in a hundred other ways. I may drive too fast with my kids in the car. Or I may be tempted to glance at a vibrating cell phone at moments when my attention should be fully engaged elsewhere.
A great example of this was on our recent trip to Universal Studios. We parked in the bottom lot and with all five kids and a loaded down stroller in tow proceeded to head to the park. We had to go up an escalator, and even though there was a sign that showed no strollers were allowed on the escalator, for convenience I took the empty stroller on it anyway. That little breaking of the rules didn’t go unnoticed. Weeks later, my six-year-old drew a picture of my rule breaking and wrote a comment about it in her homework. I set a bad example when I took the easy way out. Fail.
Often the easy way seems better but isn’t worth it in the end.
The book The Power of Habit talks about creating a keystone habit. This is a habit that, if created and maintained, will help all of the other pieces of your life fall into place. An example of a keystone habit is daily exercise. If someone wants to get healthy, lose weight, etc., if they make exercise their keystone habit they are more likely to eat healthy and make better lifestyle choices causing them to lose weight and become healthy.
My keystone habit is rising every day at 4am. When I’m up at 4am, all of the other things that I want to do during that day seamlessly fall into place. On days that I’m up at 4am I tend to read, write, pray, exercise, clean, get to inbox zero, have more energy, and be abundantly more productive than on days when I sleep late. Getting up early makes me proactive and allows me to plan for, and then take on my day rather than reacting to it.
I’m convinced that this one habit will affect every aspect of my life, from how well I can grow my company to how I connect with my wife. In 2017 I’m not making a New Year’s resolution. I’m simply saying that I want to focus on getting up stupid early and then dominate each day as it comes.