Years ago my company worked with a client that I believed was a good guy, but my entire team thought was an a-hole. When I worked with this guy, I saw his intentions and tried to always look at his heart and understand where he was coming from. My team saw his actions, his underhanded comments, his general lack of respect for the team, and hated working with him.
We worked with this client for years, and for years I defended him as being a nice guy that the team didn’t fully understand. I was wrong. This guy was an unintentional a-hole. Sure, he didn’t mean to be a jerk, but he was a jerk. He didn’t mean to be overly demanding, but he was overly demanding. He didn’t mean to talk down to people, but he did talk down to people. He didn’t mean to act like he was always right, but guess how he acted.
I used to think that a-holes were those people that acted pompous on purpose, and there are those types. But, I think the more dangerous type of a-hole is the type that you become without meaning to. It’s falling into bad ways of thinking and acting. We can all become an unintentional a-hole, and so we have to protect ourselves against it by checking our actions and our attitude daily.
Lately, I have added a phrase to my vernacular. I repeat it in my mind and aloud. The phrase has become somewhat of a mantra and a mini-meditation of sorts. It has helped me to calm down, take life a little slower, and take in my surroundings. You want to know this magical phrase right? Well, it’s not magical, it’s just a reminder. The phrase is, “I’m in no hurry.” Goofy right? But, insanely effective.
Historically I’m always in a hurry. At every phase of my life, I can remember being in a hurry to get to the next one. Even as a kid my mom used to laugh at how I always wanted to rush to the next thing, often at the expense of the current thing. I can tell you from experience, that is a terrible way to live your life. It is unsatisfying because you are always looking for fulfillment in the next thing rather than enjoying the thing happening right now. Deferred fulfillment is not fulfillment at all; it is emptiness chasing a ghost.
Somewhere along the way, over the course of many years, I have realized this and have methodically slowed down to smell the roses. I have reduced what I do and refined my habits to get rid of excess. And now I’m implementing this piece of the puzzle. This phrase, mantra, meditation is helping me to realize that I am in no hurry. I don’t have to yell at that slow driver because I don’t care if I’m driving slow. I don’t have to get stressed about making it to my next meeting because I have left in plenty of time to be at least 30-minutes early. I don’t feel pressure because I move from thing to thing throughout my day with purpose and with enough buffer between events to know that I’m in no hurry. My pace has slowed. I’m living more in the moment. And, I’m getting more done than ever before! This is a better way to live.
I have been struggling with the behavior of one of my sons for some time now. He is difficult, does things half way, bothers his siblings, is disrespectful, etc. I have tried different approaches to discipline, different ways of talking with him, increasing one on one time with him, and the effects of all of these are minimal at best.
I was discussing this with my wife the other night, and when I woke up the next morning, she had texted me a link to this article. It’s a good read for all parents, and I won’t rehash what was said here. But, it sparked in me a notion that I can’t shake, perhaps the problem lies with me.
I don’t mean to say that my son’s behavior is my fault, it’s not. I also don’t mean that my son doesn’t have bad behavior, he certainly does. But, perhaps the way I look at the situation, the way I approach him, my whole way of thinking about this issue is a part of the problem.
Could it be that I need to change the way I see my son? Instead of seeing a discipline problem could I see an opportunity to teach him? Instead of getting angry at him is there another response, a better response? Could the abundance of energy that undoubtedly causes a lot of these issues be a good thing that could be redirected if we just find the right place to direct it?
So, perhaps the problem (or part of the problem) lies with me. My perspective can be better. I can choose to see the virtues of his character over the obstacles in it. I can choose to reshape myself and my point of view to adapt to the person that my son is rather than demanding that he adapt to who I am. I can let go of my frustrations when things don’t go the way I plan and see the opportunity to foster growth in another person.
And, this is not only true with my son, but with so many other things as well. I can improve my perspective in many places.
The next time things are going wrong and everything is frustrating and bleak, the first thing I will ask myself is, “perhaps the problem lies with me?” I will assess my issues, my baggage, my insecurities. I will move forward from there with a fuller knowledge of what is really happening and a shot at a better outcome.
When you say to someone you are passing in the hallway, “hi, how are you” how likely are they to respond, “busy, but good!” That’s how I used to respond too, until I realized that I’m actually not busy. That’s why I dropped the word busy from my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot going on these days. I have five kids. I help run a fast growing digital agency and a nonprofit. I’m involved in my community. And, of course, my kids have extra curricular activities that have me playing taxi cab often.
But, at the end of the day I’m not busy. I know this because I still have time for what matters most to me. I finish work at 5pm or very close to it. I have dinner with my family every night at the dinner table. I have time to write, read, think, and occasionally to even build furniture for my wife! I have time for the things that truly matter to me and my family, which to me is the opposite of busy.
Busy is frantic. Busy is overwhelmed. Busy is packing so much into one day that there is no time to actually enjoy that day. Busy is mental exhaustion. I am none of those things because I choose not to be. I choose to do less, to miss opportunities, to say no to things that are good but not best. I choose to not be defined as busy. I also choose not to use that word longer. If you ask me how I am, I’ll tell you I’m terrific.
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