When I was little, I used to listen to the older and wiser people in my life.
(And I read a lot.)
I picked up a common thread.
“I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my kids.”
“I wish I had spent more time on what really matters.”
I vowed to learn from those older, wiser folk. I promised myself I would use my time wisely.
Focus on things that really mattered. Be wise myself.
As I got older, I thought that’s what I was doing.
Yet the more I did, the less satisfied I felt.
I was tired and irritable, and the important things seemed to be flashing past me before I had a moment to grab hold of them.
I imagined that having children would give me such a slap of perspective that I’d automatically get my priorities right. Especially since I was already focused on doing so.
But when I had kids, all I could think of was earning enough to give them everything they need. And I don’t mean horse riding lessons and ski trips every holiday.
I mean food.
A place to stay.
You know – important stuff.
Here’s what I discovered: important stuff clashes with important stuff. Spending time with my family clashes with supporting my family.
(And just between you and me, I have no idea how to fix that.)
I started to think that it would be terribly useful to meet one of those older, wiser people who, with the benefit of wisdom and experience, had discovered the true value of spending time with family (especially kids), and was making that discovery a practical reality in his or her life.
I really felt that there’d be a whole lot of wisdom and learning to glean from such a person.
Recently, I was lucky enough to find just such a person. He’s a colleague and a mentor. His business trajectory so far very closely mirrors mine. His kids are similar relative ages to mine (just twenty-odd years older, of course).
His life took some turns I hope mine won’t, such as divorce. But otherwise, I could see that I could learn a lot from this guy.
The best part (for me) is the fact that he has a daughter not much younger than my youngest. So even though he has adult children (and even a grandchild), he also has the opportunity to live out the wisdom he learned in his younger years.
Whenever we’d speak, he’d remind me that time spent with family – especially children – is by far the most valuable investment of your time.
We both agree on this point.
But as we worked together, I started to notice a troubling trend: he has even less time available for his kids than I do. Seriously. And that’s saying something.
So really, I don’t have an answer. Maybe when I am old and wise, I will have a clearer idea of how these things work.
But I’m starting to think the best thing – the only thing – to do is to make peace with it.
I’m not saying “go with the flow” (although often that IS good advice). I’m not saying don’t make improvements if they’re there to be made.
It’s just that, sometimes, I’ll be working flat-out, and my kids will pick that moment – in the middle of that deadline – to have a meltdown. There go two hours of work. Two hours of sleep. Two hours of keeping a promise to a client … But they’re two precious hours that I’ve given my child, and that I don’t regret. Sleep deprivation and all.
Sometimes it goes the other way: the kids are doing something amazingly fun and I’d love to join them, but work beckons and deadlines must – and can – be met. Then the deadlines win.
In the end, I hope it all balances out. I really hope the clients are patient and understanding, and happy enough with my work that they don’t find someone with fewer time commitments. I hope my children are healthy and balanced enough to know that sometimes putting them first meant putting their physical needs (clothes, food, shelter) ahead of their desire to spend time with me.
I hope they all forgive me.
I hope it all turns out okay.
And I choose to trust that it will.