“Daddy, are you coming home tonight?” My six-year-old son Jack barked at me through the Skype screen on our home computer last night.
“No buddy. The day after tomorrow… two more sleeps.”
“Aw man…” he responded bravely as he fought to hold back his tears. “I miss you soooooooo much!”
Later, struggling to fall asleep in my luxurious hotel room in central London, I battled with “Why wasn’t I home in the US with my family? Why did I ever choose to be a motivational speaker and coach? What price was I prepared to extract from the people I love in order to pursue my dreams? What was the thread count on these exceptionally comfortable sheets?”
After this morning’s prayer and meditation, I still had no answers that felt right, just a blaring question: “What am I committed to?”
My family and their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial wellbeing was the too quick and ready, blah-blah answer that sprung to the foreground of my mind.
“No,” I told myself, “What am I really committed to?” The question just wouldn’t go away . . . nor would the most honest response I could muster: Pursuing my dreams, taking care of the people I love, and following the path I feel called to travel.
With that in mind, I considered the guilt I feel when confronted with the price my family pays so that I can follow my dreams, then balanced it against what I’m committed to, which brought me a degree of comfort . . . which then led me to thinking about Stanley, my safari foreman who used to tease me when I got a little grumpy when life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.
“Life isn’t always going to be fair or easy . . . but then who ever said that it was meant to be?” He’d ask with laughing eyes and a cheeky grin that would always irritate and then amuse me . . . mostly because he was right.
No one ever said that taking care of the people I love and following my dreams was going to be easy. . . and I’m not real clear where I picked up the notion that the way my life unfolded was always going to seem fair. So finding ways to accept the fact that from time-to-time life’s not going to seem fair or be easy – even back then – was a useful position to take.
From that vantage point, it was somehow easier to see that stress is optional and I might as well find a less painful and more productive path to travel. My conversations with Stanley would inevitably end up with me considering the annoying cliché that “whilst I can’t control what’s happened, I can certainly (with practice) control how I respond to it!” And that would lead to action. . . which brought me back to my son, Jack, and how I had responded to his questions and would continue to respond to his tears.
So, I broke it up into pieces; the first one being what I’m committed to, the second being how my actions lined up with the story I told myself. At first blush, what I saw seemed selfish; I acknowledged that it’s a whole lot easier for me to live with myself when I’m following my dreams. Through many conversations with my long-suffering wife Carrie, I also know that when I don’t follow my dreams and I don’t take care of myself, I’m not real easy to be around and I start slipping in my other commitments, most importantly, to the people I claim to love.
Fortunately, when I do slip, Carrie’s become really comfortable at bringing my attention to my lapses with our special little love-line “You’re being a jerk! Do you have any idea how fortunate you are? How about you go look for something to be grateful for and let me know when you’ve found it!”
At these times I usually find her both irritating and amusing, not only because I know, like Stanley, she’s right, but also because I’ve learned that when I do as she invites, I always seem to find what I’m looking for. I often end up scratching my head, feeling a little silly about my whining, guilty about acting like a jerk and wondering how, in the grand scheme of things, I got to be so fortunate to live a life where I actually get to follow my dreams.
With this in mind, nowadays I have to vigilantly ensure that the choices I make are directed towards what I care about, not just what I want. Today, following my dreams means being the best father, husband, friend, colleague, motivational speaker and coach that I can be. Doing so enables me to take care of who and what I care about. After all, we are the sum of our choices; we’re who, what and where we choose to be in life.
In my weaker moments, when I choose to be a victim, like last night when Jack fought to hold back his tears, I can easily get caught up in a story of how my being away and creating angst for my loved ones is hardly consistent with my stand for being a great dad and husband. This morning, one of the meetings I just traveled half way around the world for was both understandably and incredibly frustratingly postponed. I very briefly went to the dark side. Fortunately, I quickly realized that being stressed was optional and rather than getting peeved or feeling sorry for myself, I chose to step back and reorient towards my commitments and what I’m grateful for. This seemed an easier and more productive approach than getting uptight.
So as of this writing, I’m committed to getting home tomorrow and for the next five days pursuing my dreams, taking care of the people I love, and following the path I feel called to travel. I’m going to help build a snowman, make steaming cups of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, help with homework and also spend some time reconnecting with our team at the office.
As I sit here smiling, thinking about spending time with my family and colleagues, I’m also gratefully wondering what the future holds… this brings to mind a quote by a chap called W.H. Murray; he led The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (Mt. Everest reconnaissance) in 1951:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
Oh, one other thing – there was just a fire drill at the hotel and whilst chatting with the concierge, I learned more than I ever wanted to about the sheets. It turns out that it’s not just about the thread count. Furthermore, there’s a shop down the road with precisely the sheets I’m after – and they’re on sale!
One more sleep, Jack!