I remember sitting at my computer trying to work in our living room in our tiny townhouse when our son Jackson was 2 years old. I barely remember what I was doing now, but I remember thinking at the time that it was very important. I was chasing my dream, pursuing my purpose. I was on the journey.
That was when my 2-year-old son kicked me in the face. He was climbing on me, slapping my computer, and jumping on the couch next to me while I tried to focus on just getting something done before the day got too hectic to think straight.
I was too late. I realized he needed me to be Dad right then, not in an hour or two, and that was more important. So, I closed the laptop. That ended up being one of the most productive days of my life, not because of the work I accomplished but because of the moment we had and the love I embraced and shared with my son.
See, we all get blinded by our own ambition from time to time. We get so caught up in what we want and how we see progress unfolding in our lives that we forget to back up and adjust our focus on what’s truly important around us. That’s when we need perspective.
Perspective is defined as an attitude, a way of regarding something, or a point of view. Perspective is the difference between looking at an unruly child and seeing potential instead of brokenness, and perspective is always what will keep you focused on what’s most important as you pursue your purpose.
If you have commitments, a full-time job, and a side project you’d like to be doing full-time, you know exactly what I experienced in that moment with my son. It’s a worthwhile journey to pursue your purpose, but it’s a delicate balance.
So how do you make it all work?
How can you pay the bills, spend time with the family, and work on your dream – all without letting any of the them go to ruin? Better yet, how can you maintain perspective in the midst of everything you’re pursuing?
I would be lying if I said I have a secret for you. But I do have a story that might help.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mason jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students just laughed, and when the laughter subsided, the professor explained.
“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions — and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”
Pay attention to the things that are critical. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Laugh with friends. There will always be time to work. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. Adjust your perspective to see everything in your life -and everything you’re worried about – in the right order of importance. The rest is just sand.
When it comes to balancing the things you need, the things you love, and the things you want, I can tell you one thing: The goal is to make time for all three; but you absolutely must remember which order they go in.
Think about your eulogy. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want your life to stand for?
Do you want to be the guy who missed everything or who was stressed out and irritable all the time? Of course not.
Keep that in mind next time you’re making decisions about what to invest your time in.
Truthfully, there will be times of imbalance. When you’re learning a new skill or creating a new project that will make an impact, you’re going to get out of whack. But you have to bring yourself back in within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t let it get away from you.
I think the best thing to do is to plan on sleeping less. Seriously.
Either wake up before everyone else gets up and work on your side stuff or do it after everyone goes to bed. Don’t do it while your son is jumping up and down on the couch next to you crying for your attention. That feels like crap.
Lunch breaks are good too. It’s a solid hour every single day, and if you plan it right, you can get a lot done in that hour a day.
Whenever it is, make time for yourself every day, but schedule that time around everything else.
I actually used to write blog posts while driving to the store to pick up things we needed. If we needed diapers I would go to the store and take my phone so I could use Evernote and speech-to-text in my iPhone to actually “write”, or speak, a blog post into my phone.
It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the world to do, but I kept my eyes on the road and I was able to accomplish something on an otherwise useless ride to and from the store.
Whatever you do, don’t guilt yourself into giving up on your dream altogether, but don’t talk yourself into thinking it’s the most important thing for right now, because it’s “building you and your family’s future”.
Your wife and kids won’t remember how great it was to build your dream from the ground up. You’ll just be the person who’s not in the pictures.