Not long after we started dating, I noted MFB’s desire to hit the gym for an hour every day. This surprised me, because I tend to view exercise as a physical torture. Why do it on the weekend, when you’re supposed to be relaxing?
“It helps me keep my center,” he explained.
The concept of finding a point inside yourself that gives you focus wasn’t entirely new to me, but I’d never heard it phrased quite like that. An image came to mind of a plank with a fulcrum at it’s center, giving it perfect balance. That picture has remained with me over the years, a visible reminder of two parts that must both be in the correct place in order to work. If you add unequal weight to the ends of the plank, you have to move the fulcrum in order to keep it balanced. If you move the fulcrum, you must add weight toward the other end of the plank to keep it balanced.
A couple of years ago, I started working for a company experiencing explosive growth. It’s exciting to be in the middle of that, but my work hours rapidly expanded, and why not? I was an empty-nester with a deployed spouse, so there was nothing to pull me home at a decent hour. And look how much I was accomplishing!
What I ignored was the toll the long hours were taking outside of work. Regular exercise (did I mention I view it as torture?) was the first thing to be jettisoned, because it’s really easy to talk yourself out of taking a walk at 10 pm. Eating habits? My spouse is the primary cook in our family, and in his absence I was too tired to prepare meals for myself. Sleep? It’s hard to rest when your mind is constantly reviewing the events of the day and dreading the stack waiting on your desk for tomorrow. The things I enjoy doing, such as writing, kayaking or scrapbooking? Hah! I was too busy to indulge.
I didn’t just lose my center; I smashed that plank into a million pieces and buried the fulcrum under a mountain of pig slops.
If I were to write a list of decisions that have changed my life, attending that writers’ conference would be on it. I spent an entire week doing nothing but writing, sleeping, eating, making new friends, and learning more about writing. All of that was beneficial, but the greatest gift was one I didn’t expect — time. Time to reflect, time to ponder, time to take a hard look at my life and see what needed to change.
Time to put my life back in balance.
It began with a statement from one of the conference presenters, something along the lines of ‘To be successful, you must first know what success looks like.’ I wish I could remember who said it, but I lost track of everything else in the session because suddenly I wanted to envision what my success looked like. I started slamming notes into my laptop, and when I stopped, I realized I had written a detailed description of a destination. What was missing was the path to get there.
Laying out that path was rough, and I knew walking it would be even harder. The direction I needed to go was clear, but the sheer number of steps involved seemed overwhelming. Time and again my finger drifted to the ‘delete’ button, tempted to eighty-six my dreams as I had so many times before.
But this time felt different. Something had changed; I had changed. I was older, and if not wiser, more experienced. I had completed large projects over the course of my career, and those opportunities had taught me how to eat an elephant. You simply carve off one slice at a time.
When my plane touched down in Florida on Sunday, it carried more than people and luggage. Inside my laptop was a detailed list of SMART goals I needed to accomplish in order to achieve what I defined as success. There are many steps involved, but the first is the most important:
- I will get my life back in balance by working no more than 9 hours a day and 1 Saturday per month. I will no longer bring work home, even mentally. I will rely on my team to perform to the best of their abilities and remember there is always tomorrow and the work will still be there.
In order to be specific (the ’S’ part of a SMART goal), I had to include that bit about not bringing my work home with me, wrapped inside my head. I didn’t realize the extent of the problem until I caught myself thinking about work-related matters no less than seventeen times, and that was just on the drive home from the airport. I had to forcibly remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to think of work unless I was driving to my office or sitting at my desk, and that doing so would keep me from quitting my job because of burn-out. I also refrained from opening my email, which I hadn’t checked at all while I was in Arizona. The temptation to view it on Sunday night was strong, but every time I wavered, I recited Step Number One.
It was no surprise when I sat at my desk on Monday morning and logged in to find 223 emails waiting for me. I did what I could, and left the office when I’d hit my ninth hour. Then, because I wasn’t exhausted, I came home and worked on the outline for my book. The world felt right because I could create, and I could create because I found my center.
And that is what success looks like.