It’s interesting what can be a wake up call that you need to make some changes in your life, how deep those changes need to go, and how many time you’ve had to cover the same territory.
(Side note: most of this post was done last night, with the final paragraphs done today. I like how I can always go back to a thought later and finish it. On the other hand, because of that I’ve probably got 30 “stubs” of writings and articles I’ve started on here in the last year and never finished. :-/ The other advantage is that I ended up having a short lunch with The Plumber who provided some additional thoughts on my priority issues.)
I like my habit of going out under the stars to stare up at them for a little clarity, and a chat with God at the same time when I’m conflicted or troubled. This week a lot had gone wrong – I’m not even gonna go over the list. But in the course of four days I found myself emotionally challenged on just about every topic I find important.
I will say the most important one was having the woman in my life break things off with me. Quite often when setting there under the stars I have a bit of an inner dialog going – two sides going back and forth as a internal conversation that helps me work things out. While I was reviewing the events of the weekend, good and bad, I got to that whole situation last – it was the one that contained the most dangerous territory for me. This represents the loss of one of the biggest priorities in my life.
“Oh really? Because you say she was at the top of the list of priorities, but I can give you a list that shows otherwise.” Hrm? Tell me more, Internal Dialog. It didn’t take long to end up with a mental list of “What I consider to be my order of priorities” -vs- “What I actually execute as my order of priorities”
Wow, I really do have screwed up priorities after I thought about the things I do. Work always ended up on the top of my priority list – it doesn’t matter if it’s contract work, teaching, writing an app for myself, or working on a book. That always took the actual priority.
I’ve got a fundamental issue with that – work does need to be on the list of priorities, but it can’t be the top one at all. I still have bills and debts to pay off – but that doesn’t mean it should be at the top. In the end, I could end up with tons of money, and what would it matter? It’s not a thing that I value unto it’s self.
I began thinking… I picked a point in time not too long ago, and rethought things – at that point, what should have my actions been to execute on the priorities that I really do feel are important?
When I was done I had a huge list of things I’d do differently – and while I could have bullet pointed them each as individual items, it didn’t take too long to start boiling it down to some core issues.
While I can’t change the past, I can change my future. The changes aren’t for her – the changes are for me. I’ll always have a hard time maintaining any relationship until I learn to follow these rules.
So the list of changes that if I could go back in time I’d make increase the likelihood of a successful relationship – but will make for myself now:
Limited Work Hours: It’s funny – I’ve put down on paper before that there are a finite number of workable hours in the day before you start hitting the point of (quickly) diminishing returns. I’ve even said it more than once at speaking engagements years ago. After 10 hours you hit the first plateau – you’ve hit the maximum number of hours you can work before you start seeing the first reduction in output. At 12 hours you see a second one. After that, it’s all down hill for productivity. I’ve found some personal “hacks” to keep my productivity levels up, but even I acknowledge after about 12 hours my hacks also end up with diminishing returns. I work 16 hour days commonly, which means I end up with a lot of time I could have done something else and “stayed fresh” for work.
While there are business problems with keeping those sort of hours the relationship problems are massive. How many times could I have called her for supper (even if it’s just me whipping up something cheap) or meeting her for a quick bite to eat at lunch? Just, you know, steal a little time in the day There were so may missed opportunities on my part. Instead, I worked and worked. What’s the point? I could scoot the schedule around just a little bit if I, say, only worked 8 or 10 hours a day. There’s plenty of hours in the day if you don’t try and pack it completely full.
I won’t look back at life on my deathbed and think “Gee… I really should have worked more hours.” Instead, I’ll look back on my life and think “All those days I could have spent time with my (wife, friends, family, etc.) and I decided to work 16 hour days instead.” No more. I already fired off an email specifically to reduce my load. (I know – without a significant other I’ll have to find something to fill that void 😉 When ever I do get married, I want to avoid that particular regret, along with the fact that I want to make sure if I ever get married she gets my attention.
Normal Work Hours: As a direct followup to dealing with 16 hour days, I also have the habit of working later at night and waking up late in the day. The goal is to try and capture those magic hours at night where the phone doesn’t ring. Problem is – it also means that in the long term if I were married I’d be screwed. We’d be working separate schedules – it’s not impossible to do, but it’s hard. I’ve been there before when I had a more normal schedule and my wife worked 3rd shift. And the conversation about having children came up – how would I keep kids on a regular schedule if I don’t have one working from home? If I ever get into a situation again where I do have a significant other, well, I want to be able to make the most of that time.
As an added bonus – from time to time I end up sleep deprived because I’ve gone to bed at 3 AM, but woke up at 8 AM when the phone rang. Instead, if I’m already up at, say, 7 AM after a real night’s sleep I’ll be more coherent anyway, better able to make proper decisions.
Work, unto it’s self, is not the priority: For a long time I fought like hell to get out of the pit I was in. I’ve gotten there – I’ve still got struggles, and I still work like hell. But you know what? I could work like hell for the rest of my life, and what do I end up with? Sure, I could have a lot of money – and nothing else. Money doesn’t matter to me – especially in comparison to things like love and family. I want to have enough that I can support myself (I’m there, except when customers are slow to pay), enough to pay off my debts (yup, slowly paying things down – also see the slow pay thing previously), and to support whatever extra needs to be supported if I do have a person / kids in my life. Go too far beyond that and suddenly you end up sacrificing too much for the sake of getting the work done (often the work isn’t about the money, even if I am a mercenary.)
TShirts are a Bonus, not a goal: Been there, done that, got the TShirt. I’ve got a huge collection of metaphorical TShirts, and a favorite line from a song makes me grin because I accomplished it: “I’m a fighter, I’m a poet, I’m a preacher, I’ve been to school, and baby I’ve been the teacher.” OK, replace “poet” with “writer”, and I’ve almost nailed it. At some point though, my TShirt collection became a goal, not a bonus. Every one of those TShirts represents something I worked like hell at. Problem is… in reality, I don’t want to spend my life with a closet full of TShirts but be alone. Who cares what I accomplish if my real goal is to have someone to spend my life with?
Quit Being a Bullheaded Jerk, Just For The Sake Of Being Bullheaded: Yes, I’m bull headed. Pretty much anyone who knows me well knows that. And there are times it’s come in handy – for instance, in the relationship just passed, we set some boundaries and I did everything possible to uphold those boundaries for both of us. Heck, she even commented on my ability to uphold them.
Problem is , well, I have a hard time with the line between where I need to draw and hold a line for the sake of both of us in a relationship, and “just because I like it this way.” Not even because I NEED it a certain way, but because I like it that way. Now, I’ll admit – there are reasons for this. I’ve had people try and change me in way I feel are unacceptable. Thing is – some changes are perfectly acceptable to me, but I won’t do them just because I’m being bullheaded. That needs to stop. Yes, I am my own man – no one gets to change me. But I also need to have the flexibility to meet someone half way, or even change something when I really DON’T care about it that much. For instance, if you ask me to quit reading the Bible? That’s a no-go, and I’m unwilling to change. There are hard lines in there. Want me to wear socks? Well… that’s a pretty reasonable request, and an attempt should be made to consider and respond to such a request as if it is a reasonable request. (Yes, I know, socks is an oddball example. But it actually is an example of a “little thing” that really happened.)
Listen And Ask Questions: I’m good at listening, and retaining information. And I did this with the significant other. However – I can also hear little “hints” of issues coming. Instead of asking about the I let them go. This leads to stuff like discovering that something wasn’t just a ‘minor issue’ but instead was a show stopper, or at minimum becomes another thing on that list of small problems that all add up.
Stop and find out where things are at. What’s going right and what’s going wrong in the relationship. Where could just a little understanding between each other help further secure the relationship? There’s a whole list of reasons on it’s own as to why for this rule.
Express Dislike: I’m an accepting person with significant others. I make sure they know they are loved and accepted. But I take it to an extreme – and it’s been pointed out to me before by the likes of Devvi. The ex-girlfriend in question did something once fairly unacceptable and crosses boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. I told her she was forgiven, explained some of my take on it in a very kind way, and (not verbatim, but close) said “Don’t do it again, yadayadayadda blahblahblah. You know the routine.”
That was wrong. I should have really completely expressed my dislike of what she did, in a way she would understand it and understand I felt it was completely unacceptable. It’s good to forgive. But it’s also important to express yourself, and even express that there are consequences for actions.
Live A Little: Again with that work thing – I get so tied up in my work, I forget to breathe. I forget to get out and do fun stuff that isn’t Synagogue and work. I become so scheduled there’s nothing left. For a while I was going to coffee klatch every week to keep myself social and that good stuff. Then when that moved to Friday, I filled the time with work instead. It would have been nice to get out with her instead and go see friends (or even just by myself – I loved doing just about anything with her, but I’m also one of those folks who does address that everyone needs a little time away from each other.) Get out with friends – sit around and chat, go dancing, whatever! Quit setting and working nonstop.
There’s 8 things on that list – in reality, I can boil the list down to 5, but I kept it divided up to my own simple bullet points of 8 for my own clarity. See, this list isn’t really for the rest of the world per se – it’s for me. I’ve put it in my blog, which has become a long term repository of things to remember. See, I learned part of these lessons before. And then I forgot them – and they weren’t like written down in one easy spot either, it’s stuff scattered throughout the 11 years of blog posts. There’s more things I should probably learn, but that was my epiphanies from setting under the stars, talking to God, and talking to myself. I growled at myself considerably over all of this when I realized it.
I’ll admit – this makes me very sad. I’d give anything go back about two months, punch myself in the mouth, and hand my two-months younger self a copy of this list and the knowledge to go along with it. Heck, I’d give anything for it to be applicable NOW, this very minute with her. (Well, to be blunt, that’s a “you never know” situation. We’ve broken things off four times so far, so it’s not completely impossible that we might take a stab at it again.) But, things are what they are.
This list should be written now – it should have been something that was pondered when we first started talking about marriage. Or, if you want to put a hard point at which I should have been thinking about changing my behaviors, it should have been when she handed me a promise ring – at that point, I should have been thinking about “what is it I need to look at to make sure this works?”
Someday I do want to grow up, get married, and maybe have kids (it’s a priority, but it’s also dependent upon who I end up married to.) This list is one of those things I’m going to put on my calendar to be reviewed once every 6 months as a reminder to myself. Why? Because they are repeat offenses for me – I’ve been in violation of parts of this set of rules before (some, like the TShirts rule, are completely new.)
Fun part – while we didn’t talk about all of this, The Plumber and I chatted about the work related rules – I’m not alone with having faced ’em, or the fact that it’s a repeat offense situation. I’m not the only yutz 😉
I will say there’s a part of me that has thought about wrapping this all up and emailing her with a quick note that says “Ya know what – I don’t deserve it, but, would you read this and take it to heart and reconsider?” Of course, things don’t really work that way. First off, forcing someone to wade through my drivel isn’t always a good thing to do 😉 Second, just ’cause I learned something doesn’t mean it makes a bit of difference. I chalk it up for experience whenever there’s a next time. (Well, and third, there is the “sure, you SAY it, but will you actually DO it?” type thing. I’m pretty good about holding my word to the best of my abilities. In September I said I was going to quit smoking – it was one of the only times I said I was going to do something and didn’t follow through. Ironically, I’m looking at quitting smoking again. *SIGH* Why is quitting smoking this damned hard?!)
Hehehe – actually, if something were to happen and we did get back together I should have that list set in stone. That way, when I fall into a bad pattern again she could smack me up side the head with the tablet, then point at the rule I’m in violation of 😉