I remember the days when I only had one project to work on at a time. I zeroed in one thing and stayed focused until it was done. Whether a book draft, an analysis for my job, or a blog post, I could stay in my sweet spot until it was done. I was overreacting to the myth of multitasking.
Did you know multitasking causes a temporary loss of IQ greater than smoking marijuana?
Somewhere over the past year though, I lost that ability to have a single-minded pursuit of any one thing.
Boy am I glad.
I recently discovered that this insane focus has actually been rooted in fear. I assumed I would fail, so pursuing one thing at a time limited the breadth of my failures. But in reality I was putting a cap on my possibilities. My presumptive failure was keeping me from tasting both success and the joy of stretching to complete a challenge.
It also lent itself to a completely unbalanced life. When in the midst of a project, I was unwilling and almost physically unable to pull away for anything. I would eat weird meals at strange times. I would do my best to ignore “the outside world”, which I defined as anything but my project and me. I would allow anger to arise in me when my kids had the audacity to want to talk to me. It was terrible. I was terrible. Really, it came down to one question
I’m not saying it is black-and-white for everyone. Probably most are able to be absolutely amazing at something and still be decent. Not this guy. Too easily, I begin to expect perfection from myself, and this high standard requires my all. Something is triggered in me when the call to brilliance comes to my mind, and I feel like I have to give every waking moment, every spare bit of energy, every-single-thing to it.
I am learning to have a balanced and prioritized life, instead of pursuing brilliance in all things. I definitely don’t consider myself an expert at balance – you might say I am a neophyte at it. But I have figured a few things out.
People first, every time
No project should ever take priority over the people in my life. And let me make one thing absolutely clear. There is a clear distinction between the hypothetical people who might read the words I write and the actual physical people in my daily life.
My first call in life is to be a godly husband to my wife, learning together with her how to honor Christ with our lives. Then I am ordained by God to be a father to my children, to light the path of the righteous life for them, that they might walk it. Then, I am to be a burden-lifter, prayer-giver, laugh-bringer, hope-inspiring friend to those who trust me. Whenever I forget this, I lose my balance in life.
Most things are not emergencies
I do from time to time have urgent work projects, and life does throw curve balls at me that require immediate attention. This is not the nature of most things in my life. Most have moderate deadlines, or no deadlines at all. I am learning to experience my life at less than breakneck speed, and to enjoy the process.
There is no shame is having a lazy afternoon, or even [gasp] a lazy weekend.
The truth is, it is often in the unplanned parts of life where we most readily find our comfort and joy. Somewhere in my faith journey, I picked up the idea that even a relaxing moment is somehow wasted in God’s eyes. I am learning the truth that God seeks to bring joy to us, in the busy and the slow seasons.
Too many ideas is proof of a creative mind
I used to feel the pressure of needing to DO SOMETHING with every idea that crossed my mind. This is one of the reasons I focused so intently on one concept at a time, because it prevented me from having any new creative thoughts. I am slow, but I finally get it. Having an idea does not put any responsibility on me to execute it immediately, or at all.
Now, I recognize a new idea exactly for what it is…an idea. Now, I have lots of ideas about how I can parent better, how I might replace the income from my “day job”, what my next book might be. I have no idea which of these will actually work, or even how many of these I will execute. But giving them space in my imagination to ruminate reminds me I am alive, and I am not done growing and changing.
Where Does This Leave Me?
For one thing, it gives me more potential priorities than appendages. I don’t have a chance of implementing even half of the ideas I have now. It also leaves me with a greater capacity for joy and rest in my life. It even increases the chances that I succeed at those things which matter most, regardless of what my net worth or books sold might communicate about me to others. In short, it leaves me healthy.
This is one of the most honest posts you’ve written Chris. So glad to have you back in the blogosphere, and with a post which is so true, so authentic and as such has such power. It’s really challenged me today. Thanks dude.
After our conversation this weekend, I figured it was time to reenter the land of the living with my blog. So tell me — how do you stay on top of your priorities, Dude?
I admit dude, I find it very very difficult. I have a vague plan in my head of what I’m going to do week by week, and of my priorities. But I don’t have a proper plan with accountability. That’s why I need a coach who can help me – and maybe I might just post a plan on the Dude Writers page, and then let you all hold me accountable.
Love to see you growing in such strides, Chris. Often growth is REALLY painful isn’t it! We are not meant to live comfortable, boring, status quo-filled lives.
There is so much power in accountability. The challenge is finding grace for ourselves if we don’t get to 100% of our goal. I find the friendships of others at least as helpful for reminding me of grace as I do anything else.
My priorities are chocolate chip cookies gentlemen. (Partially kidding.) You guys rock!
If you ever figure out a way to grow without pain, please let me know 🙂
I am learning to lean into the pain and discomfort, to become the best version of me.
Love that you’re back Chris. I missed you dude. You can flat out write. But you’re an even better friend, husband and father. Writing matters, but it never trumps those. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us. I’m blessed to call you a friend.
Troy, you are such an encouragement to me. Glad we met Dude!
Chris, this is a really powerful post, and it hit me exactly where I live. When I get focused on something, I get intently focused on it. I am very task-oriented (just ask my family), and it’s hard for me not to be annoyed by interruptions (just ask my family).
You bring up a great point in your post: Does it matter if you are brilliant at one thing if the people in your life don’t like to be around you, and you’re a jerk?
We seem to find a pattern with many of the great artists and achievers: they left a legacy of being the greatest at something, but they were horrible fathers, and few people really know and loved them well. I’m thinking people like Steve Jobs and Johnny Carson.
Powerful line: There is a clear distinction between the hypothetical people who might read the words I write and the actual physical people in my daily life.
Amen to that dude!!!
I was thinking about the legacy Jobs left, and it struck me — that is not the testimony I want about my life. Don’t get me wrong: I am glad he came up with the iPhone, but I don’t want things to be the inheritance I leave my friends and family.
That line you mention is convicting me every time I read it. I hope you don’t think I own it in my life just because I penned it.
I struggle with this all of the time. But what helps me out is putting things in perspective: My number one job is to be the best Dad and husband I can, then to write. Sometimes I get that backwards.
Good point, Chris. I don’t want a blog, a book, or any other “product” to be my biggest legacy.
I think we all write things that we know in our guts are true, and are striving to reach toward!
And the other comments are right on – you are a fantastic writer. You are a writer I like to read. A lot of blogs have a good content that is not written particularly well-written. Yours has great material but is very easy to read – not a small feat! Can’t wait to read other stuff you have coming up.
You are so right. Last year I committed to write every day, but I forgot to live too. Lack of sleep, and no time to notice the roses or the sunshine.
Thank you for the reminder to have balance. ( I should have read this earlier today. It is 11:28 at night, and I am still awake writing. )
I have gone round and round with this writing daily thing. I think I am in a good place now. It might be my dog’s fault. We have a puppy. He does not respect when I am writing. 🙂
Actually Chris, it is our new puppy that keeps me from sitting on my computer all day. The balance is in taking the dog out to go potty, and for walks. The dog helps me not be so selfish with my time. Our puppy, Penny, was born on December 14th, 2013. A black lab.
Gosh, what a pure and honest post, Chris. And yes, it’s great to read your words again!
I thought we might have a common…ummmm….focus issue. I do love Freckles though. She is a welcome addition to our home — the bringer of both joy and aggravation.
Aw shucks, Ronne! 🙂
Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement to put some new words out
Great post, Chris! Sometimes, we need to stop, slow down, prioritize and consider what it truly important in life.
Wonderful words, Chris! Something we all need to take to heart. How freeing to know we don’t have to do it all – balance is key.
That’s so true Joan. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but it makes all the difference in the world when we do it.
I didn’t even realize the weight or pressure I put on myself to finish everything I thought about. So glad I let it go (insert your favorite Disney song here).
Great point in this post Chris! I’ve also had to learn the importance of priorities. To focus on my faith, family, and job over writing and online platform building. The extra time can be devoted to chasing after my dream of becoming a full time writer.
Great post Chris. Finally had a moment to read it. Guess I needed to be reminded about priorities too.
“There is a clear distinction between the hypothetical people who might read the words I write and the actual physical people in my daily life.” Great line. And yet, sometimes we put more emphasis on not only those faceless people out there, but the number of them.
And God quietly sits in the corner and wonders when he will be on the priority list. I’m not a good juggler. I have had trouble trying to spin all my plates and some of them have just downright shattered. I’m trying though.
Your post reminded me of a time I was a cashier for a food chain, years and years ago. Too many to count. I was trained to do the books for the head checker while she was on vacation. I loved learning how to do that. I would also be in charge of the other cashiers. Well, I turned into a very mean person for those two weeks. And it took a lot of work to get the other girls to even talk to me once it was over. I learned I throw myself too into things at times excluding others. Balance. We all need balance. And to know how to balance things we need to know what things are the most important.
Jon Acuff talks about it as hustling in the margins. I needed to learn they I was defining my margin wrong, and redraw those boundaries in my life.
Ah yes, I have been drawn to the siren song of growing my platform too. This is a slippery slope for me — before long, I equate my success and my identity with the numerical value of those who have given me their email addresses. And yet, the call of God for me in writing is measured in hearts strengthened, burdens lifted, peace granted.
I love your story. Thank you Anne, for always giving of yourself in the comments you leave. I never get a “LOVED IT” comment from you.
Just thought you might like to know why. After a while when people just say they loved it, we don’t know what it is we should keep doing. Just my thoughts.