Jim Mondry discusses how letting go of his expectations of productivity has allowed him to experience joy in parenting and work again.
As a parent, how do you feel about your time? Does it seem like there is never enough, like you are in a constant race to work, get the laundry and dishes done, find time to play with your kids, and then after they are in bed, do some exercise or something for yourself, only to fall in bed exhausted, thinking about all that you didn’t get finished and what you have to do again tomorrow?
My year was like that. I tried to start a photography business, a coaching business, and put together a business proposal to purchase a third business, while working a full time job, supporting my wife who was in the middle of her Ph.D and suffering from depression, and parenting a very spirited child. Even when I was only getting 5-6 hours of sleep to squeeze extra time out of my day, even when I was excited about what I was getting to do, I never felt like I was doing enough, or could do enough.
One of the things I squeezed into my life was meditation. Most of the entrepreneurs I look up to are consistent practitioners, which has inspired me to make the effort to sit for 10 minutes at a time. It isn’t easy to do with so much else to get done, but I’m glad I’ve made the effort. It has given me the best lesson of my past year—I can’t get everything done, and nor should I expect it of myself.
I’ve spent my life trying to get everything done, from work to chores, to personal projects. I see all that needs to get done and jump from task to task, checking things off the to-do list. If anything would interrupt that relentless pursuit, I would become very angry and frustrated. When my daughter was born every need my child had was something to be angry about. When she wanted to play, all I could think about was all of the other things I had to do. Every time she was sick, all I could think about was how this was slowing me down. I would allow my work, and my side businesses to ask more of me without thought, but any time my family needed got me angry.
This is what has changed for me—I recognize this pattern, and I no longer accept it. The biggest draw of having my own business was the desire to see my family needs balanced with my work. This past year as I was creating my business I was living like I had to wait until I could experience balance. This was a lie. All that had to happen was a change in mindset. I had to choose to make that balance now by my own choices and priorities.
That choice means being mindful each moment (or as many as I can), deciding what is important. I could choose to focus on my work, either my paid job or my side businesses, with the hope of later finding time to spend with my wife and daughter, or I could choose to give this moment to my family. I can now look at my daughter as she is dancing over to me, and not resent her, but enjoy the smile as she asks me to come play.
This isn’t to say I don’t continue facing challenges over my time. I struggle with time management on a daily basis. But, the big shift has been a change of expectations. All that work I “need” to get done will get done. If it doesn’t happen now, it can happen later or tomorrow. By choosing to spend the next half-hour dressing dolls and building forts isn’t a half-hour that I have to “make up”, because I am allowing myself to decide my priority in this moment. By letting go of the pressure to constantly be producing results, letting go of the expectation to always have work in my hands, I’ve changed how I approach my work. I’m now choosing to give time to other things like exercise or time with my family an equal priority.
As a coach, I realize that many men feel a constant need to provide for their families financially. This is an important task, but isn’t the only thing they provide. Men also need to provide emotional support to their wives and children. This can only be offered through their meaningful presence. At some point, fear over the need to provide financially will force you to choose—do I spend time with my family or working? Many work places “thrive” on fear, where each employee feels the need to be constantly working overtime, answering e-mails all day or working in the lab well into the evening for fear of being fired. Each man has to make the choice at some point—what is more important, work or family? Sometimes, work has to come first. To suggest otherwise is a lie. But, I do believe that has become a default response that leads to a divided life.
Because I can’t get everything done, I choose what I want to get done. I’m learning to delegate tasks, whether it’s asking for help at work, or asking for help at home. I’m learning to say no. I’m learning to let go of the self-judgement that pushes me to do more. My meditation practice is teaching me to recognize those moments where I have a choice. I see the moments where I get to make the decision I want to make. It’s changed how I parent, it’s changed how I relate with my wife, and it’s changed how I show up to work. I feel less pressure, and more whole. I feel like I am choosing to take ownership of my own life and the time that I have. By acknowledging that I am limited, and that I can’t get everything done, I’ve learned to enjoy the moments that I have. I can be fully present, because the future doesn’t matter at that moment.
When I’m working, it’s because I’m choosing to work. When I’m with my family, it’s because I am choosing to be with them. Realizing that I have the power to make that choice has been the best lesson I learned in 2014.
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