As little Liam Left his One Dimensional World of the Womb
Last night we were a family in anticipation of the delivery of a new grand baby, and our daughter’s father, my wife’s ex-husband, came down from Wisconsin to await the arrival of the newborn with us. Most of our friends and acquaintances already know that he and I are friends and partners in music, so for him to stay at our home is absolutely normal. Her dad had scheduled about 10 days for the happy event to take place and then go back up North for work. Ten days however turned out not to be enough, so he was wondering whether to go back and risk the chance of missing the entire experience or staying longer. I told him to ask himself what would matter more to him 2 years from now. He stayed.
I am writing this story as our daughter is finally in the delivery room trying to make sense of contractions that seem to ravage her little body every couple of minutes. The nurse apparently told her to envision a cake with fifty burning candles and slowly blow out each and every one of them to avert the contraction pains. It’s a new world for me. In itself not that alarming or surprising, as I have wandered through many different worlds in my lifetime. And what I have found is that people who are only living in one world are mostly unhappy.
These days, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we make important decisions on what we will pay attention to. I am not talking about the attention we pay to our work and our clients—the things that are vital to our organization’s success and our economic well-being. I am talking, instead, about what can be referred to as our inner life. Our inner life expands or shrinks in direct proportion to what we focus on. It’s an existential choice; that is, we are responsible for how we spend our time. This is important because our inner life ultimately defines who we are as a person—independent of titles, job functions or which step we occupy on the corporate success ladder. Jobs can come and go, businesses can start and end, but who we become in the process is what lasts a lifetime.
It’s true that in our highly charged, digital existence, there is, realistically for most of us, only a small amount of time left for discretionary attention. And in this life crunch, the thing that often gets pushed aside is the fitness of our inner life—our family, our personal relationships, our health and our spirituality. It is these thoughts that go through my head at 2 am, while taking a break from that brutally beautiful process going on inside the delivery room; a process that procreates life on earth as the result of love between two young adults, who intentionally set out to build a family.
I don’t know how other people react to the experience of birth, but it inspires me to pay more attention to my inner life, as I suddenly realize that in recent years I have come dreadfully close to becoming what Peter Drucker called “a knowledge worker” who is severely at risk of living in a one dimensional world. I have always lived a multi dimensional life far beyond the virtual or actual walls of a work life. Now I realize that getting older is a bad excuse for moving to a one dimensional existence.
A total life really is one that includes work, friends, family, professional colleagues and affiliation groups; in short, a life that is rich, diversified and fulfilling. The secret to achieving this is by living in more than one world, enjoying a diversity of interests, activities, acquaintances and pursuits. I am also realizing with great clarity that “charity begins at home.” Don’t get me wrong, being charitable is worthy but you have to balance what you give to others, whether in volunteering, mentoring, or spending hours answering strangers’ e-mail requests, with the actual time you spend with those closest to you. I realize that I need to make some adjustments to the time scale.
On another level I am also deeply aware of the emotional footprint I leave on relationships. A growing number of us is concerned about the carbon footprint we leave on our environment without much consideration for the other kind of footprint: the emotional one that we may unwittingly leave on our relationships when we show up stressed, harried and distracted—consumed by our work and the business. If this describes you, resolve to make some changes. It’s a question of managing your moods so that they don’t spill over from the office to the living room, or worse the bedroom.
Also I vow to try and not keep scores anymore. Attention on any given day is in limited supply. It takes more effort to hold a grudge, for a real or imaginary slight—to remember who did what, or who didn’t do what, or for what reason—than it does to blow it away. I will do my best to patch up what went wrong and if, despite a sincere effort, there is no improvement, I will push delete and purge all old stuff that is cluttering my life’s inbox. And while I’m at it, make room for new people too.
There is a new person in my life and as I welcome little Liam into this multi leveled diversified life, after 9 months in a one dimensional world, I hope he will pursue an enriching life in many worlds. I hope he will put his foot on the brakes at regular intervals, take stock of his life and where his life is taking him. Consider if a shift in priorities is necessary and which activities need to be abandoned or scaled back. And above all, I hope that as he looks into the future, he will consider those who share his present life, at whatever stage his life happens to be.
Chrysler’s turnaround guy Lee Iacocca said once: “No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?”