So, what are you? Oh- I’m a searcher…how about you?

I’ve spent the bulk of my personal life and the entirety of my professional career in a bit of a quandary.  I’ve always known, somewhere in that space that people describe as their “soul”, that corporate America wasn’t a place for me and I am also acutely aware that the “personality presentation” I’ve been able to put on for others (let’s call them friends & family) has been less than genuine too.  I’ve always believed that I am on a search for something and I have been pretty insecure as to why the rest of the world seemed OK with picking a path and sticking to it.

I heard, this weekend, that Sigmund Freud wrote extensively about happiness and although I haven’t read his work on the topic, the summary I received this weekend was interesting.  I was offered the summary by a psychologist friend of mine and his summary touched on how Freud viewed the expectations people put on their lives and how life (call it reality) tends to step in the way and dampen what some of us might refer to as our “life plan”.  When you think about it, husbands and wives probably have targets or expectations about how clean to keep a house, how many date nights to hit a week, what travel they may want to experience and for those less fortunate, which bills to pay for the month (ensuring that lights stay on or food makes it to the table).

Reality can set in and extinguish, if you let it, the fire that keeps most of us plugging down the path of experiencing life and, supposedly, Freud believed that when reality stepped in the way of grand expectations, if life’s curve ball made it such that the goals became unattainable, then people would typically release happiness from their lives and would “let go” of the goal they may have set, which then creates a host of other challenges.

Well…I share this story because I was forced into a living Freud experiment only 1 day following my introduction to the topic (I didn’t even have time to go to Barnes & Noble and buy the damn book).  See, I’m beginning to get my own understanding of what drives happiness and what drives my satisfaction in life.  God knows I’ve been writing and speaking about it for almost 3 years and even though it’s an incredibly complicated and complex path to journey down, when you start to get to the root of things- it is simpler than most give credit.

As a backdrop- Sundays are my “recovery” day on my marathon training, so as my distances pick up, my recovery runs are now 5, 6 and 7 miles, which I typically do early in the morning.  This morning, though, I wanted to sleep in (we had some friends over for dinner, it was 65 degrees last night, which means great sleeping and my ENTIRE family stayed in bed until 930am…which was fantastic).  Here comes the experiment- I had an expectation of running 7 miles this morning, but I also had the expectation of taking my family (armed with their bikes) on that run.  We got the bikes out, the kids got dressed, Deena was looking hot in her workout attire and ready for the bike ride (sorry D, you know what runs through my mind every 7.5 minutes) and we took off down the street.

My I-pod was cranking hip hop/house music- it’s my inner 80’s DJ coming out, the boys tore off down the street, Deena was following the boys… and then there was Jillian.  My angelic 5 year old refused to pedal faster than 1 mile per hour (which is going to make our run a long 7 hour ordeal) and every slight descend on the sidewalk was greeted by a shriek of horror, as if she was bombing down Mt. Everest without any safety equipment.  Needless to say- the boys are pissed because they have to wait for their “annoying sister”, Deena is edgy because she knows I’m going to be pissed off about my run, which ruins her idea of a great family day and she was right…I began chewing out a 5 year old girl because she refused to pedal at a 10:30/mile pace.

Oh yeah, all of this occurs prior to eclipsing the 500 yard marker and then Brecken’s chain pops off his bike (Karma is a bitch and I was putting too much bad mojo in the air).  Bike repair complete, I’m now covered in chain oil, my daughter is crying, my wife is pouting, my oldest son has disappeared on the ride and for a brief minute life’s scoreboard popped into my head (REALITY-1, FAMILY EXPECTATION-0).  Dr. Freud’s little theory on the disillusionment of happiness based on reality inserting itself into people’s bullshit became my living psychological experiment.  That’s when it happened.

I got up, saw the look on my daughter’s face, my son was believing that the chain was HIS fault and I caught the blue sky, the green trees, my entire family (sans my 10 year old who had enough and was bolting down the street like a professional mountain biker) and I realized that if I had to run another “lap” of our bike course to achieve my mileage, no problem…my kids were about to jump onto a trail that would give them the freedom to bike at their own pace, my wife was going to get to spend time with her husband and children and I was still going to get my run in (and truthfully…my marathon is going to take 5 hours to complete anyway, so who the hell cares if I run my 7 miles in 1:20 or 3:00 hours).  I calmed down and I adjusted my expectations and THAT is the simplicity of being a happier person (in my opinion).  I calmed down and helped my daughter balance on her bike, the boys raced ahead and we all made it to the trail head.  Our ride only took 1 hour (the whole family covered about 4 miles) and I ran ahead for the other three miles and everyone got what they wanted (and yes…Jillian continued to stop every 40 feet and collect rocks, twigs and other goodies found on the bike path, so she was happy too).

My run story is no different than the scenario of running short on money, losing a file to a big presentation, running late for an appointment or not getting the dishes done when you had hoped.  We all set expectations (every day) and when you can start to realize that life will insert reality, which could step in the way of you achieving your expectation, do yourself a favor…calm down, look around, appreciate what you are experiencing  and step around the bump that life puts in front of you.

I just reread my first paragraph and wanted to close with my earlier point.  I’ve realized why I’ve changed jobs, run marathons, adventure raced, mountain biked, read books, wrote articles, started a blog, travelled for work, tried crazy things with my wife, hugged my children for no apparent reason, gave money to homeless people…because I’m a “searcher”.  We are a small group (as I’ve been able to determine thus far in life), but we are always on the hunt for something.  I used to think it was the search for the “end” of the journey, but ironically, it’s not.  I’m always moving, changing, growing and experiencing so that I can find the beginning of a new path.  It is inevitable that if one chooses to be a “searcher” then one should also become really comfortable with adjusting expectations based on life’s curve balls.  This is the first time in life when I’ve felt like I’ve been able to articulate why I’m in a constant state of movement and it feels good.  To other “searchers” out there…enjoy your next path on the journey and for those who tend to be a little more methodical on their path- I wish you well and don’t let reality piss you off too often and please don’t give up your happiness because of some inevitable challenges.

Finite…everything comes to an end, doesn’t it?

Finite is a word that is used often, but I’m not sold that its definition is truly appreciated anymore.  I’ll spare everyone the diatribe about corporate America and the struggles we have balancing work and life and I promise to refrain from a self loathing article about how I make mistakes, search for truths and spend time searching for enlightenment.  I just jumped out of bed to write this article because as I lay awake (watching the Tigers abandon runners on base) I was thinking about how a simple dinner this evening helped me recognize something critical about my relationship with my wife and I thought sharing would illustrate how it could be relevant to your relationship too.

First, my son is playing football this fall, so Deena and I attended the new parents’ meeting to learn about expectations for the season and to sign up for our “volunteer” hours (selling hotdogs for a couple games) and to learn about the equipment we’ll need to purchase for the upcoming season.  It’s only July, so even though the summer break will continue on for another 6 weeks, we know that we’ll be fighting over calendar appointments, determining who needs to go where (with whom) and Deena will re-engage in another year of teaching all too soon.

Before I start depressing everyone (including myself) with banter about how quick the summer is flying by, I wanted to go back to our dinner and how a meal with my wife has adjusted my view on some of my historical “husband-like” behaviors.

After the football meeting we had a drink, put in our dinner order, watched some baseball, sipped margaritas and spent some time talking and laughing.  I like to have complicated discussions (they entertain me), but my wife does not, so we found a happy medium and shot the shit about a few other topics.

Toward the end of dinner, marriages became the focal point of the discussion and as some couples probably do…we joked about what it was like dating each other, how we’ve changed over time and how our priorities adjusted post kids and post marriage.  Yes, I tend to take these talks to “pig like” husband spaces and insert the snide comments about how often we used to “hang out” (that’s what I’ll call it for my G rated audience) and whenever I bring that subject up she traditionally rebuts (as most spouses probably do) about how life, kids, lists, projects, sleep and a myriad of preoccupations tend to step in the priority lane ahead of “hanging out”.  In short, I was told to “shut it” and drink my tequila.

We finished a good meal and a good chat, so we jumped in the car and drove home.  Once home, I got the kids showered up and ready for bed, Deena caught up with her parents a bit (they watched the kids for us) and I laid down (expecting to dose off to sleep), but that’s when it hit me.  Not sure why, but the thought of how finite our lives are, which includes the time with my wife, continued to bounce through my head.  I experienced a unique appreciation for this limited time (more than I ever have in the past) and it continued to run through my mind that I should have more of these “dinners” with my wife and it had been too long since I really appreciated a dinner with Deena (as I wrote last week, it’s easy to take people for granted).  Dinner was tremendous because of the simplicity of the time together (we sat close together at a bar, shared good discussion, watched baseball and just enjoyed our company).   

This shouldn’t shock anyone, but here it goes…I, like others, can be a whiny and demanding husband at times! And when you layer on my additional desire for philosophical discussions- I get it…it can be exhausting.  With that said, here is something ALL wives could pay attention to (exhausting husband or non-exhausting husband).  Every husband will have his unique way of communicating his interests for getting close to you.  After meeting you for the first time…we chased you, dated you, got engaged and married you, so yes…whether we still act like it or not, we love being around you.  I don’t want to speak for all husbands, but I know a few and I promise this…our intentions are generally rooted in a good place, so although some of us might grope (I do that), some might beg for time with you (yep, been there too) and in the absence of “attention” some might pout (okay, I’m three for three), the wives out there should all recognize that we are pretty simple too (we want to spend time with you), but being men…and through the exhaustion of chasing you, we might forget how simple it really can be to connect with you.

Some might question what we actually forget?  We might forget what it was like to enjoy sitting next to you somewhere, what it was like to talk to you as our “friend” or what it was like to “date” and force ourselves to be a little more “smooth” than we might be today.  How did this happen?  It’s simple.  We get wrapped up too.  Wrapped up in where to go with the kids, who to take to which practice, when to pick up, how to keep working hard and making sure to devote time to you and the kids and all the while, we are still men, so…this is where we revert to groping, begging and pouting, right? 

Let’s close this with my raised awareness and revisit the finite nature of our time together.  As couples, we only have so many days left together and I hope anyone reading this chooses to respect that concept.  Every night you spend apart, every night someone heads off to bed early or the next time dinner consists of herding the kids at your table (so you can force them to consume enough food to stay alive for another day)…step back and readjust your actions and behaviors.  If you don’t show that you appreciate your spouse, you’ve burned another day, so I’m going to try and respect this lesson and spend more time with Deena and I’m going to ask that she does the same.  Go to dinner with each other, sit next to each other at the dinner table, put the kids to bed 30 minutes early and simply hang out with each other for a change and if that all fails…feel free to resort back to groping, begging and pouting.  I’ve said it a bunch tonight, so remember…our lives are finite and we chose to be in these relationships, so let’s work to remember the little ways to stay focused on our time together, not our time apart.

Vegas baby…Vegas

Anyone close to me knows that I like to analyze, sometimes to a fault, so as I sat at my house last week, the topic of relationships and what keeps them going kept popping into my head.  Why?  Simple, I had time on my hands and there is a ton of bad TV airing during the day (with some of America’s best relationship doctors, i.e. Jerry Springer) and, truth-be-told, I was pouting because my wife was able to be in one of my favourite cities, Las Vegas, and I was at home thinking about how insane it would be to have 3 kids on my own.  Prior to this week of adult solitary confinement, I spent the July 4th week at my family’s home in northern Michigan and even though I prayed, two or three times, for some peace and quiet (you have to understand that we had 14 people in one house plus dogs and the random visitors), I wasn’t fully prepared for the daily task of looking after my “little angels” the following week.  Flashing back to my 4th of July prayers about peace and quiet…be careful what you ask for.

On Sunday, July 8th, everyone was gone and the beach house only had my family left…so we cleaned up the house, locked the doors, packed into the mini-van and left the tranquillity of Lake Michigan.  Ironically, I wasn’t my normal, pissed off self as I drove down-state, which was due (in part) to the fact that I also took the week of the 9th off (nice to get away for some extended time) and as you’ve been informed, I was on “kid duty” while Deena was at her “conference”.  Deena’s trip was apparently a success because she looked like hell when she got home, slept on a couch the entire day of her return and although she commented that the conference was great, it was also really “tiring” (I watched the Hangover while she was gone, so I wasn’t buying her story).  I would have typically believed her, but she returned home with no pictures of the conference, but there were bar pictures…and the only proof of this work trip was one really ugly conference bag and binder.  My theory…she and her friends picked up these charming teacher bags and binders, printed conference logos on them and played it off as if they were really “working”.  Now, I don’t really believe that (it’s just my bitter & jealous side rearing its head…come on, I love Vegas), so back to my point.

During my week with the kids we stayed pretty busy.  I had events planned for them each day: we pulled together a lunch at Greenfield Village, facilitated a sleep-over at a friend’s house, hit a birthday party and took care of a couple of travel hockey try-outs.  I also made sure that we did something critical to any period of time when Mom isn’t around (we spent money).  I let the kids pick flowers for the deck (yes, I turned in my man card before Deena left for Vegas), although I did redeem myself from the sissy’esque flower shopping spree with a solid rebound purchase from Home Depot (a metal, roll-away vintage looking beer cooler), which worked well on Friday night as I sat with my brother and a good friend and pontificated over every topic under the sun (religion, politics, relationships, marriage, etc.) and 30 beers.

Here comes my poignant teaching moment and the inspirational comments that typically close each of my articles.  What keeps relationships going and what did I learn during this time with my kids that I can impart on each of you (my loyal readership)?  I learned this.  I think our divorce rate is, in part, at 60% nationally because people take each other for granted.  As a remedy, if you are a couple, you should schedule 1 or 2 trips per year (where one of the spouses heads out for a long weekend or if you can pull it off, a full week), which reminds you of a couple things; 1) how nice it is to have someone in your life, 2) a little bit of jealousy helps you remember that you do need to “work” at showing your spouse how much they mean to you and 3) it is so much easier to manage kids when they don’t have you outnumbered 3:1.  In all seriousness, it has always been easy for me to take off and travel (work travel, golf trips, conferences, etc) and I’m sure it was easy for Deena to take off too.  I know, we all bark about “ohhhh, I’ll miss you all so much”, but let’s not bullshit each other, sometimes it is nice to get away and I was reminded about how demanding the world can be with only one parent in the mix and I look up to all single parents who live this on a daily basis.  I learned that as much as I pick on my wife, I miss having her with us and realize what an instrumental part of our family she plays (I mean someone has to say “no” to the kids every now and then, right)?

To wrap up, don’t take your loved ones for granted.  Work each and every day to show them how much they mean to you and forgive them if they wake up with Mike Tyson’s tiger in their possession.