Giving Our Best When It Matters Most
Some thirty years ago I stood at my then girlfriend’s refrigerator trying to find something to eat. I located a single piece of cake toward the back and ate it in three bites. No piece of cake is complete without some milk to wash it down, so I grabbed the carton; made sure the coast was clear; and proceeded to drink directly from the container. Mid-gulp I noticed said girlfriend standing in the doorway staring at me. I prepared for the worst. She moved toward me, leaned up, kissed me on the cheek, and walked away. My immediate thought: “I think I could spend the rest of my life with this woman.”
I did ask that very lactose tolerant girl to marry me and it’s been an amazing ride. I joke with people that the reason I married her is she doesn’t care if I drink from the milk carton. It is a small reason, but it’s really part of a bigger picture. Yes, we love each other, but we also like each other. We enjoy spending time with each other. And even when it’s difficult, we give room for things that drive the other crazy sometimes. Our aim is to give each other – and those we love most – the best of ourselves.
That sounds like it should be easy to do, but often it’s not. So many times we end up giving our loved ones the short end of the stick. I remember a period of time many years ago when I was working more than I ever had. It seemed like I was living at work and didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It must have showed in my demeanor because my stepfather asked me how I was doing when he and my mom were visiting. I told him what was going on and that I felt like it was affecting things at home, as I had a 3-yr old and my wife was pregnant with our second. I’ll never forget him telling me to do what was needed at work, but that didn’t mean my family should get the “scraps” of me. They deserved the best of me.
Think about how often many of us do this. We pour ourselves into jobs and other activities, and when we get home we’re spent. We feel like we have to be “on” for clients, friends, associates, etc. and when the day is done we turn it “off.” Our loved ones want and need our attention and all we want to do is relax/recharge because we’ve got to do it again the next day. Our interactions become short. Our responses become short. Our tempers become short. All of this with the people we care the most about in the world.
My wife and I were having dinner recently with a couple who have one of the strongest marriages we know about. I asked them how they have sustained that relationship over the years. They confirmed this idea of never giving their leftovers. They are mindful and purposeful about making sure the other gets the best of what they have to give each day. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about their careers or other people – it just means they will always consider each other first as they go through life.
I care a lot about my job. I’ve always been driven to be successful at any job I’ve ever held … except for one year in high school that I delivered pizzas. I don’t know if it was the subpar product, the bad management, or the broken down Ford Pinto I drove - but I really didn’t care about that job. It could have been my attitude, but I really think it was the Pinto. As an adult, I’ve always spent a lot of time working - or thinking about work – and many times let it keep me from being fully present with my family. I remember one time years ago when I was half-ass participating in something we were doing at home. My wife looked at me and said “Is that the best you’ve got?” I said “What?” with this fake bewildered look on my face. She then said “You would never do things like that if you were at work.” Boom. Gut punch. The thing is - she was right. I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve made sure she would never have the opportunity to say it again.
I know you’re thinking “sure, that sounds great in theory, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything and still make sure loved ones are my first priority.” When I have that thought, I start to add up the time I spend on Netflix, Twitter, ESPN, etc. (feel free to substitute your excuses here). I don’t claim to have something figured out when it comes to balance in life, but I know how to approach it better now. If we’re going to do this “right”, we have to commit that although careers and other activities may be important, they won’t prevent us from giving our best to those we love.
That’s what they want from us.
That’s what they deserve from us.