Practicing Availability: How Not To Ruin Your Life

by chasereeves on October 30, 2009 · 13 comments

OMG!!! You should go to the new home for this site ==> Icetothebrim.com

I almost never get embarrassed. I will put my foot in my mouth and move on before you can point fingers at something dumb I’ve done or said. That is true for all but a few times that I can remember. One was at my wedding, and anyone who’s heard the about “Here comes the teeth!” knows that story. But I’ve also felt this evocative ’embarrassment’ feeling recently, and it struck me.

I was down in the bay area, California, for a conference recently, and was able to get some drinks with my brother. I don’t get to see him very often, and we sort of inhabit different worlds, so it’s always good to catch up with each other. As drinking nights with brothers usually go, we inevitably became pretty heavily saturated, which means we were ready to discover and understand the deepest and most important parts of life. You know what that feels like, don’t you? C.S. Lewis has a great quote about this from Until We Have Faces:

“…I understood why men become drunkards. For the way it worked on me was – not at all that it blotted out these sorrows – but that it made them seem glorious and noble, like sad music, and I somehow great and reverend for feeling them.”

So, my brother and I were at that noble and reverent part of the night when we started talking about him being a new uncle, me being a new dad, the brevity and mystery of life, good friends, etc. And then he kind of dropped a bomb on me.

Brother: You know… You’re not involved enough with your kid, man. And your wife too.

Me: What?

Brother: Yea, I’m serious. I was talking with mom about it and you’re totally becoming that typical workaholic, not interested or invested in your kid, always on the computer, always doing other shit.

Me: What? You and mom talk about this often?

I sort of took it like water off a duck’s back, but it really hurt to hear him say this. Partly because I felt like they were too quick to pigeon-hole me, but mostly because I knew it was true. In fact, I had already been thinking about it: I’m 28 with a 3 month old son, and I’m already living in a rhythm where a lot of my passion and attention is focused outside of my wife and child. Given my personality and history, that’s actually not too much of a surprise.

Me vs. The Enthusiast

I’ve loved self-help/self-dicovery stuff for a long time. I’ve always tried to figure out exactly what made me tick and what I was made of. I’ve studied and completed all sorts of those personality type tests; Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, Facebook Mafia, etc. So I’ve analyzed my “personality” intensively over the past 10-15 years. The most helpful tool I’ve found is called the Enneagram. I think Madonna invented it. It’s new-agey and Kabbalah-ish, but it’s incredibly insightful; it will tell you what you day dream about.

Book: Wisdom Of The Enneagram

Book: Wisdom Of The Enneagram

In the Enneagram’s framework I’m what you call “The Enthusiast” (a 7 with a 4 wing if you know what I mean). I get passionate and fired up about stuff and am great at getting others fired up as well. The book I have is called The Wisdom of the Enneagram and I love that it’s not just focused on helping you understand what your personality type is, but also on helping you identify dangers in your personalty and be more healthy.

What am I getting at? The Enthusiast’s greatest strength is getting people excited about something. I do that really well. But an unhealthy Enthusiast is flighty, uncommitted, and schizophrenic. An unhealthy me is worried about what I’m missing, so I’m constantly looking over the shoulder of the person/project I’m with. I get excited and focused on a project, but find it’s hard to follow through on that project once I’ve fallen in love with another idea. Think Robin Williams at a somewhat subdued cocktail party, and you’ve got an image about how I move around through life.

It bummed me out so much that my brother was calling me out about my attention-investment at home. Not that he was bringing it up, but that it was mostly true. In fact, for the past few weeks, since I’ve spoken to him about it, it’s been even worse! I’ve been focused on redesigning and coding this blog (how do you like it?), and Mellisa has been, how do you say, really effing bummed about it. She’s with the lil’ dude all day (from about 2 am on!) and I get home, hold him for an hour or two, and then dive into my laptop.

So, WTF (Why The Face)?

I’m driven, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and young. If there was ever a time to pursue side-projects and businesses, it’s now. But I’m also a husband and a father, and contrary to my recent behavior I’m deeply committed to building romance and intimacy with my wife and being interested in and involved with my son.

You know what’s seductive? That “I’ve still got time to change this” idea; that thought bouncing about which makes me feel like this evening isn’t a deal-breaker, like I can get away with it tonight, one french fry won’t kill me. It’s seductive because it’s just one evening, one day, but ruined relationships and regrets are built completely on ‘one evenings’ and ‘one days’. Sometimes it’s literally one evening, one decision, that kills something you care about. But more often it’s a long series of one evenings, like water through a boulder, until it splits.

I was driving the other day with a sagely and experienced man. He told me, “The thing about being a man is that we build and build and start and grow and build (our businesses, legacies, etc). You go from work to family to work to work to kid’s soccer practice to work to early morning to family dinner to work… And then you sell the company and you don’t have any friends.” I’ve heard other stories about working so hard to build a business and a future for your family only to be left with your desired ‘future’ and a broken family. And, of course, it was your absence that broke the family.

Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to sell the company, or build a successful business and realize the family is broken, the wife doesn’t trust you, the kids don’t need or want you… Nobody wants to arrive and realize that irreparable damage has been done.

But this is the real danger, isn’t it.

It seems that my personality sets me up to be the best and worst at being a husband and dad. There’s nothing my son will want more than for me to be on his side, available, and fired up with him about the killer pile of legos he made. However, if I don’t start practicing being available, he’ll feel lonely, judged, and/or not interesting enough… That would be the biggest failure of my days.

Practice Availability

So, what I’m learning (in real-time, as I write this) is that I need to practice availability. I need to get better at setting aside focus on project x, y, or z, and attune myself to wife, child, friend when necessary. I need to do this so I don’t end up the lonely king of some mole hill. But, how can I/we practice this availability? I’m sure I could use the word “boundaries” somewhere in an answer, but I’m not sure in what way. So, let me solicit your help, dear reader. How can I/we practice availability in small, meaningful ways now so we don’t regret the damage we’ve done later on?

Share on Twitter   Share on Facebook   Save to Delicious   Subscribe to RSS

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy October 30, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Good read Chase. It made my Gyro taste better.

While I am not currently in the best position in my life to provide advice, I think I will provide a little feedback:

The key to this situation is the realization. A lot of people cannot ‘fess up, and ask for advice, or blatantly point out their short comings. So, I think the hardest step (for most people) is done. It just took your brother to kick you in the ass to really focus on it. Brothers are good for that.

You are in a good position my friend. Take it from a guy who is 31 years old, single for a long time, no kids and nothing to focus on but myself. This can be an incredibly unsatisfying feeling. It was cool when young, now it changes into selfishness. All I am saying is that I would trade all the Cadillacs, guitars, gold chains and porn in the world to have a couple people really count on me on an emotional level.

How can you practice availability? I think you need to practice the development of the need to provide, and the availability will come naturally.

Time for me to get back into the fetal position in the corner…

Reply

Chase October 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

@Andy HA! Good words, sir. Good words….

Reply

Sara November 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Chase,

This was a very good read indeed.

I cannot tell you that I have advice, but I can give you a little insight into what my father has showed me about being available.

My Dad worked really hard when I was a kid. He worked hard and it payed off because I got to go to Westmont. For that I am grateful. But it would mean absolutely nothing to me if I could go to the school I want to go to and not be able to call my Dad on the phone and tell him what’s hard about being here and what I am excited about and what I am nervous about. It takes a dad that works hard AND takes those important phone calls and takes the family out for dinner on Friday nights after a long week at work that makes a great dad. Granted, my dad made many mistakes along the way, but I have no doubt in my head that he would take that important phone call or want to go out to lunch when I come around. As Aiden grows out of Legos and learns to talk, be excited to listen to him. Human beings love to be heard because we all have something to say. And you might find that he wants to listen to you too. If not, he’ll get there eventually.

Love!
@sarajunior

Reply

Chase November 2, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Thanks, Sara… Very thanks.

Reply

Alan November 3, 2009 at 10:46 am

Boundaries, indeed.

It’s rare a day goes by where I am not coming up with some new business idea, some grand scheme for the future, or – at the very least – some major distraction that takes up my time. I am very much a workaholic and it’s a love-hate relationship. I love the pursuit. I love the diligence. But without boundaries I end up hating myself for what I pursue. All my time and focus ends up being on the project at hand and the work day creeps to be just a little bit longer. “Oh sorry honey… I’ll be there in five.”

When months have gone by and you have only pursued that one side of your life – no matter how exciting or all consuming it might be – you know there is a problem. From my experience, the pursuit of those things I so often put on the sidelines – my wife, my friends, especially my maker – are the things that are really the basis and goal in life (and not just pit stops or distractions from my “vision” of whatever awesome future I’ve conceived of).

Enjoyed the read. Makes me want to take my wife out to dinner.

Reply

Chase November 3, 2009 at 10:50 am

HA! I love it: “Makes me want to take my wife out to dinner.” Thanks @alan

Reply

Douglas Gibb November 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

Hi Chase,

Great post!

There’s no easy answer to any of it. I remember reading about this guy who said he valued success as much as he valued mud 😀

I guess the only way to balance everything in a way that you would like would be some form of detachment from your own ambition – but what fun would that be.

Although some people who work hard end up alienating other people, most don’t. The trick is to know when to stop.

I would say that you keep doing what you’re doing – build your business – 6 months, a year from now, reassess. The trick is to know when to rebalance.

I remember reading a story told by Jung. He mentioned this guy who was incredibly successful – built his business from nothing.

When Jung met him, he was suffering from anxiety attacks. After working with Jung for a while, this guy realised that he had kept building upon his success even though he know it was time to stop – hence the anxiety.

Events from his past meant that he kinda got caught up in this cyclic loop where he couldn’t not work hard – but “his mind” had said enough.

I dunno dude, it’s tough situation you’re in.

I wish you all the best with it 😀

Douglas Gibb

Reply

Chase November 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

Wow… thanks Douglas! Thats a really cool story. I appreciate you sharing it!

Reply

Courtney November 9, 2009 at 10:01 am

Interesting.
Very similar for me. I have two monsters who need me at home. AND a wife who works. Talk about pressure and time management issues. My only consolation is that I’ve sensed burn-out lately and I’ve found it easier to not open the laptop every single night out of sheer exhaustion. I think I know I can control the work in my laptop and home/family/marriage can feel so chaotic sometimes its easy to let myself get pulled to work all the time.
I do know this, my kids in no way benefit from my “building” my career. In my head they will “in the future” as I’m working really hard to improve the quality of life we have. I want to be able to give them a good life. Once your little one hits two and three the real pressure is on. They start to sense the distractions and react towards the absence. I’ve discovered there is nothing more frustrating than having work on the brain and trying to answer an email and write a coherent sentence to another professional when the three year old is demanding attention. It doesn’t work. They need me now. The early years of my kids lives are really shaped by my attitude and reaction towards them. If it’s always one of distraction, frustration and limitations then I’m failing- and shaping them for their entire lives.

It’s good you are noticing this now while they baby is still needing mom so much. Your wife needs your availability, and the key to that is not just to be willing to get up from the laptop when she needs you. She needs to not have to ask you to do that to begin with. It’s annoying to always feel like you are constantly interrupting the other spouse just to have a conversation (it works both ways in our house). The fights built on bitterness are the worst.

All that is to say, work is important and necessary and takes extra hours to build your career. The happiness/fulfillment you get from that is important. But if it’s the most important then you have to ask yourself why are you invested in marriage to begin with. If it’s because you want to be with your mate and not be lonely in life then it has to be MORE important that work. Work is a lot like children. It will take and take and take and grow and cost you time and money… the big difference is what you get in return. Nothing compares to watching your child grow and enjoying that with your spouse.

I don’t usually start my Mondays like this… who needs a drink?

Reply

Chase November 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

@courtney, cheers… thanks for your heartfelt response. It’s helpful to hear your perspective from a few years ahead of me.

The past few days I’ve been thinking that there’s something really important about wonder… if I can wonder about my wife and kid, be curious about what he’s learning, what her day was like, I can naturally be invested… And maybe it’s selfishness and the siren call of “work” that kills that wonder?

So i’m looking for tactics to be disciplined about wonder… the only thing I’ve found so far is trying to make time with the lil’ dood fun… wasting about with him on the floor vs. trying to keep him quite so I can watch a soccer match.

Reply

Courtney November 9, 2009 at 11:05 am

For me, wonder happened when I just kicked it on the floor and watched them figure stuff out. Distractions rob you of those moments because the magic will always happen when you aren’t looking…

…Like the time my oldest put the keys in the outlet… didn’t see that coming… surprised him as well…

Reply

Chase November 9, 2009 at 11:06 am

HAHAHAHA!!! Thanks for that!

Reply

Ed January 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm

So, um, Courtney hit the nail on my head. Not sure if we are in the same place (me and Courtney – but were close – laptop closed out of exhaustion) but when he said, “She needs to not have to ask you to do that to begin with.”, I kinda got chills. That is my household. 5 and an 8 year old. No need for me to expand further on what he says. It’s all there.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: