When Life is a Treadmill

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I’m on record that I hate running on treadmills. I’m going to amend that to include when work “feels” like a treadmill as well.

It seems like there are just phases of life where every work day is pretty much the same as day before. Where you feel like you’re running a good pace because you’re getting tired, but not really going anywhere. No measurable victories, no significant losses, no new challenges, no change in scenery. Generally, it is like your work has been put on a treadmill.

The reason that I don’t like running on treadmills is that even though you consciously know you’re doing something, sub-consciously it feels like you’re standing still. The scenery never changes so your mind doesn’t measure the work that you’re putting in. It is mindless and boring to me. I like to see new things, experience new places, and face new challenges when I run. I desire the same things in my work – new challenges, different day to day schedules, and new clients and colleagues to engage with in meaningful dialogue.

So, when my work life starts to feel like a treadmill it feels mindless and boring to me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on one of those work treadmills – several big projects are rolling along without too much of my interaction required; we’ve put some great proposals on the street and it isn’t time to “push” those opportunities yet; there don’t seem to be a ton of new projects on the horizon; AND I work from home, so no one just to grab coffee with and brainstorm about new ideas. It is just plowing along, putting in effort, but sub-consciously it feels like it isn’t going anywhere. BOOORRRRRINNG!

So, what to do? I guess there are a few options:

  1. Take a vacation. I actually did take yesterday off since the kids were out of school and I’m taking next Monday off for the same reason. I hope we’ll be able to share some experiences together to get my mind off of it.
  2. Take on a new challenge. Seems like I don’t ever have to look very far to find a new project or challenge around the corner. I have a new opportunity to teach a college class again this semester and I’m finding out about new and interesting things in my world every day just by opening my eyes it seems. (Trick is to not take on too much)
  3. Feed my mind. I’ve checked out some books I’m interested in and I’m trying to catch up with some friends I haven’t talked to in awhile. Writing and reading are good distractions for me.
  4. Push on old business relationships. This is hard to do when things are busy, so I’ve reached out to some past clients just to see how they’re doing and fill them in on what we’re up to at Downstream.
  5. Consider the obvious. Am I getting the kind of “work exercise” I want and need? Is it time for a “new type of training?” I’m still grappling with this one.

What I don’t want to do is sit around wasting time surfing the internet. I don’t want to become a micro-managing part of my team just because the rest of the team is hard at work on the projects we closed at the end of the year and my “heavy lifting” is on a break right now. I don’t want to get dis-enchanted with what I do if this is just a spell.

So, even though I find treadmill running incredibly boring, I’m just going to accept today that sometimes its cold outside and if you want to work up a sweat, you just have to hope on the treadmill and run. And so it is in work as well.

Work v. Passion

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Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel and champion of the working class has a now famous quote from his TED Talk:

“Bring your passion along with you, but don’t follow it – be happy first!”

What?!?! Don’t follow your passion? Isn’t that counter to everything we’ve ever been taught. Perhaps, but I think he’s on to something.

Recently, I served as the Camp Director for the Jay Bilas Skills Camp, an ‘old school’ camp that is focused on teaching the fundamental skills of the game of basketball. Preparing for the camp and then the three, 18 hour days in the gym reminded me that my passion is teaching – teaching and leading coaches, teaching young people the game of basketball, and teaching life changing lessons through sports. I know it is my passion because not once did I think twice about putting in the long days; not once did I ask myself ‘what are you doing here?’; not once did I wish I was doing something else with my time; not once did I wonder how much I was going to get paid for the work. I was all in, all out, for the entire camp…because it is my passion.

But my passion isn’t my job. Does that make me a failure? Shouldn’t I have a job at 39 years old that allows me to make a living following my passion? I agree with Mike Rowe on this point and say NO! That doesn’t mean that I don’t love my job and it doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard at my job. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not happy. I have a great job working every day with sports teams to help make their facilities more beautiful and engaging. I earn a good living and have a balanced quality of life. I have time to spend with my family and friends. And  I still have time for my passion. I don’t work in my passion everyday, but I do bring it along with me to my job.

Here is what I have observed about people who follow their passion (including me in the early stages of my career). They eventually burn out, they destroy their relationships, and they become imbalanced and dependent. The reason for this is that when you are working at your passion you don’t ever want to stop. You believe so much in what you’re doing or love your work so much that you’ll do anything to keep doing it. No amount of hours is too many; no request from the boss is unreasonable; no sacrifice is too large. I know, I followed my passion for coaching for 10 years and I have countless friends who have done the same thing. The road I was going down, and the road I have seen many others go down leads you to ignore your health because there isn’t enough time for silly things like working out and eating right. It causes you to ignore relationships with your spouse and family and often leads to divorce and loneliness because your job takes priority whether you want to admit it or not. It creates an emotional roller coaster where your happiness is ONLY tied to success in your job, often leading to addiction in an effort to find some calming or numbing place. Following your passion can be very dangerous.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t love what you do and be passionate about it. And I’m not suggesting you should abandon your passions. What I believe is that if you blindly follow your passion into a career, there are risks that you should be aware of and guard against. I also want to stress that I do believe that it is important to pursue your passions, even when they aren’t your job. If you love art, keep creating and sell or give away your art. If you love to travel, find a way to spend your available time and money out on the road. If you love music, keep playing as much as you can as long as you can. If you love sports, stay involved in youth sports or an adult league even if you can’t find the right job in the industry that makes you happy. And most importantly, whatever you end up doing for your JOB, bring your passion along with you, but be happy FIRST.

Balance

There is a quote that is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that reads:

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

Reading or hearing this quote always makes me stop and pause to think about the balance in my own life. While I think it is important, and I strive for, moderation in my life, I also find value in moments of excess. I suppose it all depends on where you expend your excess that determines the value of it to your life. Balance is most important when you overextend yourself in one way or another and need to physically or emotionally ‘land on your feet.’

I am fortunate that some days my work schedule allows me to go for a morning run, sit down with a cup of coffee, read or reflect, maybe write a little and start my ‘work day’ pretty much whenever I’d like to start it. Other times I’m racing from the bed to the shower to the airport to a meeting and the day seems to start and end at breakneck pace. The thing that always allows me to land on my feet when I’ve overextended myself with a series of those breakneck days is balance. Balance emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually.

On a normal day, home or on the road, I don’t have time for both a morning workout and morning reflection and solitude. What I have chosen to do is balance those things. Yesterday after I walked the kids to the bus stop I went for a 3 mile run and then came home, ate breakfast, showered and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. This morning after the bus stop I came back home, ate breakfast, read, prayed, and journaled for 40 minutes and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. I didn’t feel guilty yesterday for not having time for reflection. I didn’t feel guilty this morning for not having time for a run. I am trying to create a balance in my life so that next week when I’m flying from coast to coast with presentations, client meetings and spending days full of work and craziness that I land on my feet and don’t fall over (emotionally or physically).

Don’t get me wrong…if someone was going to pay me to structure my day exactly as I’d like it, I’d have time for a run and reflection every single day. But that isn’t in the cards in this stage of life for me so rather than throw my hands up in frustration that I can’t be more diligent to run 5 days a week or getting down on myself because I only make time to pray and journal 2-3 times a week, I just try for balance. When I have that balance, I truly can achieve moderation in all things, including moderation.

When you work from home

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Working from a home office is an interesting life sometimes. No, there’s no coworkers around to annoy you, and very few impromptu meetings pop up. It does have it’s own curveballs, however, and that is what makes it fun.

When you work from home…

– you are ALWAYS the one who has to make a new pot of coffee

– on snow days, your kids go to work with you

– you’ve got a shower connected to your office, just like the CEO

– most of your colleagues only see you in a head and shoulders shot on Skype

– every day is ‘take the dog to work day’

– you can get a workout in at lunchtime and not worry about the shower afterwards

– the commute is always great

– you have to remind yourself to ‘leave’ the office at the office

– you sometimes get lonely

– nobody checks your time sheet

– it is all about productivity because there’s no one to fool into thinking you’re BUSY

– ‘the office’ can be a very loose term and can be the deck, the kitchen, the coffee shop, the bar, the kid’s basketball practice, or the grocery store

In an effort to work to live instead of living to work, I wouldn’t trade working from home for anything. I couldn’t have done it at 28, but at 38 it is the perfect way for me to keep balance and perspective, rest and run hard, work and wind down.