It’s astonishing how difficult it is to slow the speed of life down. Just as a train in motion cannot stop at a moment’s notice, a “normal busy American suburban life” has a lot of inertia behind it. Not only are there tangible, logistical things that “need” doing, like taking the kids where they need to go, mowing the lawn, and managing bills, but there is also the internal learned behavior of busyness, that being in a state of doing is good, productive, what one is supposed to do. And it took my venturing deep into the woods along the North Shore of Minnesota to realize just how deep that learned behavior runs within me.
A FEW NIGHTS ALONE IN THE WOODS: REFLECTIONS ON FUEL, COMFORT, AND THE INERTIA OF LIFE
On Friday, May 27, 2022, I drove four hours north to George H. Crosby Manitou State Park for a three-night solo camping trip. It was my first-ever attempt at using a hike-in campsite, where my vehicle would be parked over a mile away my camp.
It wasn’t until I was a few hundred feet above the forest canopy, at a gorgeous scenic lookout point I did not even know I was hiking to, that I finally allowed myself to stop. I had been go-go-go, wanting to see all the coolest parts of the trails and check off as many boxes as I could, and when I reached this beautiful, peaceful lookout, a little voiced whispered in my head the phrase, “One teaspoon more.”
This is a notion I learned from Kristyn during our couple’s retreat this past winter; it’s the concept of allowing yourself the time and mustering the mindfulness to enjoy one more morsel of whatever you are experiencing that is bringing you joy. Perhaps you’re at the park with your kids and it’s time to go, but your kid is loving being pushed on the swings, or maybe you are giving a loved one a hug and it feels really good but it’s already been a few seconds and you’re approaching the time where it feels like you’re “supposed to” disengage, or perhaps you are quite literally cooking a delicious meal that calls for a tasty ingredient – whatever the case may be, you mindfully acknowledge that what you want is One Teaspoon More, believe that you deserve One Teaspoon More, and so you take the action and enjoy One Teaspoon More.
As I sat above the trees, on a perfect perch with a flat rock as a seat and another perfectly positioned boulder behind as a backrest, overlooking the forest with no one around but the birds circling in front of me, resting in the most beautiful spot I had seen in over three days in the woods, I found myself compelled not to take pictures, not to meditate, not to sit and soak it in, but to leave! I had been sitting for maybe two whole minutes and then stood up to walk away. Why? My brain was telling me, “OK, this was cool, onto the next thing. There’s probably other great stuff out there that you’re missing by just sitting here. Stop wasting time you lazy fool!” I had stood up and taken two steps away from the perch when Kristyn’s voice whispered in my head, “One Teaspoon More,” which was exactly what I needed to hear. I sat back down and breathed in nature’s beauty for another 10-15 minutes. I did nothing. It was glorious. And it served as a smack-in-the-face lesson for me that slowing down and taking One Teaspoon More is not easy. It takes practice. It takes mindfulness. And it is so worth it.
Two other big themes emerged from my time in natural solitude: Fuel and Comfort.
Fuel. We need fuel to survive. Fuel is a critical component of any survival situation, and we ought to be more mindful of the fuel we use to propel and nourish our lives. The notion struck me while I was gathering firewood on night one of my outing; the skies were clear and many downed branches lay in and around my site. I did not bring a saw or hatchet with me, so I was relegated to using whatever fire fuel I could scrounge up with my bare hands. After a period of gathering, I looked at my stick pile and thought, “OK, this is the amount of fuel I have for the fire, and it will have to be enough.” Once I had gathered the firewood, I washed up and started boiling water over a very small backpacking stove. This stove uses a fuel canister to burn. The act of needing to gather my own firewood and noticing that I had to pack a fuel canister with me in order to cook made me more conscious of just how important fuel is to living things.
One obvious form of fuel is food; as mammals, we need to fuel our bodies with calories, vitamins, and other nutrition to give our bodies energy. How one obtains, prepares, preserves, and consumes fuel has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being. Am I in right relationship with the sources of my food fuel? How much fuel do I waste on a weekly basis? What steps could I take to plan ahead and prepare batches of fuel in advance, minimizing wasted time and fuel?
But we also fuel ourselves in other ways. Consider mental fuel. Educating ourselves is fuel for our minds. As children, our brains are hungry to learn, hungry for mental fuel. We can’t get enough of it. As we get older, do we get complacent? Am I giving my brain the fuel it needs to stay sharp and to learn new things every day? If I watch television or play a video game, what am I fueling my mind with?
How about emotional and spiritual fuel? What activities, people, conversations, and meditations fill me with the emotions I enjoy and the spiritual sustenance I need? What practices can I put into place to mindfully keep my emotional and spiritual fuel tanks full?
Comfort. When you’re out in the woods with only a backpack, your resources are limited. Resources is another word for comfort. If you have the resource of a couch, you have more comfort. If you are rich with food resources, you have the comfort of not needing to obtain food. Even more comfort if the food is prepared for you. If you have financial resources, then you have the comfort of not needing to put every penny to its absolute most critical use. Climate-controlled houses, grab-and-go food, smart refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of eggs – many of us live with way, way more comfort than we need to live a happy and healthy life.
“How much comfort do I need?” “How does that compare to how much comfort I have?” Exploring these questions may provide some keen personal insights. But there’s an even more interesting question, which is, “How much comfort do I actually want?” For example, do I actually want to pay someone to maintain my yard, which on the surface provides me the comfort of not needing to do that task, but also puts me out of connection with the land I live on? Do I really want to buy a cheeseburger from the drive-thru, which will satisfy my immediate hunger, but will also unnecessarily contribute to global warming by eating beef (which generates more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food produced, by far, than any other type of food) and generate extra trash for a landfill, when I could just drive the extra five minutes to get home and eat some trail mix and a salad made from the planter boxes in my backyard?
AN ANTI-CLIMACTIC CORPORATE SEND-OFF… WITH A SURPRISE TWIST!
On May 19, 2022, I quit my job in advertising sales. In a hybrid work environment with many varied team members working remotely on any given day, a last day at a job can be a little underwhelming. Over two thirds of my coworkers were working from home on my final afternoon on the job. I had worked on this team for the majority of my 30’s, put in hundreds of hard-working weeks, consistently surpassed sales quotas, collaborated on scores of commercial video productions, and closed some of the biggest deals the TV station had ever seen, and the final fanfare on the day of departure amounted to a pair of fist bumps from the managers who were the in-office managers that day. This would not do.
So I concocted a plan, and on Thursday, June 2, I had a going away happy hour at a restaurant patio near the station, to which I invited over 50 current and former coworkers. People I had worked with closely over the years: fellow sellers, support staff, and managers. I received some enthusiastic affirmatives, as well as some declines, which is to be expected for any event. These people had other obligations, their kid was sick, they had another event they were going to, and so on. No sweat former work compadre, live your life! There were a good number of people, though, that either said they were going to come and, for one reason or another, did not, or they did not reply to the invitation. These are people that I considered some of my closest professional relationships, people whose company I genuinely enjoyed and wanted more of. And we’re talking about more than a handful of people here. This brought to light for me two things.
One is that it made me sad. Sad for our system, our society. People are overworked and are stretching themselves too thin, and it’s not entirely their fault. Yes, we make choices on how full we fill our plates, and many of us could stand to rethink how full of activity our lives are, but we don’t always get to choose everything. With the huge ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the workforce, as so many people are making career changes, more is being asked of loyal employees. If someone leaves a company, the people remaining have to pick up the slack until a new hire is found, which can take weeks or months. Bandwidth is a real issue affecting organizations everywhere.
I do believe that there are a group of my former coworkers that truly did want to come join in the gathering, but their lives are just so busy that they prioritized or were obligated to something else above saying farewell to me. Now, I freely acknowledge I’ve said no to or avoided many social activities when I was working, with an excuse about having little kids and this or that other obligation or that I’m just so busy I don’t have time for this. But I realize now, when you are the person that is hosting the get together, when you are going to be a center of attention, when you are the one hoping to see someone, and those someones don’t show, it doesn’t feel great. It means a lot to someone to show up to their thing. And so in the future, if I care about someone and I’m invited to their thing, I’m showing up.
The second thing it makes me realize is just how fickle a professional relationship can be. Perhaps other people are better at transforming a professional relationship into a true, real life friendship friendship than I. I thought I considered many of my former coworkers my friends. And I expected them to show up like a group of my friends from college would show up to a backyard barbecue, but that’s not what happened. Perhaps I could have done more when we worked together, giving more emotionally to those relationships while I was working to make those bonds more concrete after leaving work. That’s a lesson I’m going to take with me in whatever future work I do, in whatever future organizations I am a part of – that if there are coworkers I really enjoy as people, beyond the bounds of the work, I will put extra energy into making sure those relationships are strong enough to survive either one of our organizational exits.
As with many things in life, though, there was a silver lining. One of my former coworkers who did show up, Andrew, was heading straight from our restaurant to downtown Minneapolis for the Purple Block Party – a Prince tribute event celebrating the completion of a 100-foot Prince mural near the iconic music venue First Avenue. I seized the opportunity and joined him for an impromptu night of music and fun. Live music always brings joy to my soul. So while it wasn’t the night I was expecting, I think I actually enjoyed myself more than had things gone according to plan. Plans are overrated!
CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER
Before the happy hour get together, I took the kids to school and then went for a walk to the lake with Kristyn, which turned into an impromptu conversation about our relationship, last two entire impromptu hours!
We were going to make breakfast, we had just made a pot of coffee, and we were starting to sip our coffee when Kristyn asked me if I wanted to watch some more of an online lesson video about this philosophy called Quantum Energetics. I had watched the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video with her the day before, and it was interesting but also not life-changing to me, so I replied by telling her I didn’t want to watch any more of it and that she could just watch it herself. This spurred a long conversation about how our dynamic will work in this new normal, the new normal of our mutual unemployment/self-employment. A mode where both of us are exploring new territories, learning new things and wanting to share those learnings and insights with the other person, but that other person has their own interests and learnings to be absorbing, and even without a day job, there’s only so much mental bandwidth one has and only so many hours in the day. How do we make space for it all?
It was one of the many conversations we’ve had over the last few months that I don’t think we would’ve had even just a year or two ago, at least not in as healthy a way that we did. It was an uncomfortable conversation. We both had opinions and feelings and, for me, those kinds of conversations can be hard to navigate. You know, ones with feelings involved. That’s scary stuff for many of us men! It can be hard to do the balancing act of expressing your own thoughts and feelings accurately, truly hearing what the other person is saying, letting what they say sink in, and work toward some mutual resolution/conclusion/next steps.
I explained how I love it when Kristyn teaches me things, but I only have so much bandwidth to learn about her favorite topics in addition to pursuing my own areas of interest, so we ended up coming up with the idea of having a weekly “Kristyn Class,” where over the course of the week I will have one assigned reading or lesson to watch and then we’ll make some time to discuss and debrief. It should be a great way to help Kristyn prioritize the things she wants to share with me most, which will also be a motivator for me to dive right in and know that it’s a manageable amount of content.
I’m very grateful that we are at a point in our relationship where we can have these conversations and grow together from it. Looking forward to studying up in future sessions of Kristyn Class!
Next up is preparing for a family trek to Costa Rica. More on that in the next sabbatical post!