EmptyCanoe What exactly is disappearing?  Time.  In one of the great ironies of life, you simply never realize how much time you waste as a kid until you’re an adult, or as a single person until you’re married, or as a married person until you have kids.  A closely related cruel irony of life is that my interests seem to grow in an inverse proportion to the time which I have to indulge them.

We’re at that point in life where we simply have to accept that certain things we want aren’t going to happen” – a good friend of mine said that the other day, and he’s right.  This isn’t about depressed defeatism.  Actually, it’s about focus, tenacity, clarity & purpose.  While I may wax nostalgic about the seemingly endless hours I had available when I was 23, I have so much more now – where it counts – than I did then.  I’ve lived long enough to be fooled by my desires, and that has given me discernment.  I’ve had enough successes to know I can hold out for what matters, and enough failures (far more, it seems!) to stir the pot of healthy discontent.  I’ve experienced enough heart ache to know that hearts mend when they’re planted in the right place.  I’ve seen enough of the reward of deep friendships to know that relationships trump ‘tasks’ and ambitions, period.

But – among all the things I’ve learned – there is one thing I simply do NOT do well: taking a break.  I’ve neglected the important ritual of at least one family vacation each year with my wife and kids.  We’ve taken trips, don’t get me wrong, but something gets in the way all too often.  I’m even worse about personal time by myself – to unplug, take a walk, think, pray, stare at the clouds.   Somehow I’ve missed the importance of the discipline of vacation.  That’s right, I said discipline.  More often than not, I’ve avoided vacation simply because we’ve not been disciplined in managing our time or money in order to afford it.  It’s fallen too low on the list of priorities – below the dinners at Olive Garden & the mind-numbing “I’m exhausted after work and mistakenly think a night of TV-vegging will relax my mind”.  Not having a regular habit of solitude and vacation has robbed me, I believe, of the critical perspective of the benefits involved.  I too easily forget how rested (oddly enough) I can feel after a vigorous canoe trip; I quickly forget the clarity and focus that comes as a result of spending several days in a new place with my wife.  Instead, I’ve gravitated towards the dangerous icon of the “reluctant martyr”.  “Gotta suck it up and keep  moving forward”; “{insert name, job, or church here} can’t afford for me to be away right now”; “I’m too busy to relax.”

The last few months have changed all that.  A perfect storm of both family-related and work-related hardships quickly proved that I can’t expect to be resilient and bounce back from tough schedules (physically and mentally) if I’m not going to give my body, my mind and my family what they need.  I used to be good at burying it, but I think the birth of my second son tipped the scales towards the “don’t even think you can hide this anymore” direction.  The discipline of vacation and solitude in my life has finally begun moving towards its proper place.  I need the time personally, to think, dream, clear my mind from daily demands & distractions and come back with clarity of purpose and focus.  My wife and I need the time to break out of the typical mold of the daily grind.  We need the weekend getaways & the nights reading at the coffee shop.  Our kids need the focused time with us, and we – as a family – need the week-long excursions to see old friends & family, & to explore new places.

In a couple of weeks, I will begin practicing what I preach when I disappear into the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky with a close friend and a canoe loaded with camping gear…

  • Stephanie

    Yay! This is awesome! I am sooooo glad that you and Shawn get to do this canoe trip. I know it's going to be amazing!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/stevebetz stevebetz

    Really good post, Jim. One of my personal philosophy statements (and probably the shortest) is that "Life Is Short". It's not only sort of a warning, but a call to action, or perhaps more appropriately pro-action. We need to make active decisions about how we spend our time — even if that decision is to occasionally veg-out in front of the tv. We CAN'T go ping-ponging through life from one "notification/priority" to the next.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/stevebetz stevebetz

    (that's weird, it didn't even take all my comment!)

    The other part was that old adage that "You never go to your deathbed wishing you'd spent more time in the office" — or the lab, as the case may be. It;s so easy to get caught up in all the "daily drama" and reminders and all of THAT DAY'S priorities — and sometimes it's important to unplug and remember the large LIFELONG priorities. How many of us miss the forest for the trees?