*If you care to listen rather than read, I recorded myself reading this. Please bear with the emotions in my voice at times and the loud noises in the background in the middle. Such is life, right?
I haven’t felt inspired in a long time to write a Straight Talk Sunday, because I never want to force these posts. They’re very personal and take quite a bit of confidence for me to actually put out to the world. Frankly, they’re often a bit sad, and I hope that’s okay, but it helps me to get through hurdles in life by writing about them and getting my thoughts out on “paper.” So today there’s something I’ve been thinking about that I think is worth talking about, partly because I need to think through it, and partly because I think it’s a theme that can extend to a lot of us out there. It revolves around the idea of working to live versus living to work.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself feeling this level of stress that I don’t typically let get to me. The reason is clear: I’ve been transitioning into a new role at work and I’ve somehow managed to say yes to enough projects that while I’m in the office, I’m running from meeting to meeting, hardly finding the time to go to the bathroom. And then I come home and keep working to prepare myself for the next day’s meetings and presentations. Weekends are spent working, preparing for the week ahead. And somewhere in there, I make myself find time to post to Sunset, because at the very least, I find that enjoyable and rewarding. It has left me with no time to sit and relax or spend time with family or friends. The bigger problem, though, is that I’ve started convincing myself that with time, it will pass.
It struck me one day that if I keep thinking “once I get through this day, all will be well,” I’ll never be able to enjoy the moment. It all seems so obvious when I sit here and think like this, but when I’m in the trenches day to day, I put it off one more day…and one more day…and just one more day. It gets me nowhere.
A friend recently asked me if I think that I’m working to live or living to work. It was pretty eye-opening. Sure, people have told me time and again that I’ve been working too hard and I need to learn to say no, but nobody had said it as clearly as this. I’ve absolutely been living to work. But that’s not what life is about. And today, of all days, I’m reminded why.
I’m reminded today that life is fleeting. I cannot afford to work to get through a day, or work for the weekends. I’m realizing that I need to work to live every day, rather than live to work every day. Today would be my Dad’s 70th birthday if he was still around. And though I lost my dad over two and a half years ago, I’m still battling the fateful day that my world was flipped upside down (and frankly still continues to feel that way). But more specifically, today I’m reminded of my dad’s smile and love for life and being around the people he loved the most. And it’s all hitting me at the same time that I’m realizing I’m letting the days pass without taking time to appreciate life for what it is: a place to be with others, to find happiness in the company you’re around, to love and be loved. Have I lost sight of what my dad valued the most? Yes, he was a very hard worker, and I have always respected that, but he always put family first.
With March Madness upon us, I was recently reading an article about Duke guard Quinn Cook, who also lost his father a couple years ago. When Quinn spoke about it, he said “I didn’t want to be around anybody. I blocked it out. I was just trying to get my mind the furthest thing from my dad. It didn’t really hit me until I woke up the next morning. You’re on top of the world one day, and then you hit rock bottom the next. Everything changed in one second; it was crazy.” [source] Something tells me Quinn was awakened that day more than any other. It’s sad that it took a tragedy like this, but it’s a really eye-opening reminder of the truly valuable things in life.
A similar thing can be said for Louisville guard Kevin Ware. The sophomore basketball phenomenon was arguably sitting on top of the world: his team had made it to the NCAA Tournament, which meant he was on the path to his life goal of winning a national championship. The sophomore was playing a large role in the success of the team, and he helped them make it to the Elite 8. And then it all came crashing down. One second after jumping in the air to attempt to block a shot by his opponent, he landed oddly on his leg and suffered a compound fracture that many are calling the most gruesome injury ever seen in basketball. It’s a different storyline, but I’m pretty sure Ware could say the same thing that Quinn Cook said: “You’re on top of the world one day, and then you hit rock bottom the next. Everything changed in one second.”
On a day like today, when I’m reminded how hard it is to lose a parent and not have them there as a mentor or guide, and when I’m reminded that our worlds can flip upside down at the snap of a finger, I’m even more aware of the need to step back and live life to its fullest. I sometimes think I push myself so hard at work because I know that my Dad did the same and I would want him to be proud. But I also need to remember that never once in my life did my parents push me to work harder than I was already working, because they knew I was always trying my best. And that’s why I have reason to believe that my Dad would be proud no matter what, but he would want me to be living life to its fullest. The Quinn Cook story, the Kevin Ware story, the reminder I’m given today that life is fleeting…they all lead to the same message: I need to work harder to live. I’ve been living to work and taking my time here on Earth for granted.
Sadly, I think that the American way of life (which is the only one I can really speak to) pushes us to live to work. But the second you are forced to take societal expectations out of your mindset, like I have been with the passing of my dad (and Quinn Cook and Kevin Ware have been), you’ll realize that society isn’t taking into account the fact that you never know what the world has in store for you. Any minute, your world can be flipped upside down, and it isn’t worth fearing guilt going forward. Sure, I believe in working hard. But not at the sacrifice of living life. Human relationships are not to be discounted. Love isn’t fake or something to brush off. Emotional interactions will far outweigh what society views as success, and the only way we can get there is if we take ourselves out of the mindset of living to work and allowing ourselves to work to live.
Happy birthday, Dad. I’m still trying to learn every day how to carry on, but thank you for reminding me today what love and life are really about. I love you. I’m living to smile for you.