NOTE: This post originally appeared as an episode on my podcast, Andrew Petty is Dying. You can listen now with the media player below, or just read on...
If the Life Inspector (I’m sure it’s a thing!) stopped by unannounced today, would the house you’re building with your life pass inspection?
A Conversation and Kite-flying
I got off the phone a little while ago with a friend I hadn’t connected with in a long time. Before he was a friend, though, more than 25 years ago he was a mentor, an encourager, a believer in the future Andrew--well before I had begun to learn to believe in myself. 3 years ago, he had a mind-blowing encounter with mortality...that I’m not going to tell you more about now because I’m hoping he’ll be a guest on this podcast sometime in the very near future. For now, the point is not his story but the impact that the conversation with him had on me.
When I got off the phone, I went downstairs to find that my wife had just returned from running errands and was assembling two kites she’d bought to fly with our boys.
But after the phone conversation with my friend, I immediately found myself conflicted. I could say “hi” and then head back up to my office and get back to work. Or, I could go fly kites with my family. I still had plenty of work to do. Maybe even work that on one level, I should do.
In that moment, though, I was more aware than ever of the extraordinary value of ordinary moments. Of how precious and fleeting life is. Of how I probably wouldn’t ever look back on my life and be glad that I passed on kite flying in order to crank out some more emails.
So, I went kite-flying.
Not What You Might Expect
And this is where you might expect me to report to you that it was one of the most magical and delightful and carefree moments we’ve experienced as a family. That this one decision and the time we spent together in the park were life-altering game-changers. And that I recommend that you should go kite-flying--literally or figuratively--whenever you have the chance, no matter what.
But that’s not what I’m here to report, and that’s not what I’m here to recommend. It was a nice break, and it was fun flying the kites, and it was a beautiful day, and I’m glad we did it. But the boys lost interest pretty quickly, and the wind was spotty. Soon, my wife and I lost interest, too, and the moment had passed.
While we were still flying the kites, though, I looked over at my wife and was struck by my gratitude for her, and I walked up behind her and held her tight. Then she leaned into me, and we started talking about how moments like these were “living,” and the rest of our time is occupied with life maintenance activities--things that keep a roof on our head and food on the table and so forth. And then, how that’s really a false distinction--”living” vs. “life maintenance.” We didn’t get that train of thought much further along before everyone had fizzled and was ready to go home. The kite-flying diversion was pleasant, but those brief few moments with my wife were memorable.
And then I got to walk home hand-in-hand with my 8-year-old, and along the way he told me a riddle about green glass, and I tried to solve it. When we got to our front walk, I pulled a few rogue weeds and kept working on the riddle while he plopped down in the hammock on our front porch. The kite-flying excursion was nice enough. But the precious moments with my son were beautiful.
The Big Idea
Here’s the big idea I want you to chew on from this story--and surprise, even though it came out of the kite-flying experience, it’s not about the kites:
Life is like a house with many rooms.
The kitchen has a purpose, the bedrooms have a purpose, the bathrooms have a purpose, the den has a purpose, the home office has a purpose, the game room with the ping pong table has a purpose, and so forth. We spend some time in each of those rooms in the course of a day for different purposes. We nourish ourselves with food prepared in the kitchen. We prepare ourselves for the day in the bathroom and visit it occasionally throughout the day when nature calls. We sleep and make love in our bedrooms. We relax and unwind in the den after a long day.
But it would be odd to spend the whole day in the bathroom. Or the whole day in the kitchen without using any other rooms. Nor would we understand a house that only had laundry rooms in it. Someone who spent all his time in the game room without visiting the kitchen or bathroom from time to time would soon find herself in a world of hurt.
What kind of house have you built with your life?
Here are some exaggerations to make the point…
Is it a house full of home offices, where all of the best time and energy are given to your livelihood while your partner or kids wait for you to emerge to give them whatever scraps of you are left? It is full of game rooms, where there’s a huge emphasis on fun while the bills are stacking up unpaid in the mailbox? Are there too many bathrooms full of mirrors in your metaphorical house--where you spend too much time attempting to perfect the version of you that the world sees and not enough time actually living in the world?
I hope you’re beginning to get the point here. My kite-flying decision was a decision to spend some time in the game room with my family, so to speak. My conversation with my friend helped me make that choice in that moment instead of the choice to bang out more emails.
And along the way, I had some special moments with my wife and son--both of which are now written in permanent ink in our hearts and not even Death can take away.
Then, time in the game room came to a close, and it was time for my wife and I to spend some more time in the “home office,” and my boys spent some more time in the game room--this time on devices. Because it’s summer--and summer is awesome when you’re a kid.
Next, my wife made dinner (yes, that’s our consensual arrangement--not some sexist holdover from a bygone era!), and I kept working. I’m honestly not sure what my boys did next. I’m hoping my wife knew!
We Can Feel Conflicted Because...There’s a Conflict!
I mentioned earlier that when I was presented with the choice to fly kites or work more, I felt conflicted. That’s because the choice I was making was between two good and necessary rooms in my house, so to speak. There’s a tension there. On this occasion, fueled by my conversation with my friend and a fresh perspective on mortality, I decided to take a break from the home office and spend time in the game room instead. On another occasion, I might very well make the opposite choice and be equally glad I did.
There’s no silver bullet here, and I’m no master at this. But, especially by tapping into the power of our Mortality, we can avoid complacency and spend quality time in each room of our house.
What to Do? Well...
Don’t be a one-room kind of guy or gal. Don’t wait until retirement to step out of the office and have fun in the game room--only to find that the fun has passed you by. Don’t neglect life’s important nuts and bolts by lounging in the den too long--only to find that your literal house has been repossessed. Give each of the rooms of your house their time and their due.
OKl, I think I’ve driven that metaphor to the very end of the runway. I hope you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
House Inspection Time!
What room in your house is being neglected--or maybe doesn’t even exist at all? Share your response on my Facebook page.
Let’s Work On Your House Together
My purpose as a coach is to help you discover, enjoy, and deploy your unique purpose in the world. Connect with me on Facebook or learn more on my website. I'll help you create the life you know you were made to live.
Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet! Become the person you were made to be, and live the life you were made to live.