Category Archives: life balance

Birthdays, Love, And Sugar-Free Cake

Birthdays, Love, And Sugar-Free Cake
Sugar-free birthday cake

Many years ago I was standing in a very long line. It was the condolence line of my cousin’s husband’s wake. He was only 50-something, tragically killed by a very malignant cancer. Dee’s husband, John, was a successful realtor and a larger than life figure. He was a very large man, with an equally large and jovial personality. He was an extrovert who seemed to know everyone in the western suburbs of Chicago. People liked him.

We waited well over an hour to offer our condolences to my cousin, as the number of mourners was so large that they were overflowing into the parking lot. I stood in line making small talk to the people around me; I was struck with many emotions. Naturally, I was devastated for my cousin and her family. I also felt bad for her deceased husband who was finally starting to reap the rewards of a life of hard work. Ashamedly, I also was feeling sorry for myself.

I have said in other posts that I am relatively shy and an introvert. I form very deep connections with people, but the actual number of connections is small. As I stood in line, I imagined what my wake would look like. Instead of a room overflowing with people I imagined a room of empty chairs. I viewed my worth in what services that I could do for others. I felt that when I was no longer able to provide a service, I would be forgotten, like dust in the wind.

I now discount that belief, but I do think that some residual effects partially fuel my desire to find a second career now that I am retiring. I am a Spiritual person, and I believe that God is active in my life when I allow Him to be. I just celebrated my 65th birthday, and He has been showing me the genuine connections that I do have with people.

He has been allowing me to see that my worth transcends my ability to do things for others. My worth is based on my intrinsic self. The essence of who I am as a person. My strengths, but also my flaws. I am an imperfect person who is always trying to be perfect. The last few days have reminded me that people care about me, warts and all.

Sunday morning my siblings gathered for breakfast at Butterfield’s restaurant. They shared memories of me as they wished me a happy birthday. Later that afternoon my wife and kids went on a photo taking excursion with me. They sat for hours in the car as we drove to Woodstock, IL. No one complained. Sunday night my daughter Kathryn called from Arizona and wished me a happy birthday. Monday I saw my oldest daughter Anne, her partner Chris, and my grandkids. They happily sang along when the waiters at Giordano’s pizza belted out “Happy Birthday To You.”

My friend Tom says he doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays. Despite this Tom was at my house at 5 AM on my actual birthday day bringing me my morning coffee. He drove in the pouring rain to The Palace in Chicago and bought me breakfast. Afterwards, we took the long way home which allowed us to observe the various and ever-changing neighborhoods of Chicago. I love doing stuff like that. After the neighborhood drive, I was taken on a tour of Berland’s House of Tools. Berland’s is the ultimate toy store for power tools. I love power tools, and Tom has been promising to take me there for over a year. Up and down the aisles we went as he explained to me the various saws, drills, and presses. More coffee, more activities, more conversation; there was even an interesting photography project for me to shoot added into the mix. It is a good thing that Tom doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays; I was completely overwhelmed by his non-celebrating!

My daughter Grace arrived home from school at 4 PM and immediately started to bake me a sugar-free birthday cake, despite the fact that she was overloaded with homework. My son volunteered to clean up the baking mess. My wife came home from work and made me a homemade dinner of cornflake chicken, mac and cheese, and grilled asparagus. As we sat at the dinner table my family, each told me something that they loved about me.

Add to all of this cards, ecards, emails, text messages, phone calls, and Facebook birthday greetings. I was overwhelmed, and I am still basking in the glow of feeling very much loved and cared for.

I keep striving to be significant. God keeps telling me that I am significant. I am significant because I am who I am. Unique not only because of my talents but also because of my many imperfections. Lovable because of both. It is easy for me to love, I am slowly (but surely) allowing myself to be love. It feels pretty darn good.

I Need To Reflect And Listen

It Is Difficult For Me To Inconvenience Others

It’s 2 PM on Tuesday, and I get a text reminder from my daughter, Grace. “Don’t forget that you are picking me up after school. You need to be on time.” I respond, “I know, I’ll be there at 3:30.” I then receive a screenshot of an earlier text message with the time 3:10 circled. This level of insistent confirmation is not typical for Grace, and it signifies how important it is for me to pick her up exactly at 3:10. I respond, “I’ll be there.”

Once home she only has minutes to change into more formal attire; I drive her to a swanky benefit where she will be one of the speakers.

I return home to put on a suit coat and tie and return to the benefit about an hour later. There is my little girl, once the toddler who was afraid to go down a flight of stairs. There is my high school student standing in a receiving line smiling and talking to shakers and movers. The mayor, the superintendent of schools, the head of the park district, the list goes on. Soon she is speaking to the entire group, recounting stories and statistics on the benefits of positive role models for teens, and the intrinsic importance of connection with others. My pride in her is overflowing as she answers questions from the audience with the authority and humor of a seasoned pro.

My role is very minor, as a guest of the event. I don’t enjoy attending formal functions. As an introvert, even this limited part tends to exhaust me.

However, dear reader, you would never know that I was an introvert at the event. I am social and engaging. I go up to people I don’t know, introduced myself, and start conversations. Such behaviors are not natural for me, but long before I became a psychiatrist, I was an observer of human behavior. I know what to do, and how to do it. After many benefits, professional meetings, cocktail parties, and other such events, I can pull it off, but it is an energy draining effort.

The event brings to the forefront one of the main issues that I continue to deal with as I try to transition from my doctor position, where people came to me, to a position where I have to go to people.

My issue isn’t making superficial contact with someone; it is my inability to ask them for something. Time to talk to me, a moment to allow me to take their picture. This is difficult for me to do.

As a problem solver, I know that there are some patch fixes. Having a wingman with me makes it easier to engage someone on a deeper level. Using an intermediary person as a go-between could be useful. However, I have a way to go.


Wednesday night, Valentine’s Day, I am sitting across the table from my wife, Julie. We are at Pepe’s, an inexpensive Mexican restaurant that we like. I tell her that I’m disappointed with myself for not making the progress that I had hoped to make. “I just don’t know what to do or how to do it.” I discuss with her my difficulty with inconveniencing others. How I don’t want to bother people with my demands. She suggests that I talk to our pastor, as he is the consummate connector. It is a great idea, but it would require me asking him for help. I chuckle to myself. I put the idea on the “likely possible” list. I tell her that I still feel that I need to do something that will have a greater impact in this world. As I start to process what I’m saying we both explore my life. When I try to do grand things they are marginally successful. It is clear that I have made the biggest impact when I am interacting one to one with someone. This is the case not only in my professional life but also in my personal life. I reflect.


Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my friend’s Tom’s office working on a project. After about an hour he asks me if I want to go to Harner’s restaurant for breakfast. At the restaurant, I talk to Tom about my dilemma. “Tom, I want to change the world, but I seem to be a one on one type of guy.” Tom listens. I start to reminisce how in the early days of our friendship I tried to help him with his home remodeling website. Tom and I are great at bouncing ideas off one another, and I remember how much I enjoyed learning about the construction business as we redesigned his web pages. Another one to one interaction with someone. An interaction where both parties continue to benefit. I reflect.


Tomorrow I’ll meet with my siblings for breakfast. I have already been in contact with several of them about the get-together. We are looking forward to seeing each other and sharing our lives.

Later in the day my wife and kids have agreed to go with me on a photo road trip. We will travel to Woodstock, Illinois, about 1 hour away. They have promised to be patient with me and to not complain about my constant stops to shoot pictures. I’m am excited about the adventure and the company. I reflect.


My birthday is in a few day; it will be one of those big milestone ones. Dear reader, I am in a period of transition. I continue to wait for my “big inspiration,” but I am starting to see a different path. Perhaps my next direction will be on a smaller scale. I am trying to be still, quiet and to listen. I hope this will cause me to gain greater clarity. I’m trying to look at my past and learn from both my successes and my failures.

Life is interesting. Every day I face a new reality sculpted by the experience from the days before. Perhaps it will be my children who will be the ones with the big ideas. One foot in front of the other. I reflect.

Grace giving her talk.
I need to be quiet and listen.

When Being The Best May Be Bad For You.

As humans we like binary options: yes/no, good/bad, happy/sad.  Unfortunately, life is more complicated than off and on solutions.  Sometimes good is also bad, and happy can exist with sad.  With today’s #metoo awareness I won’t say, “no can be yes,” but hopefully you understand my point.  We don’t live in a world of black and white; we live in a world of shades of grey.  And so it with that backdrop that I write today’s post.

A recent article listed the school district that my kids attend as one of the best in the nation.  The community that I live in is often cited as one of the best places to raise a family in the US. I attended one of the best medical schools in the country. This is great.. right? Our society loves winners.  We strive for being the best, for having the best, for experiencing the best.

On many levels, Naperville schools lead the nation. Their students perform exceedingly well on national tests, they win awards and championships, they matriculate to excellent universities.  But they also deal with stress. Rates of depression and anxiety are high.  One of our four high schools had two completed suicides last year; another goes by the nickname “Heroin High.”

My son loved Marching Band until a new band director took over.  The new director appeared to have a singular goal, and that goal was to win competitions.  In short order, my son went from loving to go to practice to hating it.  He told me, “Dad, it is no longer any fun, all we do is drill, drill, drill.”  An extracurricular activity teaches many things, but marching band went from many growth goals to a singular win goal.  I allowed him to quit.

Naperville is a wonderful town that has gotten progressively wealthier in the 30 years that I have lived here.  Average suburban homes on typical lots are being torn down and replaced with giant residences, some costing over two million dollars.  Last week I saw a block-long line of kids standing in front of a store selling trendy clothing and $300 designer shoes. Teenagers drive expensive cars.  Families go on exotic vacations.  If you can afford it there is a lot of pressure to “keep-up” with the Jones.  If you can’t afford, well then you have to deal with that.

We all want the best doctor, but what does that mean?  The one that attended the best medical school? The one with the most board certifications or published papers?  The one who is most popular? The one with the fanciest office? When I retired from private practice patients consistently told me what they valued the most about me was the fact that I listened to them, I accepted them, and I didn’t judge them. Things that I was never taught in medical school.

I went to my physician for a physical examination.  I had not been for a bit, and he was surprised by my weight loss and improved blood chemistries.  “Are you exercising?”  he asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  I go to the gym or I walk.  Lately, I have been walking.”  “How many days do you go to the gym?” he asked.  I repeated, “Lately, I have been walking about 4 miles a day, six days a week.”  “So you are NOT going to the gym??”… I started to feel guilty and ashamed. Apparently, walking 4 miles a day was not good enough.

The next morning I started my morning walk thinking.  Yes, going to the gym would give me a better workout. However, although walking offered less physical activity, it gave me many other benefits.  I walk before dawn and my mind settles in the quiet darkness.  It is a wonderful time to think, to pray, to meditate.  I break up my walk with a stop at Starbucks.  The baristas know my order and often offer up a little conversation.  I bring with me a computer and a book, and I’ll typically spend some time reading or writing.  Frequently, my friend Tom will stop by for kaffee klatsch.  Yes, going to the gym would be the best as far as exercise goes, but walking has many additional benefits. Those benefits make it easier for me to get up at 4 AM as I look forward to the total experience.

Dear reader, I would like to challenge you.  When you are planning your life first examine you global goals.  Do you want to be happy?  Do you want connections with others?  Do you want good relationships with your family? Do you want financial stability? Do you want to be healthier?  Would you like a more meaningful spiritual life? … and so on.

Stop and examine your actions to see if they are compatible with your goals. If you are laser-focused on one or two goals, you are likely ignoring others.  If you are exercising 3 hours a day for health, it is unlikely that you are spending quality time with your loved ones.  If you are working seven days a week for financial security, you are probably ignoring your health (or some other important aspect of your life).

Dear reader, if you believe that I am saying that I have chosen a life of mediocrity, you’re  wrong.  I accomplish things.  I set goals.  I achieve successes.  However, my goal in life to not to win, my goal it is to achieve my global goals.

Think about balance and strive for it.  Modify your life and activities accordingly.  Correct your course as needed.  Change your course when necessary.  In the future, I may want to mix up my walks with some trips to the gym.  Just because an action is correct for today doesn’t mean that it will be correct for tomorrow. Flexibility is one of the keys to life success, and flexibility is difficult to achieve if your goal is always to be #1.

Balance in all things.

Life should be balanced. (Photo taken on a pre-dawn walk).