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.