Time

I haven’t had a lot of time lately to write.

But is that a true statement or did I just choose to use the time I had on other activities?

How much time I have for something isn’t based on the clock—everyone gets the same number of hours each day. My time is always tied to my decisions and nothing else. I could decide to stay up late, sleep in, take a short lunch, exercise, watch TV, and so on. The hours are the same, but my choice of how I use them makes all the difference.

The choices I make are also tied to my emotions and energy. If I have spent all day writing code at work, I’m more likely to avoid my personal computer at home—even if there are important tasks awaiting my attention. My energy level or desire to spend my off hours in that manner are directly tied to the decisions I’ve made throughout the day.

Statements that begin with “I wish I had more time to…” are red flags for me. When I hear myself say something like, “I wish I had more time to exercise and get in shape,” it really means that I need to make time to exercise. Wishing it won’t change anything. I won’t magically have more time or extra energy by making that comment, so it’s useless.

But I do find myself wishing for more time even with the knowledge that I’m fooling myself. Wishing and wanting is so much easier than deciding and doing. It’s always comes back to low energy for me. Sometimes I just want to chill and fuzz out with a good movie. I understand that actions like exercise can build energy, but the day is short and my excuses are long.

I’m really, really good at convincing myself that I need down time. Really good. Expert-level good.

So I trick myself. There’s a fun, chill activity going on in San Francisco and all I have to do is get to that location. No exercise is required. Just walk there and maybe walk around a bit more after the activity and then head home tackling a few 12 percent grade hills along the way.

Walking is my easy for me and doesn’t feel much like exercise. I love being outdoors, looking at this city’s architecture and parks, and getting out of the apartment. It’s all about incentivizing healthy activity.

That goes for most of my time management. I have to look at my options and the potential results of each to make the better choice. Do I want to spend time on personal finances? No. Would I rather run out of money and suffer the pain of debt? Hell no. So maybe I turn on a movie that I’ve seen before to sweeten the task of budgeting. Bonus time.

The older I get, the more critical it becomes to spend my time well. My kids live 2,000 miles away, so when we get together, our shared time is more precious. Family time.

I’ve spent years improving my skills so I can have the job I want. Not using my hours at work to further that time investment is foolish, but I’m also smart enough to know that I need a work/life balance.

The point is that time is precious. It’s the most limited resource we have and needs to be treated as such. The last thing I said to a loved one might be the last time I get to speak to them. The last action I made could be my final statement about who I am, and I want to leave this world a more positive place than when I entered it.

Writing this feels like a good use of my time. I hope reading it was worthy of your time as well.

Gratitude

I woke the other morning under a dark cloud. It started with a bad dream where I didn’t check on the side effects of my actions and I ended up with a bill for thousands of dollars that I didn’t have. The details of my dreams fade quickly, but enough of this one stuck around to shake me up. My morning routine includes a few minutes of quiet meditation where I focus on being thankful to prepare for the day, but before I could transition into that mode, my brain connected dots from that dream with reality.

Thoughts of projects I have yet to finish and personal tasks that have been lost to procrastination created a clatter in my mind that destroyed any hope of silence. I also seeded that storm cloud by whining about some minor health issues and my darkness began to grow quickly.

After drifting through a fog of typical morning preparation for the day, something Judy said snapped me out of my dark introspection. “Are you managing me?” I asked. Her answer was, “Yes.”

She had spotted the cloud and without referencing it, Judy was giving me space and working to keep my path clear of anything else that might make me go darker. That realization of what she was doing pulled me out of my dark cloud and onto another stream of thoughts beginning with the question: How often does she have to manage me?

Judy and I have been together since high school, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. I know when she needs space and when to jump in and help her and she does the same for me, but this felt different because I didn’t realize she was doing it until she told me. I couldn’t decide if I was more upset about needing to be handled or impressed with how good she had gotten at it. After some thought, I’m going with the latter because it’s no real surprise that I can’t do this alone.

That has brought me back to gratitude. I know that being thankful for what I have been given is critical to living a happy life. Unfortunately, there are times when I keep gratitude an arm’s length away. At those times, the funk that comes over me is emotional junk food—I know it’s not good for me, but I’m ingesting it anyway. A little funk is easy to digest and let pass, but too much and it affects me at the physical, emotional, and intellectual levels. The best way out is the cleansing power of gratitude.

We live in a world brimming with problems and, thanks to the internet living on our phones, the bad news pops up immediately via social media and news feeds. It’s easy to only see the bad and find only despair. I weep for humanity at the same time that I seek the good in people.

For thankfulness to work, it has to be very personal and specific. I have to focus on an act of kindness that my lovely wife has done for me like letting me be lazy last night and doing all the dinner cooking and clean up. Or a moment of laughter between friends at work is worthy material for gratitude. Instead of going down my list of unfinished task and seeing them as half-empty glasses, I can reverse those thoughts and see each as a gift. Challenges can be well-hidden presents; I just have to find the positive side—the growth and satisfaction that will come from accomplishing those tasks.

The broad thoughts of thankfulness help too, like the gift of a sunny day or my kids or my new life. The detailed ones are just more real, stick in my brain better, and push out the darkness.

If life is looking dark or the world too broken, try making a list of all those beautiful gifts in your life. Make them personal. Be specific. Be grateful. I bet it helps you, too.

Mocha

Those of you that know me might think this article is about how my skin color has darkened since I’ve moved to California. Those of you who really know me will get that joke and know that I have only two possible skin colors: translucent white and burnt. I avoid prolonged sun exposure to keep my healthy pale glow about me.

This article is actually about the chocolate-infused coffee drink. I drink a lot more coffee since moving to San Francisco. For most of you, this may sound like a trivial matter, but I spent 50 years of my life avoiding the brewed beans. Fifty. Years.

I always loved the smell of coffee, but never could acquire a taste for it until Judy and I travelled to Paris for our 30th wedding anniversary. We ate breakfast at Angelina, a lovely patisserie with an over 110-year history. We ordered our food and I thought this would be a great time to try coffee again. If I’m going to like any coffee, it probably would be at a fancy Paris restaurant.

The coffee arrived and I tried it. Then I added a bit of cream and tried it again. Then a packet or two (or three) of (very healthy looking organic) sugar and voila! I liked it!

Yes, yes. Coffee isn’t real coffee with all the extras, but I was drinking—and enjoying—coffee. I have several friends that would never abuse their coffee this way. They also can tell if the beans were ground at the wrong speed and roasted for too long. I have no clue. It’s a miracle to me that I’m even drinking this stuff.

God, I’m such a grown up now.

Okay, that’s a silly comment, but it’s how I feel. After years of looking for alternate drinks, I can go to coffee shops with my friends and look forward to the beverage as well as the fellowship—even if I’m the guy with the fru-fru option.

In the grand scheme of things, changing my non-alcoholic drink of choice from soda to coffee is trivial, but there are bigger ramifications. Besides being a socialization tool, coffee is more available at San Francisco restaurants. Some of my new favorite eateries don’t even have Coke on the menu and liking coffee allows me to more fully enjoy those places.

My wife has been my guide through the menu of different coffees and, since she’s a chocolate fan, mocha is high on her list. Naturally, I followed her lead and became quite fond of it.

Mocha is an indulgence. It’s probably more dessert than coffee, but I’m not overly concerned about the opinion of coffee snobs. I love hanging out at The Grove, a cozy Fillmore Street restaurant, sipping almond mochas with my lovely lady.

Reflecting on our eating habits of a year ago, this is such a radical departure from the fast food life of Houston. No more piling into a hot car, driving to a chain location of a burrito or burger joint, downing some food, and driving back home. It was more about filling our guts than enjoying a meal.

In our new lifestyle, we try to take better care of ourselves. Judy started using a service called Plated, which delivers chef-curated recipes and ingredients for our dinners. This allows us to save money by preparing food at home and still feel like we’re getting restaurant-quality meals. When we do eat out, we make sure to treat it as more of a special occasion.

Sometimes this means ordering a mocha and just relaxing. The new me loves going to get a coffee. That still blows my mind.

Vulnerable

My favorite books and articles are the ones that let me into places I didn’t expect to gain access—the backstage pass to someone’s life.

This type of writing is also the way I lean when my fingers hit the keyboard. If I’m honest to the subject matter, my words will slice the skin and leave me exposed, raw, and vulnerable. That’s where true emotion lives and where I can best connect with others. I’m wasting my time and yours if the words I write  fail to penetrate and cling to you.

We live in a world of oversharing on all too many social networks, but most of that is illusion. It’s either fluff about someone’s latest meal or details constructed to support a social facade. That’s all well and good—and probably sensible in many cases—because personal information sharing can lead to discrimination or retaliation, if the wrong details are leaked.

The problem with social network content is that people think that everyone else is doing fantastic and living the ideal lifestyle. Everyones lawn looks greener than yours, which can be damn depressing. Even I’m careful about what I post to Twitter or Facebook.

But when I’m writing articles, I work to lay myself bare. In order to make a difference in this world, I need to take a risk and share things that expose blemishes and scars. As a writer, I can’t be both honest and safe. If I have no flaws, then I’m a horrible subject for articles. No one is perfect, which means that no one can relate to my articles if they are about perfection.

I’ve been complimented in the past for being brave in my writing and for revealing so much. The compliment is always appreciated, but the fact is that I’m always afraid. I’m afraid that if I don’t dig deep enough with my words, I’ll become irrelivant. Useless. Just another droning voice in the noisy internet. It’s not me being brave, it’s me handing out the only content that I think will be worthwhile. I’m selling all that I have to keep you around long enough in the hope that something I write clicks. I fear that my mistakes will count for nothing but a checklist of items I didn’t do well enough. If I expose enough details of my struggles and failures, you may find a connection. There may be common pain and shared emotions where my writing helps you feel less alone during your transitions. My secret weapon to being useful is my ability to scrape together enough courage to get past my fear that you will scurry away when I disclose my flaws.

I’ll let you in on another secret of mine: Most of my articles are written as a stream of consciousness. If I don’t start writing when the thought or emotion hits me, chances are I’ll never finish it. Too many words of mine have withered and spoiled because I didn’t deliver them on time.

I’ve become more decisive and better at triage. What did I just write? Was it real? Does it still have a pulse and can I save it with surgery or do I pull the plug?

I’m doing that now with this article.

Why do you care about why or how I write? Maybe this will help you to begin writing. Maybe it answers questions you have about me. Or maybe this one bounces off the surface of your skin. That’s okay: being vulnerable means accepting the misses as well as the hits.

Free Time

There are different stages of life and each dictates how much free time you have and how you choose to spend it.

Today, my wife and I are spending a Saturday in Mission Dolores Park, which attracts quite a diverse crowd of San Franciscians. This is our first visit to this outdoor venue and part of our “try as much as possible in our new home” adventure.

We spent many hours in parks when our kids were young, but it was more about access to playgrounds for them than exploring the north side of Houston. When you have young children, your free time is devoted to them—or most of it at least.

Prior to having kids, we wasted our free time. Worse, we didn’t realize we had any. We groused about how little time we had to do anything. HAH! Three kids later and we couldn’t figure out what the hell we were thinking.

Now in our third stage with our adult children in Texas, we cherish our free time. It’s a gift that may get consumed at any point with heavy work schedules or health issues. Today we are healthy, happy, and have the weekend to soak up life. Unlike the foolish newlyweds with myopic views of our world, we are sitting now on top of 50 years of life and can see so much more—albeit with the required glasses that come with older eyes.

I wish you free time, the ability to appreciate it, and a thirst for diversity.

Dramatic

Sitting with my wife in our sixth floor, one-bedroom apartment, I’m shocked at how much has changed from a year ago.

Last year, we were recovering from losing Judy’s dad, which caused us to consider downsizing our Houston home that once held six of us. Our kids are all in their twenties and were becoming more independent. It forced us to reevaluate what we as a couple should do next.

Then one morning in April, an email from Cupertino started us down a dramatic new path.

It wasn’t easy to give up being an indie developer who controls his own world for a job as an engineer working under layers of management. The latter gives me the opportunity to be part of a company that I’ve always admired and challenges me every day to become more proficient. It took weeks of conversations and decisions and baby steps to settle on the final choice. In the end was a good choice… no, a great choice.

Here are just a few of the dramatic differences in our lives today:

  • We moved from a large five bedroom house in the suburbs to a modest one bedroom, sixth floor apartment in the city.
  • Our house had five and a half bathrooms; now we only have one in our apartment—arguably our most life-altering friggin’ change!
  • We went from five cars in our driveway and taking occasional walks for exercise to having no cars and our feet being our primary mode of transportation.
  • Almost all the restaurants in The Woodlands were big chains and now we eat at places where we get greeted by the owners.
  • History and architecture surround us in San Francisco (even our apartment building was completed back in 1927). In North Houston, a historic building is from the 1970s.
  • We no longer drive to Kroger and load up the trunk with groceries for the week. Instead, we walk to Whole Foods or Mollie Stone’s with our reusable bags and carry what we can back up the hills.

I could go on to mention so many more changes in our lives, but no one wants to read a post that long. The point I’m trying to make is that after 50+ years of suburban habits, I’ve had to rethink everything. These changes strike me most when I think about my parents when they were in their fifties. Would they have rebooted their lives like this? Could they have?

After surviving this transition, I can’t help but see it as an enormous gift. A chance to act differently, make different choices, and force myself to not fall back on old habits. As scary as this leap was—so scary that I almost backed out a few times—it’s been so good for us and our family. I hope it has inspired our children to take chances and leaps of faith in their lives.

Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are always going to be battles for me, but I’ve won quite a few this year and my reward is this amazing new life with my loving wife.

No Guarantees

I’ve lost two friends in one week.

Both men were generous and loving individuals. Both were active members in their respective communities. Both died too young.

I’m no stranger to early deaths. I lost my brother when he was 19 and my dad at 61. I understand that I need to cherish every second of my life, but I forget. It’s easy to get caught up in my minor day-to-day struggles and take what I have for granted. These two rapid-fire deaths are a wakeup call—one that I hope I don’t let fade from my brain soon.

There are no guarantees that I’ll have another chance to hug my wife.
No guarantees that I’ll be able to FaceTime with my kids tomorrow.
No guarantees that there will be time next week to call my best friend from high school.
No guarantees that “later when I have more time” will exist.

Later isn’t guaranteed, so I’ll hug my wife and tell her that I love her, give long-distance hugs and love to my children, and stop procrastinating about talking to or gathering with friends.

Rest well Jordan and Mike.