Commitment, Gratitude and Thread Counts

“Daddy, are you coming home tonight?” My four-year-old son Jack barked at me through the Skype screen on our home computer last night.

“No buddy. The day after tomorrow… two more sleeps.”

“Aw man…” he responded bravely as he fought to hold back his tears. “I miss you soooooooo much!”

Later, struggling to fall asleep in my luxurious hotel room in central London, I battled with “Why wasn’t I home in the US with my family? Why did I ever choose to be a motivational speaker and coach? What price was I prepared to extract from the people I love in order to pursue my dreams? What was the thread count on these exceptionally comfortable sheets?”

After this morning’s prayer and meditation, I still had no answers that felt right, just a blaring question: “What am I committed to?”

My family and their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial wellbeing was the too quick and ready, blah-blah answer that sprung to the foreground of my mind.

“No,” I told myself, “What am I really committed to?” The question just wouldn’t go away . . . nor would the most honest response I could muster: Pursuing my dreams, taking care of the people I love, and following the path I feel called to travel.

With that in mind, I considered the guilt I feel when confronted with the price my family pays so that I can follow my dreams, then balanced it against what I’m committed to, which brought me a degree of comfort . . . which then led me to thinking about Stanley, my safari foreman who used to tease me when I got a little grumpy when life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.

“Life isn’t always going to be fair or easy . . . but then who ever said that it was meant to be?” He’d ask with laughing eyes and a cheeky grin that would always irritate and then amuse me . . . mostly because he was right.

No one ever said that taking care of the people I love and following my dreams was going to be easy. . .  and I’m not real clear where I picked up the notion that the way my life unfolded was always going to seem fair. So finding ways to accept the fact that from time-to-time life’s not going to seem fair or be easy – even back then – was a useful position to take.

From that vantage point, it was somehow easier to see that stress is optional and I might as well find a less painful and more productive path to travel. My conversations with Stanley would inevitably end up with me considering the annoying cliché that “whilst I can’t control what’s happened, I can certainly (with practice) control how I respond to it!” And that would lead to action…  which brought me back to my son, Jack, and how I had responded to his questions and would continue to respond to his tears.

So, I broke it up into pieces; the first one being what I’m committed to, the second being how my actions lined up with the story I told myself. At first blush, what I saw seemed selfish; I acknowledged that it’s a whole lot easier for me to live with myself when I’m following my dreams. Through many conversations with my longsuffering wife Carrie, I also know that when I don’t follow my dreams and I don’t take care of myself, I’m not real easy to be around and I start slipping in my other commitments, most importantly, to the people I claim to love.

Fortunately, when I do slip, Carrie’s become really comfortable at bringing my attention to my lapses with our special little love-line “You’re being a jerk! Do you have any idea how fortunate you are? How about you go look for something to be grateful for and let me know when you’ve found it!”

At these times I usually find her both irritating and amusing, not only because I know, like Stanley, she’s right, but also because I’ve learned that when I do as she invites, I always seem to find what I’m looking for. I often end up scratching my head, feeling a little silly about my whining, guilty about acting like a jerk and wondering how, in the grand scheme of things, I got to be so fortunate to live a life where I actually get to follow my dreams.

With this in mind, nowadays I have to vigilantly ensure that the choices I make are directed towards what I care about, not just what I want. Today, following my dreams means being the best father, husband, friend, colleague, motivational speaker and coach that I can be. Doing so enables me to take care of who and what I care about. After all, we are the sum of our choices; we’re who, what and where we choose to be in life.

In my weaker moments, when I choose to be a victim, like last night when Jack fought to hold back his tears, I can easily get caught up in a story of how my being away and creating angst for my loved ones is hardly consistent with my stand for being a great dad and husband. This morning, one of the meetings I just travelled half way around the world for was both understandably and incredibly frustratingly postponed. I very briefly went to the dark side. Fortunately, I quickly realized that being stressed was optional and rather than getting peeved or feeling sorry for myself, I chose to step back and reorient towards my commitments and what I’m grateful for. This seemed an easier and more productive approach than getting uptight.

So as of this writing, I’m committed to getting home tomorrow and for the next five days pursuing my dreams, taking care of the people I love, and following the path I feel called to travel. I’m going to help build a snowman, make steaming cups of hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, help with homework and also spend some time reconnecting with our team at the office.

As I sit here smiling, thinking about spending time with my family and colleagues, I’m also gratefully wondering what the future holds… this brings to mind a quote by a chap called W.H. Murray; he led The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (Mt. Everest reconnaissance) in 1951:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Oh, one other thing –  there was just a fire drill at the hotel and whilst chatting with the concierge, I learned more than I ever wanted to about the sheets. It turns out that it’s not just about the thread count. Furthermore, there’s a shop down the road with precisely the sheets I’m after – and they’re on sale!

One more sleep Jack!


Success simplified; lessons learned down a hippo's throat. Speaker, Author, Coach who will parachute in when traditional solutions won’t get it done.

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  1. Wow, Paul. Wow. I always knew that you were a gifted motivational speaker. And I knew the moment I met you that you are, as my kinfolk say, “good people.” And now I know that you are a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing your heart and your wisdom with us. I, too, struggle with the question of how much my family should pay for my dream. What am I asking my son to sacrifice, so I can have the life I want? Then I remember that we have to eat. And my son would be really sacrificing if we had to move into a cardboard box.

    I think our lives will always be filled with those moments where we wonder if we are doing the right thing. It’s part of our genetic makeup. And I’m not sure we will ever be one hundred percent sure about every step we take. And we will never one hundred percent get it right. Perfection isn’t in our genetic makeup either.That’s why it is so important that we have a firm grasp of our Truth – what we believe in – what is important – and the order of importance. And that we realize we can only do so much.

    In my workbook I ask people to make a list of the three MOST important things in their life – priorities. Then I ask them to make another list of all the things they do – from changing diapers, to buying groceries, to changing the world. Then I ask them to look at that list and see how much of their time/energy/money goes to the things that are the top priorities in their life. (And I also make them see how much they are trying to do in a limited amount of time – and how that it is simply impossible to carry on at that pace).

    When I did this myself, I found that I spent the LEAST amount of time/energy/money on the top item of my list. And that many of the things on my “to do” list didn’t feed into my priorities at all – but were things I was doing just because I thought I was supposed to – or to keep up with the other mothers/wives/business women.

    Just one small change – spending more time/energy/money on the top item on my list – made a HUGE difference. For feeding that top priority ironed out a lot of wrinkles in my life.

    But I also had to find balance. Just because family is high on my list – doesn’t mean that if I choose to spend this moment somewhere else I have neglected this priority.

    I spoke for the Louisiana National Guard and they gave me this cool stone paperweight with the following words inscribed on it: MISSION FIRST: FAMILY ALWAYS. I love how this is worded. It makes a great mission statement. And somehow shows me how family and mission can exist in tandem.

    So thanks again Paul. I’m going to share this post today. I can’t wait to read your next post. And I love your wife already. I will try to remember to be grateful too – it could be worse. I could have been snacked on by a hippo!

  2. Well, Paul, I have never heard you speak, but I surely do want to now!!! What a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece! And this is such a HUGE topic for (I believe) anyone who works and has a family.

    I was a trainer for 3 years for Stephen Covey’s course, “First Things First” – which is all about achieving work-life balance. I conducted the workshop in cities all across the U.S. and Canada and saw the same thing over and over. Hard working, stressed out business people who loved their families – and came into the class wanting a magic pill or incantation that would give them more time. They weren’t so thrilled when I told them that the bottom line was that they had to make choices. Yes oh yes, identify those big values and then identify the tasks where they were actually spending their time (right on, Kelly), but the news they didn’t want to hear was that sometimes there would be a REALLY important thing over HERE – that conflicted with a really important or even URGENT thing over THERE.

    And Paul, what is strangely comforting to me is that even though I taught this workshop, knew it inside and out, can identify big rocks, and little rocks, and can make emotional deposits with the best of them, I STILL feel conflicted from time to time. I still struggle when I’m faced with situations where I feel like I’m not being congruent with what I SAY is important to me. I say its “strangely comforting” because I think that this struggle means mean that I care deeply, that I’m not perfect, and that I can’t do it all, and I’ll keep working on realigning with my “true north” every single day of my life.

    I so appreciate your starting a conversation about this since I truly believe it’s a common issue that so many people face. And I cannot WAIT to hear you speak!

    • Thanks for your kind words Linda! Thanks too for your (and Kelly’s) reminder to choose to ensure that my daily tasks (the stuff I seem to fill my days with) are aligned with the people and the things that I claim to be committed to… and for your “strangely comforting” reminder to cut myself some slack when – from time to time – I find that there’s dissonance between where I find myself heading and my proclaimed “true north.”

  3. Paul, I too look forward to hearing you speak following this blog. As motivational speakers we are always going to be juggling our speaking schedule with other priorities. As a mother of two, I’ve found that no matter how best I plan, life happens. Still remember the year I blocked the date of my daughter’s 5th grade talent show at school a year in advance, even turned down a speaking engagement and then the school had an electrical challenge in the gym. Date was postponed one week. Yup, while I was out of town. To say I wanted to choke the decision maker was an understatement, but we made the most through video and a special viewing when I returned. She’s off to college this fall and survived the experience! Both my girls know the love I feel and the choices we must make to grow our careers and pay those college bills!

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