My racquetball buddy surprised me one evening when he leaned over and whispered, “Russ, I have a couples crush on you and your wife.” I laughed. I knew what he was talking about. But, I also knew something he didn’t.
You see, I run a video production business. It’s quite simple. There’s one employee: me. There’s one office: my home. I take on the clients I like and turn away the ones I don’t. My schedule is wonderfully flexible. I work as little or as much as I want. Dreamy.
My wife is in a similar situation. She’s a personal trainer, works out of the home and sets her own schedule as well. We spend much of our day together. Our marriage is really amazing. Again, dreamy.
But, here’s what my friend didn’t know. In the wee hours of most mornings, before the sun comes up, my wife and I often stir awake thinking about the day ahead. And then it hits. Pressure. Stress. Moments yet to happen rushing into the now.
These mental, morning intrusions often provoke anxiety and pressure—pressure to perform, succeed and accomplish. What exactly? Not sure, but the day already feels heavy and we haven’t even gotten out of bed.
It shouldn’t be this way. If anyone should awake to an exciting day of opportunity and promise, it should be us. Throughout our marriage, we’ve made specific, intentional choices to live a simple, minimalist life. Why then is it so hard to experience the dream life that my friend thinks we have? I want to know why this uninvited pressure continues crashing into our calm mornings, setting an unhealthy pace for the day.
I think it has something to do with our cultural mindset of performance—if you work hard enough, you’ll be happy. We learned it as a kid: work hard and you can have a happy life. But, if you’re not working, not succeeding, not accomplishing, then you can’t be happy.
It’s so pervasive in our culture. Do well in school, and you’ll get good grades. Work hard at your job, and you’ll get that promotion. Perform well and you’ll do well. It’s the American Dream. But, if you’re not performing, then life will not be good for you. What we do becomes who we are instead of letting who we are become what we do.
What is it that drives us, that fuels our need to perform? I believe it’s this undertow of lack that makes us feel like we haven’t quite arrived yet. There are more tasks to accomplish, more mouths to feed, inventions to create, stories to tell. So, get to work. No time to rest. Why? Because right now, in someway, you are lacking. You can always be moving towards more.
This lie fuels performance. And, it’s everywhere. It’s prominent in the TV commercials we see, the magazine ads we read, the sermons we hear. The unsettling discontentment shifts our thoughts away from the present moment. We become focused on the past (with its failures) or the future (with its pressures), and we miss the beauty of the now. Perhaps, choosing to live in the now is the key to a joyful life.
Last night after dinner, my wife was getting ready to take the dogs on a walk. Alone. I was busy juggling some client emergencies and trying to get things ready for the next day. Alone. Our son had disappeared into his teenage man-cave to the battle cries of League of Legends. Alone.
I was about to sacrifice a now moment at the altar of tomorrow.
So, I shut down the computer, grabbed my shoes and said, “Hey, I’ll come with you.” My wife smiled, probably leaping on the inside. Then, to our surprise, Caleb emerged from his gaming lair and wanted to join us.
We spent the next 20 minutes walking, talking and laughing. Together. Completely content in the moment. And, it almost slipped right by us.
Yes, we do have an amazing life. I have a wonderful, beautiful wife who loves me unconditionally. I have brilliant, witty son attending college to be a professional game designer. (Go figure.)
Life is good. I just need to be careful not to miss the beauty of the now.
“God deals out joy in the present, the now.” — King Solomon