My wife is like my job (and I hope she reads this)
August 26, 2019
I've had a full decade to learn how to love my wife. Only now am I realizing how that can teach me to be happier and more productive at work.
I love my wife. Conclusion: my wife and my job are different.
I love my wife. Conclusion: my wife and my job are similar.
Like any word, "love" will mean something different depending on who you ask, and when. But my wife and I have long since come to an understanding of what we mean when we talk about love.
It's both the thing that draws us together, and the thing that keeps us together. It's a feeling - and it's a verb. It's an action. It's a choice.
I will never love anything in this world like I love my wife, so what does any of this have to do with my job? I've had a full decade to learn how to love my wife. Only now am I realizing how that can teach me to be happier and more productive at work.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
If I was to sum up my experience of love these past three days in one word, I'd have to go with "agony". See, my wife's been out of town to visit family, and I've seriously been considering Googling "is loneliness fatal?".
Maybe that seems a bit melodramatic to you. I know that when I was a kid and my father would leave town for a work trip my mother would tell us it was going to be a hard time for her, and in all my thirteen or fourteen years of wisdom I'd think, "What? Come on, he's just one person. You're an adult, what difference does it make?"
Note to teen Luke: don't be an asshole. It makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Or so says my pining, lonely heart. Which may be prone to just a smidge of hyperbole right now, given its emotional state, but if you've ever been in my shoes you know how real it feels.
My wife and I have been together for just about 10 years now, and "in sickness and in health" turned out to not just be an "old age" thing. Neither did "for richer or for poorer" (emphasis on "poorer") turn out to be a joke. We've seen some shit, folks, and been dealt some rough hands. And through it all we're still here, still together, and still loving each other.
And it's been almost half a decade since we were last parted. So yeah, when she's been my world day in and day out all these years, it's a pretty big freaking deal when she's suddenly gone.
The measure of a life
My wife and I had a conversation recently about mortality, and life, and its significance. Now, I am far from being wise in this area, but with my wife gone my moping turned into contemplation, and I found myself trying to find some way to process everything I was feeling in her absence. Here's what I realized:
We live in a world that likes to play up how wonderful and dreamy things are when we see folks in love. Maybe it's the star-crossed lovers - the young Romeos and Juliets whose passion burns so bright. Maybe it's the elderly couple watching the sunset and holding hands, the embodiment of contentment.
But what about when that person is gone? What do we call that then? Sorrow? Grief? Anguish? Sometimes even those words are not enough. Love burns with the brightest of pains. But that doesn't make it any less beautiful.
In my melodramatic moping I realized that life felt so strange and empty without my wife around, so hollow and surreal, and yet that's exactly the beauty of the 8th wonder of the world we call love. And maybe, just maybe, that's one measure of the worth of a life - the impact we feel when they're gone.
Impact of a life
Sometimes the impact of a person's life is presence. My wife's presence in my here and now is the bright center that my universe revolves around. Yank that out, and it's like sucking all the air out of my lungs.
Other times the impact of a person's life is legacy. I am who I am today because of who my wife is, and who she's been to me. I even owe her my life, in a very literal way. I am her legacy, and so is the countless other lives she has touched and changed besides mine.
And yet, I wasn't writing this post a week ago. Or a month ago. Inspiration suddenly struck right after she left on her trip. Coincidence? I think not.
Life is nothing if not adaptable. And that can be for better or for worse. In this case, I had gotten used to how wonderful my wife is, and stopped truly seeing her any more. It took losing that impact before I could see the impact - through the hole left by its loss.
Impact of a job
I've had a number of jobs in my lifetime, and I've lost a number of jobs too (as is the way of things). And if there's one thing I've learned about jobs, it's this:
- Every job sucks.
- Every job has some amount of good in it.
So then why is it that when I look back I see such a predictable pattern in my job history:
- Get a job.
- Like the job, more or less.
- Get grouchier and bitchier about the job over time.
- Eventually move on to another job (nothing lasts forever) and rinse and repeat.
Maybe you're reading this and nodding your head, thinking, "Yup, seems about right." If so, then this one is for you, my friend, because no, that's not a good pattern. In fact, it doesn't need to be a pattern at all.
Every job sucks. Every job has some amount of good in it. So what's the difference between when I start a job, and when I am grouchy and bitchy about it? (hint: it's not usually the job that changes)
Looking back, I can actually see the holes left behind by the lost impact of my lost jobs:
- I owe my career to my first boss who took me on as a developer despite no real experience.
- I owe a lot of my people-skills, wisdom, and skill in boundaries to my early work in social work.
- My last job gave me a way to feed my family and gave us a financial future without me having to hate my life.
- My current job is teaching me how to pick my battles, and find my courage.
The key word here is "looking back". Hindsight is 20/20, and our perspective on the present is usually not just short-sighted, but downright out of touch with reality in most cases.
Making the shift
Just a few weeks ago I got into a fight with my wife. I don't remember what it was about, but it felt like a big kerfuffle at the time. Me stomping off mad, grumping in my head about how frustrating she was, how she manages to ruin all the things, how we're never going to get anywhere with our lives if we can't even make this work between us, or whatever the monologue was that time. And goodness knows what her inner diatribe was like.
Funny thing is, from everything I've told you about her so far already you should already be able to see how off-base that thinking was. So how have we made it through all these years when all it takes is a single spark for me to get my head that far up my ass?
Simple: by making a choice. Day after day. A choice to see the beauty, and forgive the warts.
And yet, at work I did the opposite. I would get hung up on all the different frustrations, and lose sight of all the good things I had going for me at that job. No wonder I'd get unhappy and stressed. But I realize now that I had the power all along to be happier and more productive.
If there was one thing I would say to 10-years-ago Luke about both love and work, it would be this:
Lean into what's good. Release what's stuck.
Lean into what's good. Or what could be good, and is worth the fight. But always remember to ask yourself if this is a hill you're willing to die on. Pick your battles, and especially pick what you refuse to let go of. When you find something that's just not going to change, or isn't worth the pain to push on, learn to let it go.
Life's too short to waste time fighting in the shit. Put your energy into what's good.
In other words, gain some perspective, stop wasting time on being unhappy with what you can let go of, and make a choice to see the beauty and forgive the warts. Not because your job deserves it, but because you deserve to be happier and more productive.