For me, a big aspect of life is pacing yourself and building momentum. It started when I began running competitively at the ripe ole’ age of seven and as I would get older I would notice many parallels between life and running. The most important of these was the importance of understanding your own limits and how to properly pace yourself. The biggest problem for me was that I was horribly impatient. It took everything I had not to sprint out in the lead and burn out in the first 100 yards of a mile race.
This fundamental truth paralleled my own life as I wanted everything to happen immediately and I always came out of the gate strong only to burn out quickly. It was a pattern that would be both a blessing and a curse throughout my career. I’d be full of enthusiasm and vigor for about six months and then burn out. If I was lucky I’d make it through a few weeks of recharging the batteries and I’d be off and running again. If not, I’d eventually move on to something more challenging and exciting and even more exhausting.
By now you’re probably wondering, “what in God’s green earth does that have to do with being a divorced father of three?” Well that’s a good question. When you’re a parent you really don’t get many opportunities to recharge. If you’re lucky you have a spouse who can pick up the ball and run with it when you crash. But when you’re a divorced, single parent that luxury is gone. Even if you have the support of an ex-wife or other family members, when the kids are with you, it’s all on your shoulders to keep it moving. There’s no running to the grocery store to pick up milk without getting all three dressed and transitioned to the car. The three of them can become life a school of piranah all feeding off of your existence. You’re constantly on the move, constantly going. Sit for five seconds and one of them is bound to yell, “DADDDDDDD … there’s no toilet paper!!!!”
At first you envision the end of the week finish line. Sunday at six they’ll go to their mom’s and you’ll be able to regroup. But that’s when you catch up with client work and getting the house back in order. Suddenly it’s Sunday again and the house still isn’t together, the work isn’t completed and you have to pick up the kids in an hour. You forgot to restock the fridge and the jeans you know your daughter is going to want to wear to school in the morning are still in the laundry basket. It’s a never ending vicious cycle.
The first few months I was all over it. Piece of cake I said to myself. I’ve got this. But then I started noticing that I was pacing myself for a 5K not a marathon. It wasn’t long before I started freaking out, afraid I’d hit the wall sooner than later. Little things started getting missed. An extra pair of shoes on the kitchen floor. Toys left laying around in the bonus room. The car was starting to get creepy dirty. Lunches started getting made 15 minutes before the kids had to be on the bus rather than the night before. Papers were piling up on my desk. Laundry was getting done, but there were little piles strewn throughout the house waiting to be put away.
I was slipping and falling to the back of the pack and I wasn’t seeing a finish line.
Eventually you crash. It’s inevitable. Your body and mind simply aren’t in shape for this long a run. I finally gave myself a day to just veg. I crashed on the couch and shut off all the computers and tv’s and just did nothing but sleep. I kept the phone on in case of an emergency but otherwise shut the world out cold turkey. It was liberating. The next morning I woke up a little groggy, but after a cup of coffee and an hour of decompression, I felt renewed and had a fresh perspective on my new reality. Was it bliss after that? Hell no. Life was still waiting for me on the other side. But I at least had the mental capacity to face it and deal with it with a clearer head.
I continue to struggle with the constant movement and with trying to keep up with everything that is my world. Raising three kids and building a small business both require 110% of my being. That’s 220%. Who has that? And sometimes I fall back in the pack a little. Despite the dishes being cleaned, the laundry folded and the carpets vacuumed the house still feels cluttered and a bit unkept. Work is still overwhelming. I freak about having enough business and the paperwork is piled on my desk, but after every meltdown I’m a little more confident that I can keep things moving. Surrounding myself with supportive people helps. Maintaining a good relationship with my ex-wife helps. All of it put together creates a make shift safety net of sorts.
But it’s a lot. And at some point you have to acknowledge that what you’re trying to cope with is physically demanding and emotionally draining. Somewhere in that mess, as difficult as it is, you need to find a way to cut yourself some slack. Stop and go for a run or head to the “Y” for an hour to allow yourself a chance to clear your head. Sneak a nap in when you can. The laundry can wait. It’s not the end of the world if your daughter has to wear a pair of pants she doesn’t like once in a while. She’ll get over it and the boy sitting next to her will still like her. And if he doesn’t he’s a jerk anyway and she can do SO much better.
But back to the point. What’s important is that you keep in mind this truly is a marathon not a 5k. That’s the reality. It’s important to find a pace that works for you and adjust your life accordingly. Some miles will be easier than others. There will be hills but there will also be flats. Once in a while you may need to walk. And that’s o.k. I think what I’m coming to grips with is the fact that there really is no finish line. A pit stop here and there maybe, but no checkered flag. There won’t be that moment when you break the tape. And yet somehow you win. There are little victories every day. That’s what you need to focus on. The small triumphs that let you know you’re making progress. Give yourself those little trophies. Embrace them. Recognize that you’ve earned them. Then check your laces, stretch your back and start the next mile. Just be sure to pace yourself.