LATELY I HAVE been evaluating what brings value to my life; and with that, I have been making more conscious choices on how best to spend my time. I asked myself the following questions:
- How can I increase the time I spend with people I love being around as well as doing things I enjoy doing?
- And, how can I decrease the time I waste on other areas of my day-to-day life that have little to no value?
What truly adds value to my life?
Uninterrupted quality time with my two young children and wife tops the list. Whether it is a casual walk to the pond as a family, a trip to the playground, or pushing the little ones on their miniature trains in circles throughout our first floor, any time spent with my family is time well spent. Nothing is more important than this.
I include my dog Mozzarella Cheese in this part of my family, because she is. She lives in Charlottesville under the same roof. Our relationship is mutually beneficial. Although she physically gets more enjoyment out of playing with the tennis ball, catching the frisbee, or taking a stroll down a path (I enjoy it but it doesn’t make me drool and wag my behind), mentally I gain just as much as her. She’s my buddy, and when it’s her time to leave this world, I will cry and be sad and forever miss her.
Friends, and other family members
Next is time with my family and friends outside of my home’s four walls. Sometimes we forget how delicate life is, and it takes a tragedy to awaken us from our slumber, but our time is fleeting and should be enjoyed with the ones we love, whether it is with parents and siblings, or friends old and new.
I no longer live where I was raised, but my wife and I make a conscious effort to visit often so that our parents are able to spend time with their grandchildren, so that we (and our children) spend time with our siblings, and also, so that our children get playtime with their cousins. I guess our kids are the “city cousins” now.
Old friends are the best, in my opinion. Coming of age, they knew you better than anyone. We change as we age. We learn from our mistakes. We grow up, we grow apart. It’s inevitable. But old stories of nearly forgotten memories, or memories that seem like yesterday, never get old. They just get funnier to tell and even funnier to hear.
Youth is such an adventure. Remember it with the ones who were passengers alongside you.
What else adds value to my life?
There are other activities that bring value to my life as well, such as running, writing, reading, and quiet — to name a few.
I used to be in really good shape. Then I went off to college and started eating like crap and not exercising regularly. I got married and started eating better but my exercise habits didn’t change much at all. I had kids and my exercise habits got even worse — and I picked up bad eating habits again. Then I gained 40 lbs. in a year — a year! I went from 180, a weight I had maintained since I was 20 years old, to 221. I was unhealthy, plain and simple, and I started throwing out my back regularly, to the point I had to partake in eight weeks of physical therapy.
When you throw out your back tying your daughter’s shoes, you know something has to change. So, I started running.
It was rather pathetic at first. I had this assumption in my head that since I could run a mile in 5:06 in high school, that I could pick back up where I left off. Wrong. I ran about three minutes (no pace, entirely too fast) and had no energy. I grabbed my side and jogged for 12 more minutes, got home, and nearly passed out in the living room floor. The next day, I did it again. And the next day.
A year and a half later, I’m still hitting the pavement. What a difference it has made in my life mentally and physically.
I dropped every pound of weight I gained and started playing basketball again. Infrequently, but still playing nonetheless. All because of running. Running centers me. It sheds weight and it sheds stress — faster than anything.
I love to write, and I wish I did it more. Coupled with running, writing is my therapy. It’s not an easy thing to do when you have small children. Finding time is difficult. I need to be alone with just my thoughts. I’m working on being better about carving out this time in my life and balancing it with time spent with my family.
Writing adds value to my day. Writing is engrained in my soul. I don’t think I’ll ever be a famous novelist, or even a mildly successful writer, but I don’t run because I think I’ll win the Boston Marathon either. It’s something I enjoy. And, I think, one day, when I’m long gone, the words I have written may hold some value in my children’s lives. These words are part of my soul. It’s who I am.
Kids have changed my reading habits more than anything, but I still make the effort to read on an everyday basis. Books, blogs, essays. Something. I used to juggle two books at once and read both within a week. With two small children, I read one — and it takes me every bit of a month.
Reading is a form of meditation for me. It is mental tunnel vision. I need mental tunnel vision, each day, like I need air to breathe.
Quiet may seem an odd inclusion on this list, but quiet means a great deal to me. It allows me time to think clearly and creatively, to meditate, and to calm any anxiety gathered over the course of a long day. Even as a young child, I found spending time alone to be energizing. While some gain great energy in being around other people — and I do, too, if the crowd is immediate family or close friends — I rejuvenate and shake off my worries by the alone time I allow myself.
I am also fortunate enough to say my job, and the work I do, brings value into my life. I feel what I do is important and matters. I haven’t always been able to say that. I can now. It keeps my brain fresh and sharp, and it pushes me to think creatively and strategically. This is a comforting feeling since work is something I cannot escape, and do from 8-5, Monday-Friday. If my job left me jaded or constantly stressed and drained, it would negatively affect other areas of my life. I’ve been down that road before and I hope never to travel it again.
What doesn’t add value to my life?
- Social media. So I canned it — all of it. If you see a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc., that’s another Jeffrey Pillow. I consider most of those networks the opposite of social. To me, they are inherently antisocial and often have you interacting less with the people you truly love and more with virtual acquaintances. The only “social media” I keep an account on is YouTube, if you can even consider it social media.
- Toxic friends and family. I used to put up being around friends or family that brought me down or were just negative forces in my life. I’m a grown up now and that sort of behavior, which is very middle schoolish, is no longer acceptable in my life.
- Activities outside my circle of competence. There are some hobbies and activities I’ve picked up over the years that I’m frankly not really great at or that I don’t truly enjoy. I’ve abandoned those and now focus on the activities I actually like doing. For me, that’s playing basketball, writing, drawing occasionally, nature walks, etc.
What is on your short list? What adds value to your life?
I think for most, family and friends will always top the list. How about the others? Whereas I put running and writing, maybe it is cooking and gardening for you, or volunteering at church or a community center, playing music, working out at the gym or yoga.