I was sitting on the bench last night inside the dojo, watching my son Joshua kick and punch in his mixed martial art class. I drank in the joy of seeing little kids focus intently, and the pure cuteness of seeing Bruce Lee moves from kids who come up to my waist.
Then I got a pit in my stomach.
I realized that I had forgotten to turn in Josh’s monthly homework, due last Thursday. The monthly homework is a great idea — there are handouts with exercises which focus on a core concept being taught that month in martial art class, like integrity or kindness or focus.
Ironically, this month’s topic was on personal responsibility.
Kids must turn in their homework in order to get a stripe on their belt, which qualifies them to “tip test” that month, an important step in progress toward a new belt. No homework = no tip = no test.
What made me feel sick was realizing that the oversight was mine — Josh had been sick on Thursday, and I knew I needed to drop it by the studio, which is right on the way to my office.
But I got distracted by a new site and product launch, and the excitement of a feature in the New York Times.
All worthy items which are important to building a strong business — but which mean nothing to a five-year old who only knows that “Mom forgot something important to me again.”
<Cue dramatic image of Mom clutching heart and falling on the floor in agony, as she realizes she is setting her kids up for some painful stories on the therapist’s couch.>
In every moment, a lesson. In every busy life, a choice.
Thank goodness for life coach training, because I am not one to dwell in guilt for too long. It won’t help me learn, and it certainly won’t help Josh.
I asked myself (as I was pounding the heavy bag in my own adult MMA class):
What lesson can be learned from this experience?
And it came to me:
- You must prioritize your top values (aka: “I take care of my responsibilities as a parent” or “I value my health”)
- You must act on these values by making them a priority
- By not choosing to prioritize your values, and activities, you choose to let important things fall. And unimportant things to receive more of your attention than they merit.
My parenting example could be turned on its head by someone who focused so much on the children’s needs that she ignored her desire to build a business. Or kickstart her acting career. Or get away on retreat with her girlfriends.
“I really would love to quit my loathed job and start a business, but I must first finish knitting mittens for each member of my son’s hockey team, then I have to grow my own organic lettuce so I can make fresh salads for my kids’ lunch every day.”
“I long for rest and exercise, but I volunteered to make homemade soup for 1,000 people each week, and then there are the three meetings a week as Chair of the PTA, and someone has to dig through the neighborhood trash for recyclables. If I don’t do that, who will?”
In this case, I rather like the advice offered by Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit (one of the greatest books I have ever read, written in 1938):
And that is what I would say to to worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could not find a minute for it:
‘If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say: ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.”
It will make you feel miserable if you try to be all things to all people, and get everything done on your to-do list each week. It simply is not possible.
You can, however, choose to put focus, energy and time into the important things each week.
Laundry can wait.
Responding to every last comment on your blog can wait.
Two hours in front of the mirror trying to look like Jennifer Aniston can wait.
Snack helper and show and share duty at your toddler’s school shouldn’t wait.
Remembering your best friend’s birthday each year shouldn’t wait.
At least in my world.
Josh will be fine. He is five years old, for goodness sakes, so I don’t think missing one belt test will change the course of his martial arts career, or scar him for life.
I will be fine. I will make different choices about how I prioritize my to-do list, and I will turn in next month’s homework on time.
Choose what’s important to you. And act on it.