Pruning the Tree

My friends, does it seem like life is picking up speed? Wasn't it just Sunday or was it Monday. It seems like my friends at Firehouse.com just posted my latest commentary and here I am again pounding the keys on my faithful desktop computer. What is this all about?

I have a theory. It is not scientific, but it seems to make sense. When we are young, each day is a larger fraction of our life. As our lives grow longer each day becomes a smaller fraction of the total of our lives. When you are 20 years old one year equals 1/20th of your life. When you are 60 years old one year equals 1/60th of your life. Thus each year is a smaller fraction of the whole, and so it goes for as long as we are allowed the privilege of life.

It seems as though my life is now moving by with the speed of light. It seems like I need to do something that will allow me to enjoy the days as they seemly speed by. Do you feel the same? I cannot be the only one who feels like this. Let me suggest that you and I need to begin being more selective as to how we spend our time. Let me offer this to you as something for your consideration.

The premise of this week's commentary is really quite simple. I am suggesting that you join me in examining the things that we do our lives. Further, it is my suggestion that each of us look for things that can be pruned off of the edges of our tree of life. We need to become selective in how we allocate the remaining years of our lives.

Pruning a tree is something that arborists do to make it grow better and live longer. The dead and dying branches are removed so that the remaining limbs will have a better chance at success and survival. Pruning around the edges of your life is something I am going to suggest will improve the quality of your life.

Let me strongly recommend that by removing the weight of certain burdens, you can free up more of your time for things you really like to do. Many are the moments when I ponder all of the time I have spent away from my family through the years.

In some cases the absences involved work. We all understand that certain sacrifices must be made to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. Each of us understands that this is a part of life. There were also those times when I traveled to places to enhance my career. During the decade of my 40's (1987-1997) I spent a great part of my life consciously seeking to improve my knowledge base and build my status within the fire service. I did this to improve my chances of having something rewarding to do in retirement.

Perhaps there are those who might think that I was doing things for selfish reasons. I guess I was looking out for Number 1. Fortunately I was able to avoid stepping in Number 2. At other times I was just trying to curry favor with people that I thought were important. Guess what gang, I wasn't always right. Many of these activities took time away from my family that can never be replaced. Sadly a great deal of your life must be spent pleasing others. This was not an easy thing to do.

Even when I was working a second job as a teacher or serving in the National Guard, I always budgeted time for my wife and children. We always took a vacation in the summer. My wife and I took the kids to church and attended a variety of school activities. Time is a gift that can only be given once, and you need to be sure you do just that.

Many years ago a buddy suggested to me that I devote more time to my family. He was bemoaning all of the time he spent working and wished he has spent more time doing family things. He suggested that my family was still young enough for me to avoid what had happened to him. Thanks to his advice my family and I traveled widely on vacations. My wife and I also took part in a great many of our children's activities.

It was my good fortune to take up a musical instrument when I was in my 40's. It seems as though playing my tuba opened up a whole new direction in my life. It allowed me to take time away from my all-consuming, passionate involvement in the fire service. It allowed me to experience something that is a rare joy. I was allowed to relive parts of my life while at the same time spending precious moments with my children.

For seven years, it was my great fortune to play in school bands right next to my children. It was my choice to be an athlete on my first trip through life back in the 1950's and 1960's. On the next trip through I was in the band. For these seven glorious years I got to relive my life as a member of the band. It was truly a gift from God which allowed me to be so close to my children.

It was also a gift from above which allowed me to meet the talented kids who grooved on life by making music, as well as the dedicated people who motivated and taught them. A great deal of my time was spent bonding with my children. My wife was also a part of the equation. She and I were extremely active members of the Freehold Township High School Music Parents Association. It is up to each of us to use our time wisely.

You and I need to begin limiting our non-family endeavors to the absolute minimum necessary. Perhaps my advice can help you to chart a better course through this life. Let me offer a few suggestions about what it is that I intend to do with my life over the day, weeks, months, and years which lie ahead. Let me offer a style of life that I used to live. Perhaps you will avoid the pitfalls which befell me over the years.

Many have been my successes over the years. However each came with a cost. In my younger years, I felt as though I could do anything that I wanted. My wife accused me of having a "Superman Complex." Perhaps she was right. I wanted to be a part of so many different things that my time was often spent moving from place to place at a relatively high speed.

Many times I would leave Newark after a day shift, travel to teach at a local community college, and then drive on to a meeting in Washington, DC. Many were the times when I operated on two or three hours' sleep. However, I made all of my commitments and was still able to get back home for a bit of time with my young family.

I can remember losing a consulting job because the client demanded a meeting on a night when my wife and I were planning to attend a school band concert. I could barely see my son, let alone hear him. But he knew I was there and that was what really counted. That money would have come at too great a price.

Perhaps I have seen the email too often wherein people on their deathbeds never seem to bemoan the fact that they wish they had spent more time at work. I always suggest to the younger people who ask me for career advice that they need learn how to provide more balance in their lives. Some listen, some do not.

Think about how a day plays out for each of us. There are 24 hours in the day, each and every day. Wouldn't it be nice if we could neatly divide our time into three distinct eight-hour periods? Eight hours would be used for rest and relaxation. Eight hours would be used for work, and eight hours would be devoted to our families and to assisting other people who are having problems.

Unfortunately life is not a neat package. Things are thrown at us and we must react quickly. Please remember it is my hypothesis that an unplanned life can slip away from us far too easily. I am suggesting that each of us take a bit more time for our families and ourselves. There are three phrases which must become a part of our daily vocabulary if we are to take just a modicum of control over our lives. They are not complex words, but their use can have great meaning.

These words are:

I am suggesting that you can start the process of pruning your tree of life by limiting the growth of new limbs. Each of us is busy. We need to take control over our lives. Let me offer an example of how I intend to approach this problem. I currently have a number of commitments to a variety of groups which must be fulfilled. These are commitments I shall continue to honor.

Existing commitments will be phased down wherever possible and the acceptance of new commitments shall be limited to the greatest extent possible. It would be really neat to be able to visit more with people and labor less on meaningless, repetitive tasks. You have to learn to pick and choose among the many battles life offers you.

Perhaps I am in a box of my own making. That is my problem. I want to offer you an alternative. I want to suggest that balance in life is critical. I was sharing this thought with a buddy the other day. He said that he is attempting to do the same thing in his life. The only difference is that he calls the process, "thinning the herd." The object is that we both understand the need to gain a bit more control over the tasks which drive our lives.

However, let me assure you that there is no "oh woe is me" at work here. I have enjoyed the life which has led me to the point where I can share my thoughts with you on a frequent basis. This does not preclude me from suggesting that I need to slow down a bit. There is no reason that you and I cannot share a few ways to avoid the quicksand which a too-active life can create.

I am finding that as I grow older there is a greater need for me to understand the boundaries of my life. It is critical for me to understand that I will live longer and accomplish more if I can learn to live within myself. Friends, it is my fervent hope that my words have some meaning for you this week.

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