In my twenties I was a flurry of activity. I deftly juggled dozens of balls. I burned midnight oil. I crushed it.
In my twenties I aimed for the fancy title and got it. I navigated politics. I embraced crappy tasks. I made sure I was responsible for deliverables that were public and visible and easy to quantify.
In my twenties I was carried by talent. I was given some gifts and worked hard to make the most of them. I overcame weaknesses and character defects by demonstrating mastery in areas of strength.
In my twenties I was promoted, awarded, rewarded and applauded.
In my twenties I wanted to be successful and liked and be the best at what I did. And I wanted it immediately.
Life was a race, and I was a sprinter.
In my twenties I had an enormous fear that I wasn’t good enough. Every time I sat down in front of a blank screen to make something new I told myself that this was the time I would screw up, and that everyone would finally realize I was a hack.
In my twenties I cared immensely about the opinions of others. I pretended to be my own man, driven by a motive power that was purely internal. I wanted people to think I was a funnier version of Howard Roark. But deep down, most of my actions were designed to get you to think I was smart and talented and witty and charming and worth being around.
In my twenties I was undisciplined. I worked hard, but usually on what I wanted to work on. I avoided accountability. I enjoyed being unreachable.
In my twenties I bristled at the suggestion that my work or idea or decision wasn’t great. Even when I was wrong and knew it, I wasn’t willing to lose the battle without winning the war, especially with my wife. To say something I did was flawed or stupid was to say that I was flawed or stupid.
In my twenties I used jokes at my own expense to mask a celestial ego. I used raw talent and bursts of hard work to mask a lack of discipline. I used charisma to mask character.
Life was a race, and I was a sprinter.
Then I fell down for the first time at work.
Then I became a father.
Then I turned 30.
In my thirties I realized that I had some fundamental issues that talent and extraversion couldn’t fix, character traits that were undesirable, and a shaky foundation underneath a shiny facade. I realized that unless I made some large changes to my life I risked causing some major problems.
In my thirties I realized that my son won’t care about what my job title is or how much money I make or what cool new product I helped build. I realized that he will care immensely that I’m present when we’re in the same room together. He’ll want to know I’m not “crushing it” at night instead of talking about his day. He’ll want to know that I care more about his drawing than my iPhone.
In my thirties I realized that my wife won’t care about who I’m able to have lunch with or who retweeted me or who wants me to talk at what event. But she will care immensely that we have date nights. She’ll want to know I’m not working after the kids have gone to bed instead of talking about her day. That I care more about her than our new office space.
In my thirties I realized that no one thinks of me as a funny Howard Roark or a pale George Clooney. In fact, no one thinks of me. No one really cares whether I fail, and no one really cares whether I succeed. No one cares that I’ve gone 8 months without writing something, and no one is wondering why I’m at fewer networking events. I was obsessed with convincing an imaginary crowd that I’m somebody important.
In my thirties I realized that work is extremely important, but legacy isn’t. My achievements up to this point live on inside of my head and on my resume and that’s it. Even if I build something big and visible that everyone marvels at, it will likely not survive as long as I do. And when I die, my funny jokes and clever writings and great products will all be forgotten. I realized that that I had turned work from an important thing into the most important thing. I realized I’m obsessed with building a castle of sand.
In my thirties I realized that my faith means nothing if it’s relegated to the periphery of my life. I need to be firmly grounded in the things that matter the most. I need deeper roots, need to be a tree that bears fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither.
In my thirties I realized that I need a healthy dose of discipline. I need to get up each morning at a consistent time. I need to eat a breakfast that’s good for me, at the table, with my family. I need to stick with a workout regimen for more than three months. I need to work on the difficult project, make the difficult call. I need to listen when people are talking to me instead of thinking of something witty to say. I need to eat I a dinner that’s good for me, at the table, with my family. I need to read my Bible and pray for my family and go to bed at a reasonable time instead of after my wife has long been asleep.
In my thirties I realized that I need to care less what you think about me. I need to model what a good man looks like to my son. I need to consistently be the kind of husband my wife deserves. And I need to be the kind of man who finishes a race well, not simply starts well.
Life is a race, and I was a sprinter.
But life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.