If you have read any of my previous posts you would recognize my friendship with solitude and being a lone soul. It is not only something that I enjoy, but something that I stand in need of.
Even in my youth, though I grew up in a home with four other siblings, I would often seek out opportunities to be alone. To function in my own little world without the distractions and interactions around me. I think it comes down to a sense of control. When I am in that world, I have control over the aspects that I am interacting with.
One of my favorite toys growing up was small cars, Hot Wheels, to be more specific. I had come to own a small collection of them and they would occupy my attention for hours at a time.
I specifically remember having a spot out in our yard where I had dug a depression in the ground near a sagebrush. I would retire to this spot with several of my cars, leaving the nicest, most beloved few in the house safe and clean, and a putty knife I had found in with the tools. This putty knife was the perfect width to carve out streets, intersections, and driveways for these cars to travel along.
In the desert soil I would encounter either very hard, concrete-like ground, very soft and dry loose sand, or moist and easily compacted dirt. The first and the last were ideal for what I was trying to achieve but the middle, soft sand, just wouldn’t do.
I was a realist with my play. My cars couldn’t fly and didn’t have super powers to push through a pile of soft, loose, sand that was deeper than they were. Play didn’t work unless it was in conditions that were real to life and to the scale of these cars.
I don’t really recall any sort of story-line to my play either. It was mostly building roads and driveways, then placing the cars at their homes. In turn each car would back out and go for a nice Sunday drive.
If a bump was too large, or dip too deep, it needed to be smoothed. If the corner was too sharp it needed to be rounded off. If the road was too sandy or soft it needed to be cleared and compacted until it was solid.
So my hours of play would proceed, out there on my own, fixing roads and solving problems. I loved this play and would return as often as I could to this same spot. Roads would change, the hillside would evolve, and even a waterfall under a small wooden bridge I made in Cub Scouts would be added at one point; but the play was the same. On my own, at my own speed, without the complications others might contribute.
As an adult I’m much the same. I often find myself adventuring alone because, although it is not a safe practice, it is easier and less-complicated to do so. I can make choices and decisions without having to consider anyone else. I can start and stop when I want, eat when I want, wander off the beaten path if I want, and so on.
And, I can be alone with my thoughts. Working out stresses, problems, life mysteries, and coming up with a sure path towards world peace (okay, I’m still working on this, but I have a theory…..)
I need those situations for my own sanity. But that loneliness is of my own choice and my own making. I control when, where, and how, and that is why it works.
Just a short time ago I found myself in a much more damaging situation. As a boss I had to make some corrections and institute some changes with my employees. This can be hard to do. When you spend 8 hours a day in a 2,500 sq ft. building with just a few other people, you build a friendship and association. I work in this space just as they do and it creates a sense of equality. We joke and laugh, enjoy lunch together once in a while, celebrate birthdays, and enjoy each others’ company as we work through our various tasks and duties.
But, at the end of the day, I am the owner and the boss. The company is where it is today because of my attention to issues, changes to policies, and forward thinking. So I often have to define our roles as these processes are brought forward, reminding everyone that I am the boss and they are my employees.
I consider myself a people person. I communicate well and can adapt myself to be able to associate with many different characters. I think that is a big part of my success. But sometimes you just can’t approach matters of this nature without someone getting defensive or hurt and this was one of those times.
The discussion left my employees feeling offended and irritated by me. I had made no personal attacks, nor had I said anything that was untrue. But sometimes the truth hurts and because I was the authority figure telling those truths and implementing changes that were viewed as irritations, I was viewed as the enemy and a clear change an dynamics evolved leaving me as the odd man out.
Meanwhile at home the waters were choppy as well. I had been working long hours with a sudden influx of jobs, so my time at home was short as is. My wife and I were not communicating well with some struggles in our marriage. We couldn’t seem to find a time to really talk through it and work out what we needed to.
Not only did kids complicate this, but my mother-in-law lives in our home as well. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the typical “evil mother-in-law” stereotype that is portrayed in the world. I love her and have no issue with her in our home. It is good for her being able to be around her daughter and her grand kids. Plus it is a huge help for my wife to have her there. She allows us our privacy and is simply apart of our family. But it can make it hard to have those private discussions that husband and wife need to have on a regular basis.
What I was finding during this time was; I would arrive home around 7-7:30 pm. I would sit at the table alone and eat my re-heated dinner while the kids played and my wife and her mother cleaned up dinner and took care of things. Then as I was finishing, bedtime would arrive and the processes involved with that. Finally, with the kids in bed, it was adult time. I would kick back in my chair because my tasks for the day were finished and I could just relax. But with the kids in bed my wife still has items on her to-do list she needs to do. So she’s at the computer, working on crafts, or preparing an activity for the next day (she is a real-life Super Mom. Amazing!)
Then bedtime rolls around. We are both tired and after preparations for bed, we both just long for the rest of sleep knowing we need all we can get to fuel us through the next day. Although this time-slot may be our only private time during the day with the kids and her mother in our home, exhaustion puts off our motivation to utilize that time for the benefit of our marriage.
When morning arrives the focus is on getting ourselves and our kids ready for the day. Mom is working on breakfast, getting J5 dressed and ready for school, and dad is getting himself ready for work, doing outside chores, and then I’m out the door, with J5, headed for school and another long day at work.
Basically what I was encountering was a sense of being displaced. At work I felt shunned and outcast. I was the “mean boss” that everyone wanted to avoid. At home I felt like I wasn’t really needed there either. Much like the feeling of being the odd friend, or fifth wheel, invited on a road trip with two other couples. You are just kind of along for the ride and if you jumped out at mile-marker 12 they wouldn’t even notice until the next gas station and only because it was your turn to buy.
Each night I felt like I was a guest in the house. My wife and her mom had a routine and things just rolled along whether I was there or not. I would just find myself some leftovers to heat up, eat, and do my own thing while their process continued on towards bedtime.
It honestly felt as if I was a technician working in another town. I was commuting back and forth from my hotel, working long hours in the corner of a building where no one knew me or cared that I was there even though I was solving a major problem for them and when I was done for the day I would hit the hotel restaurant for dinner, eat alone, then back to my quiet room that I happened to be sharing with another person.
Day after day this feeling of loneliness and darkness got worse and worse. Here I was doing huge things for these people around me and yet I felt like a ghost whose presence was unnoticed as I went about my days.
I was feeling hurt and discouraged. Even though I was paying their wage and providing them with the place and the means to support their lifestyle, I was shunned by them and looked upon as a thorn in their sides. Even though I was providing for their daily needs, comforts, and toys, I was unnoticed and kept at arms length. There wasn’t time for me among the other daily demands.
How can the people that I am working so hard for, that I stress and worry about so much, simply treat me like I didn’t exist. Treat me as if I wasn’t important or needed? I’m doing this all for them. I didn’t ask for this loneliness. I didn’t choose or create this solitude……..or did I?
These waves of loneliness seem to come and go over the months. A sense of being alone in this world full of people. That I’m the only one battling to create a balance that effects everyone around me, but that no one is willing to assist me with.
Being a natural problem solver, I studied these situations looking for solutions. I didn’t like the way I felt during these times and especially didn’t like the way I began to view the people I loved as my hurt got deeper and deeper. They were my friends and most importantly, my family.
What I began to realize was that I was creating an atmosphere around myself that they were reacting to. I would come home from work exhausted, with an aged look of stress written across my face. I was hungry and needed to eat and unwind a bit before I allowed myself to be ready for their interactions. So they gave me space.
My wife had duties that needed to be taken care of. They couldn’t wait because there are protocols that have to be followed in order to ensure the success of bedtime. And, just like me staying after hours to finish jobs because there are no interruptions at that point, after bedtime was her after hours. It was her chance to finish up her jobs uninterrupted.
And what of our private time before our bed-time? Well, being a simple man, my bedtime process is quicker than hers. So while I laid in bed waiting for her to finish her readying, my phone would come out and YouTube would eat my attention. Then she’d come to bed, see I was focused on my phone and pull out a book. When that “just one more” video would finish I would see her reading her book and go back to my phone. It was that simple. When I needed that time to visit with my wife privately, I allowed YouTube to take priority.
I also realized that at work the only time I would have a serious discussion with my employees was when there was a problem that needed to be addressed. I wasn’t concerning myself with their needs, their ideas, or their jobs, unless I had something that I had seen that needed to be addressed. Although we were friendly and had positive interactions as co-workers, the only time they would see me in “boss mode” was when I needed to criticize their work and address something that had come to my attention. Of course that would create a barrier and put up walls.
After visiting with my brother, a therapist (ya, he’s better looking and better paid than me too….figures) he said something that really stood out to me. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something to the effect of setting priorities, but then also making sure that you show that those things are priorities to you.
For example: I had set my family as a priority in my life. I mean, heck, I don’t work 12-14 hour days weeks at a time because it’s fun. I do it because I want to provide a good life for my family and take care of their needs. I also try really hard to be home by bed-time so I can be there to kiss my kids goodnight. But what good is it doing when I come home after work in zombie-mode. Ya, I’m there…..but am I really?
What does it show when I am in bed with my face glued to my phone? Or when I only sit down to visit with my employees over something negative? What does it show when I’m there to be with my kids, but only my eyes are there and my mind is somewhere else?
My employees are a priority in my life. They do a great job and there is no way I could ever run this business without them. They make mistakes, yes, but so do I.
I began to try to have regular employee reviews. I visit with them about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I ask for their input on business decisions, because those things could effect them just as much as they effect me. I specifically ask what they like about working here and what they don’t like. I also try to notate positive things I see them do so I can make sure to spotlight those. These reviews give me an opportunity to have a well-rounded visit with each individual employee. I can make needed corrections, but also highlight positives.
I also began to have a weekly 1/2 hour morning meeting. We all gather and talk about our current job load so that we can all be aware of what is currently being worked on in the shop. I also have a white board where anyone can write down “meeting topics.” Anything that anyone feels needs to be addressed or talked about.
For the last five to ten minutes of this meeting I choose a clip from The Office TV series. I call it a “training video”. It lightens the mood a bit and is something they look forward to each week. If you’ve ever watched The Office then you know that it’s typically just silly humor. But I can usually twist the topic to relate to an actual point that could be learned from. I also ask the employees what else could be learned from it invoking creativity and collaborative input.
I have found these practices to help significantly, especially when it comes to points of criticism. I am still able to be the boss and exercise my authority on the rare occasions that I need to stick to my guns on something, but am still able to maintain a friendly and comfortable work environment.
I’ve also seen a definite boost in morale as I’ve made conscious efforts to praise the good that they do and focus on positives. I have become more approachable because the fear of “oh no, what did I do wrong this time” has been disposed of. I am a better boss with the use of these practices.
My home life is a bit harder. My family is my number one priority. My wife is beautiful and amazing in every way. My children are my pride and joy and I love the relationship I have with them. My mother-in-law contributes to our household in so many different ways; we are blessed to have her there. But when I can’t keep a consistent schedule because of my obligations and demands at work, how can I be available at the same times they are available? Of course their days go on without me. It would be selfish to ask them to wait for an unknown time.
So how do I make a show that they are a priority to me? I think the best thing I can do is BE THERE when I am there. I mean really give them my focus at that moment. It may only be 5 minutes before bedtime. It may only be that 10 minute drive into school each morning. But if I can show them that for that moment they are my world, then they will leave feeling how much I care about them.
I also need to take a page out of my brother’s book. When we have had opportunity to visit their home, I have noticed how much he helps with household duties. It seems so seamless where his wife would start and where he would pick up and finish. Maybe they have a schedule or system that they have worked out that works for them. That would be hard to do in my situation because I often never know when I will arrive at home.
But rather than feeling like there is a system in place and I am an interruption to that system, I should pitch in and help out more wherever I can. After all, it is my home and my messes too, and, the quicker she’s done with those things the sooner she can be with me.
I also need to make sure that I am available to her in those private moments. In turn, she needs to make sure she is available to me in those private moments as well. That private, heartfelt communication can be key I’ve found.
There is a saying in the business world, especially for small businesses that goes something to the effect of: Make sure you work ON your business and not just IN your business. There have been times that I have became so focused on completing an order, working late into the night, but didn’t spend anytime on the pricing to ensure I charged enough. All that work and effort is for nothing if there is no profit involved.
The same goes with a marriage. What did it feel like back when you first met? The first date, second date, first kiss? It was electrifying! It was for me at least. I couldn’t wait to spend as much time as possible with her. She was my focus for the majority of my days. We got married and suddenly things started getting in the way. Job, kids, bills, etc. All of these came as a result of that marriage. But if that foundation isn’t maintained, then the rest of it will inevitably fail.
If you are feeling like you are alone in the world, maybe it’s time to take a step back like I did and look in a mirror. How much if it is your own doing? My wife once told me that the reason we are here on this earth is for the purpose of forming relationships. I think she’s spot on with that one. Whether it is love, or friendship. Casual acquaintances even. What sort of impression are you leaving on that person? What sort of relationship is being built? If you knew that all you could take after this life was the relationships you had made, would you do things a bit differently?
Let this Valentines Day be the New Year of your relationships. Set some resolutions that will help swing open doors, solidify loves, and secure support for your next stages of life. You don’t have to feel alone and I can guarantee that no matter who you are there is someone trying to share a relationship with you. Are you helping that or hurting it?