My four-month-old girl gawked at my gesticulating form from across the study.
From her jungle-motif seat, she watched my hands as they whipped hieroglyphs – words and arrows and grids – on my new white board wall adhered to the new sliding barn doors. I was determined to get perspective on what projects I could advance – and how.
How was I going to continue being a loving hubbie while also advancing a book, launching teaching programs, designing events, meeting responsibilities to speak and present and write, and – oh yeah – care for this precious creature entrusted to me?
My daughter’s life span, curiously, correlates with a period when I learned to shape time in ways that have led to my greatest periods of productivity, creativity, and impact.
My wife oversees her own health care practice and office that includes a team of five and serves over a hundred people a week, and it wasn’t as if a lot of meditating and hard work had made our lives easier. My daughter had come into the world only after the flames had cleared.
Fifteen months earlier, a lightning bolt landed on a tree outside my study and fused a faulty electric wire in the attic above my studio and then sent flames through my studio and study. 300 volumes, all my clothes in a built-in closet, 25 years’ worth of files, and an altar in ash. Those two rooms eventually would be torn down to the foundation, and the rest of the house gutted to its skeleton due to water and fire damage.
I had assumed a near-lawyerly role during a prolonged battle with the insurance company that would delay renovation for eight months. That twice in this time I contracted chronic Lyme from tick bites that left me fatigued, aching, and a bit delirious, could’ve put me down under for good.
Fifteen months. Emergency mode. Like operating life on a generator or trying to drive your usual 70 miles an hour in second gear.
With the four-month-old now stowed in the safari seat, my wife and I had been back in our 1850 farmhouse, freshly renovated, for a month after bunkering in a house we rented.
I was ready for a new rhythm. In a bright studio and study, I was determined that autumn to find ways to advance my creative projects, make a difference through my business, and meet my ideal of living each day as awake as possible, papadom and all.
My project of projects started that day with a new strategy for shaping time and guiding attention. I continued a modest daily mindfulness meditation practice and daily morning yoga practice – all of 20-25 minutes to complete. Both practices helped anchor my attention throughout the day and ease the Lyme-related and diet-related aches.
But beyond the practices, how would I focus my frazzled attention throughout the day when I had so many projects to advance? All by myself?
* * *
Most Americans consider themselves creative and view creativity as important. But very few of them feel they’re meeting their creative potential.
That according to one thorough international survey. When asked what was the one thing lacking or most getting in their way to meet their potential, almost all Americans’ responses could be traced back to time. Most Americans perceive they lack sufficient time to fulfill their creative potential – or money to gain time. My informal Facebook surveys reiterate this same woe.
My clients and the audiences I speak to express similar frustrations. Their desires and ambitions do not line up with their perceived daily and weekly schedules or with their life lines. Something’s gotta give, and in desperation they often assume what has to give is something dramatic like a job or romantic commitment.
We are clearly in an Age of Time-Crunch, perceived and real. On the “real” side, economic strain, emergency stages, and unbidden familial obligations consume our limited minutes and hours. But “how much time” we actually have also has to do with the stamina and attention we can devote to any given task in any given hour, not to mention the emotional quality of that hour.
Riffing on time has become a favorite past time, and it turns out that shaping time, I – and scientists – have found, heightens creativity and incites wonder.
* * *
The four-month-old pulled a string on a plastic lion head that activated a faux-lion roar with a 24-second jungle tune.
I turned around from the white board wall. My little girl’s pudgy face lit up, all smile. My little girl. That I could think those words to myself was itself a little astonishing. “We’ll figure this out, right, sweetie?” I said. Maybe she had it pretty much figured out. She pulled the string again.
Meanwhile, on papa’s white board wall, grids represented months and then weeks and then days. That day and the ensuing weeks and months and next four years would mark a radical shift in how I could shape time artfully.
For years, my friends who didn’t get my innate drive to create and work said, “Wait until you get married.” And when I got married, they said, “Wait until you have children.”
The next four years would become the most productive of my adult life. Maybe my friends will say, “Wait until you have two children.”
My shifts didn’t all strike me like lightning all at once (I use that metaphor cautiously now.), but my little girl’s life almost mirrors the time frame for my shifts in how I created projects and shaped time differently. What did I do differently?
I learned to prioritize and to accept that I didn’t have to work on every project right now, all at once. Time shape.
I learned to let go of projects that might have sounded good but might have just been occupying precious time and space in my creative mind. Time shape.
I stopped hoarding limited funds and started hiring not helpers but collaborators. I viewed the expenses not as expenditures but as investments in my best work to make a difference. I hired an excellent website team to revamp my website and launch my new endeavor. A smart virtual assistant helped me navigate otherwise confounding areas of the digital world. My wife and I became expert weekly and weekend schedulers and quickly found the right assistance with child care. We were not going to raise a child alone, either. Time shape.
Gradually, I would learn the art of delegation and collaboration. My Do-It-Yourself mentality got replaced with a Do-It-Together mindset. I learned to communicate and translate my 20-plus years of hard-earned experience to the fields of Story design, messaging, audience engagement, authorship, publishing, and creative productivity. Time shapes.
All of these practices and shifts let me focus attention, energy, and time on what I do best in my creativity and business. Four years later, I have eight exceptional people on my team. Our impact has quadrupled. Time shapes.
And ultimately – whether in a classroom, at the writing desk, in a consulting room, before an auditorium audience, or before a webinar audience – that more than anything has driven me. To be awake and make a difference.
* * *
“Having a child forced me to stop wasting time and dawdling my creative hours.”
A friend of mine had told me that several years earlier, before we had a child. I didn’t get what he meant then. I get it now.
My daughter, four years old now, is a time-marker. I witness how she grows older almost every day, and if she’s growing older that means I am, too. It means I have limited time in this day and on this planet. I want to be awake to as much as possible so I can make meaning, make things, and make a difference for her and for the people I and my amazing team touch.
I still have more projects and books in the pike than I can reasonably manage. But being awake for me begins with acknowledging I don’t have to curse time’s scarcity. I can sculpt it and make something new of it.
If you can make something new out of existing items, why can’t you make time anew out of existing seconds and minutes, of sunrises and sunsets, and of the filaments of attention, intention, and action? That’s the question I’m still living.
If having one child has produced more time for my best self’s work and creations, I can only imagine what two could do. The four-year-old will have a little sister this spring.
I know our frustrations with time are both real and perceived. I’d appreciate hearing in the Comments below about your frustrations in both categories and what shifts if any you’ve had in your relationship to time.
Thanks for running with me,