I hang my most-used kitchen knives on the wall next to my sink so they’re always at hand. Use wears them down, of course. When they won’t glide right through a carrot or when a roasted chicken shreds rather than slices, I know it’s time to visit my father. Dad has wicked sharpening skills.
When Dad returns my sharpened knives he always says the same thing. “Now,” he begins, with an air of authority, “these knives are sharper than the day they left the factory. They will cut you deeply. You will probably see your blood before you feel any pain. But they are now safer than when you brought them to me. A dull knife tears rather than cuts. It is more dangerous because it can do more damage.”
It is obvious that a sharp knives work best. On the face of it, it seems just as obvious that a sharp person works best, but that’s been a hard lesson for me. I have pushed myself too hard for too long on many occasions, bringing on exhaustion so deep that recovery took weeks or even months. Maybe I’ve had a bit of a martyr complex. But fortunately, I’ve figured out taking good care of myself gives me the resources to be the man I want to be – kind, patient, giving, involved, and effective.
I guess most people find that middle age brings deeper self-insight, but I’ve found it startling just the same. Happily, that insight tells me how to stay sharp:
- I need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. I can get by on less for a night or two, max.
- I need to talk through things that trouble me, even small things. Just telling them to a friend helps, but it’s even better when my friend can ask questions and give feedback. I find that I grow closest to people with whom I can talk like this.
- I need to hang out with bright, articulate people with whom I can have meaningful conversations.
- I need to spend time with my sons. They’re my favorite people in the world. I like to have adventures with them, hear their stories, and just hang out with them around the house. Nobody makes me laugh more than my sons. I am at loose ends when I go more than a few days without seeing them.
- I need to spend quality time at home almost every day. My home is the center of my world.
- I need daily quiet meditative time. My thoughts and feelings run at a hundred miles an hour. They need a break, even if it’s for just ten minutes.
- I need to sing. It’s cathartic.
- I need to have personal projects that I can work on at my own pace. My career is full of discussing strategies, planning projects, building schedules, and driving deadlines. I seldom do “real work” anymore. Most of my personal projects involve working with my hands; they all involve producing a finished product. They’re not on deadline and I can put in whatever amount of effort satisfies me. They give me a feeling of having accomplished something.
- I need hobbies that let me explore and learn. This is why I taught myself how to write code as a teenager and why I follow the old roads today. I find it exciting to build deep knowledge by discovering it through direct experience.
- I need to get away every three to six months for a day or two. I pray and listen for guidance. I consider what’s going well and what’s making me unhappy. I review and adjust my goals and plans.
Sometimes life conspires to keep me from these things. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I don’t need them. When it happens, I soon find myself tired and irritable. If I let it continue, my reserves are soon tapped and I risk depression and exhaustion.
Thanks to Tim Stevens, who through sharing his list on his LeadingSmart blog caused me to quantify my own list. And now I ask you the same question he asks at the end of his list: Do you know what you need to be whole, loving, and full of grace? I’d love to see your list in the comments or, even better, on your own blog with a link back here.
I usually recognize it when life is starting to back up on me. But when I don’t, my dog always lets me know. Find out how.