A few years ago, I moved from Illinois (no, not Chicago or anywhere in the vicinity) to San Francisco and fell in love with the city. The dangerously steep hills that seem to drop off into the ocean, the rolling fog that blankets the mountains, the vibrant multicultural scene and the delicious food are all part of what makes SF a beautiful, magical place.
It became my home.
Despite its wonder, there are downsides to San Francisco that outweigh the good for many people. After getting sucked up into the whirlwind of Silicon Valley and 15 hour work days, I learned that the hard way.
While I loved the world changing technologies I was working on, I wasn’t investing time into other activities I loved-some of which I love more than work. With recreation, relaxation, and relationships on the downslope, I made a committment to do more of what I love. Part of that meant committing to regularly calling and keeping in touch with my family, whether or not I had work to do.
Though I didn’t miss the cornfields in the slightest, I missed my family, and San Francisco’s culture distracted me from that.
Why don’t we keep in touch anymore?
You and I both know that people on their deathbed don’t say they wish they would have worked more. They say they wish they had more time with family and friends.
So, why don’t we listen to them? Why do we concentrate on affairs that are begging for our attention right now: emails, notifications, happy hours, fomo, etc.? We push off calling family to tomorrow, or later next week when life gets less busy (hint: it won’t).
Is there a way to save us from ourselves or are we destined for regret? Well, I think we can at least improve it, but it takes effort.
One of the things that helped me, and might help you, is going through the thought experiment below. It’s a painful thought experiment based on real world scenarios that do happen to people: so take it seriously.
An exercise for you
Spend some time thinking carefully about the people, or person, in your life that is more important to you than anything else in the world.
Visualize the very last experience you shared together. Picture what they might have eaten, or how they smiled and laughed. Consider what they said, and pay close attention to their body language as they tell you their stories.
Focus on the different emotions flowing through your body as you think about them and your interaction. You are so, so grateful for them, and lucky that they are in your life.
Take as much time as you want to reflect on them and your love for them.
After ruminating on the person, imagine receiving a call from the police telling you that you will never see them again because there has been an accident. You will help with their funeral to say your goodbyes to their body, but their laughter, their quirks, their weird habits and their soul won’t be with you anymore.
Feel the emotions wash over you, and explore them as they come up. They might be feelings of sadness, anger, heartbreak, regret, abandonment, desperation, or despair. Again, take as long as you need.
Is the 15 hour work day still calling your name? It certainly isn’t calling mine.
Keep in touch with your family
This is an exercise I go through periodically to refocus on what matters most in my life. It’s not fun, I know.
I wish it was one of those happy feely forms of self development but priority management is hard, uncomfortable work. Some days I still have trouble prioritizing my relationships.
Ultimately though, I’m committed to doing more of what I love, and that means keeping in touch with my family regularly. I love them more than anything in the world, so I’ll do my best to let them have the center stage.
I challenge you to as well.