Tag Archives: tension

Hostage to the Almighty Dollar

DSC_0112“There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.” –Sophocles

Hello friend,

I have tension in me. All week long, I have felt it gripping my chest, tying knots in my back. I HATE THAT FEELING! Of course, I dislike the actual physical sensation, feeling as though I am trapped and suffocated by my own body. But much worse than the physical discomfort, for me, is the psychological. Not even the actual stress but the realization that I have become weak again. I hate that I allow myself to feel this way. I hate that I allow the source of tension to have as much control over me as it does. I hate to admit that to myself. I usually think I have it under control—that I am immune to being controlled again by my former master—but then a week like this one comes along, and it rears its ugly head. And that is when I feel it: the squeeze on my chest and the shoulders raised up, knotted with stress. ARGH!!!

I like to think of myself as a relaxed, easygoing guy. I think I go with the flow pretty well, riding the ups and downs of Life on a relatively even keel. So, what is my Achilles heel, my Kryptonite? One word: MONEY! I absolutely cringe as I write that word. Not that money itself makes me cringe, but rather its power over my psychological state. Its ability to invite tension into my peaceful little corner of the world. Curse you, MONEY! How did you make your way back into my consciousness?

I try to spend as little of my time thinking and worrying about money as possible. I don’t have a lot of it, but I usually have just enough to keep the bills paid. I have been more than willing to have less of it in order to spend more time with my kids. Though I do have some expensive tastes, I have learned to live without those things. Sure, I wish I had a lot more money, but I am aware of my bank account and its limitations, and I live accordingly. The beauty of that is that, as long as things are moving along as planned, I am stress-free. I don’t think about it, and I don’t worry about it. I’m easy!

Oh, but I am walking a tightrope with that serenity. Because, as you know, in life, things are not always “moving along as planned.” Sometimes the world comes along and bites you in the behind. Things break. Accidents happen. More accidents happen. And with each one, my wallet gets lighter and thinner. Pretty soon, I am thinking about money every time I open that wallet, and sometimes even when I am not. Carefree Me gets replaced my Tense Me.

That is what has happened over the course of the past week. It started off innocently enough. When pulling out of the driveway in the morning last Friday, I noticed that the garage door stopped a few inches above the ground. When I returned, I figured I would pull a chain or adjust a sensor and it would be fine, just like it always is. Nope! A couple hours later, the repairman is handing me a $1,600 estimate and I am feeling my chest begin to constrict. That vacation I was thinking about taking this Winter instantly got pushed back another year, and I knew the old wallet tension would be back to stay for a while. I was already dreading that. What a day! As it turned out, that was only the beginning.

Later that day, we discovered that my dear, sweet cat has been peeing—for many days—in the tent I had set up in the basement family room to practice camping with my daughter. Somehow that odor had remained hidden. However, when the tent—and all of its contents—were bagged up and hauled to the trash, the whole place suddenly smelled like the Monkey House at the zoo. Worst Smell Ever!!! Of course, this is awful on so many different levels–I can testify to all of them, believe me—not the least of which is that it is a very expensive “accident” to recover from. There is the stuff I had to throw away. There is the cost to shampoo the carpets. And then, when cat decides to return to the spot to keep peeing there—because that is what cats do, says the vet (oh yes, the vet, another expense from this delightful episode)–there is the cost to replace the carpet. That garage door bill now seems like a mere pittance!

The tension in my shoulders, however, is very real. I am again so totally aware of money, which I have no interest in being. I am trying to stay away from stores. I would rather not look at the mail. I now HATE to spend money again. It is making me tense. I really hate to be tense! More than that, I hate that I have allowed money to have this hold on me. I am fully aware that money does not earn this type of power; I have to give the power away. I have let it happen. I have granted money the power to make me tense. That is weak. I really, really don’t like that part of myself.

It is a complex relationship, this one of mine with money. I am an extremely happy man. I go through every day in this world truly grateful for who I am and all that I have been blessed with. With that said, I am still totally envious of rich people. I know how everyone says wealthy people are not any happier than the rest of us and that lottery winners get depressed and all of that. But I know my personality. I would love it! I would still be wildly happy, yet I would be without this current state of tension. I would use the freedom money buys in order to more directly pursue my dreams, so there would be no boredom or loss of purpose. I could crowd out my Kryptonite with cold cash! Instead, I must learn to live with my current bank account. Just as I grew accustomed to my former status and lived accordingly, I can figure out what to cut out this time, too. I will find a way to peaceful coexistence with this thinner wallet. I will let this tension go, because it doesn’t serve me. Money and I can be friends. I know we can.

How about you? What is your relationship with money? Open up your journal and explore the different ways you allow money to make you feel. What is your current financial situation? How long have you been where you are? How much do you think about money? Are you stressed when you have to open your wallet? Overall, how much tension is in you on a daily basis, and what percentage of that do you attribute to money concerns?   How hard are you working at trying to get out of your current financial situation, if at all? How far are you from your goals? What is one thing you can do today to get yourself closer to those goals? What concerns would you have if you suddenly fell into a lot of money through the lottery, inheritance, or the like? How would you live differently? Can you name the actual dollar amount—either in your bank account or your annual income—that you believe would allow you to live just comfortably enough to not allow life’s expenses to stress you? How does money affect your relationships? If you are in a committed relationship, can you imagine money ever being the source of your breakup? Are you, like me, bothered my how much power money can have over you and your life satisfaction? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you held hostage by the almighty dollar?

Be a light,

William

Falling Off The Tightrope

IMG_1128“My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even. When something improved, something else had to crumble.” –Rebecca Donovan, Reason to Breathe

Hello friend,

I have never been good at balance. Never. I tend to zero in on one thing and let it consume all of my time and energy, leaving the rest of my passions, hobbies, and pursuits twisting in the wind. However, because I am a man of many interests, with an insatiable desire to learn new things, my headlong pursuit of only one thing at a time—no matter how worthy of my attention it is–invariably leaves me feeling torn, restless, and unfulfilled. And sometimes, just plain burnt out.

This is exactly why I don’t have a Ph.D. behind my name right now. I started my doctoral program full of high-minded ideals and enthusiasm. The intensive education—not to mention the cache of being called “Dr. William Rutten”—was going to help me save the world, so I was eager for the commitment. Then, however, classes started, and my Perfectionism Gene reared its ugly head. I had to know everything and get every answer right, as I always had in school. As it turns out, thanks to this annoying trait, the only way I do school is to study every waking hour of every day. My life was the epitome of imbalance. All of my other passions were crowded out by school. In a moment of clarity, I realized that that was no way to live for six straight years. So I bailed out.

You might think that I was wise enough to never let that happen again. You would be wrong. Not long after I checked out of academia, my career path switched into tennis teaching and management. I moved into Tennis because it was my first love and because I love teaching. And hey, how busy or stressful could it be for a guy who gets to wear shorts all day? As it turned out in my case, pretty darn busy and stressful. It wasn’t long before 60 and 70-hour weeks became the norm. I hardly ever saw the light of day, was completely wiped out physically from all of the hours on the court, and was a giant stress-ball from all of the demands off the court. And, oh yeah, I had neither the time nor the energy to pursue my other passions. The job was all-consuming, and once again, I was off-balance. This time, though, the imbalance lasted for several years, not just a semester or two.

You would be astonished to know that someone stuck by me through both the school and the work addictions, each time on the wrong end of my imbalances. As though her love and loyalty through all of that were not enough, she also provided me the key to let myself out of my self-created prison of workaholism. That key was our first child. When my daughter was born, the reality of how little time I was spending at home and my overall imbalance hit me immediately, and it shocked my system enough to make me want out right then and there. I wanted the elusive home/work balance that I had heard about. So I quit my job. Well, not exactly. I quit the management portion of my job and cut my working days down to four, taking the evenings off as well. My daughter was my number one priority, and I wanted my schedule to reflect that.

Here might be a good time to admit the full truth. I didn’t actually want the home/work balance. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to go from 60+ hours at work directly to ZERO. I wanted to spend every single minute with my daughter. If my wife made more money, I would happily have been a stay-at-home Dad and removed myself entirely from the work force. Basically, I wanted my comfortable imbalance back, only I wanted the imbalance to be fully attached to my daughter, not my job.

This longing has never left me. My daughter is almost six now—my son is almost four—and I would still shake your hand right now if you offered me the chance to stay home with them every day. As it is, I have manipulated my life with them into a different version of imbalance. I still work when I have to, yes, but when I am not there, I spend their every waking minute with them. I have given up all hobbies—e.g., golf, hanging with friends, etc.–that happen while they are awake. My wife and I don’t even go on evening dates—EVER, I mean—because that would come at the cost of missing their bedtime. I don’t miss bedtime. Last year, for our 10th anniversary, I only very begrudgingly agreed to leave them for a night. I simply want to be with them all the time.

I know that probably looks like just another unhealthy imbalance to everyone else, but this is one imbalance that I embrace. I don’t know, I guess the other stuff just feels pretty unimportant compared to them. Spending so much time with them—even to the deterioration of the other things—has never caused me much inner turmoil. When I was in school and studied all the time, it pained me that I was not giving time to my other hobbies, interests, and loved ones. That tension eventually led to my break-up with school. When I was working like a maniac, I was keenly aware that it was an unhealthy way of being. My daily journal entries from that period are pretty pathetic, mostly describing the depths of my exhaustion and how, despite my happiness, I would not recommend my lifestyle to anyone. It took the birth of my daughter to give me the strength to change it, but I knew the change was long overdue. I was a model of imbalance, and knowing that bothered me. It is only the imbalance of spending so much time with my kids to the exclusion of other things that has felt tension-free for me. The other imbalances I regret; this one I do not. Does that mean, in some strange way, that I have actually found a balance? Not someone else’s version of balance, but one that fits only me? Maybe.

It has only been in the last year-and-a-half that I have felt much inner competition for my time and energy on this family-time front. Around the time I turned 40—can you say midlife crisis?—it became more clear to me that I wanted to do some things with my life that I was not already doing. Beyond just doing my job and spending the rest of my time with the kids, I wanted to do The Journal Project to revisit and re-create the story of my life. I wanted to help people in a bigger way. I wanted to learn more and create more and be more fully who I believed I could be. But I had to keep working, and I was not willing to give up time with the kids. My solution was to be the most efficient guy in the world…….after 8:30 P.M.

Since then, instead of winding down after the kids go to bed, I attempt to get all of my other projects taken care of. I go like a madman until I can go no longer. That worked pretty well the first year, when my main thing was The Journal Project. I didn’t sleep much, but the inner turmoil was gone. I was feeling satisfied with my efforts. But then I got greedy. I wanted all of my dreams to come true. So, four months ago, I started Journal of You. It has been a fantastic addition to my life, but—argh!—quite consuming of those precious post-8:30 hours. The Journal Project has been sitting on hold, and a couple of other projects I am itching to start are getting no love. I am also feeling like I am not allowed any leisure time for things like a sway in the hammock or a ride in the kayak, because I need the minutes to get it all done. Lastly, it is becoming increasingly clear that I cannot survive on this little sleep forever (those post-8:30 hours go quickly, and for some reason these darn kids don’t wake up any later just because I was writing into the wee hours). Needless to say, I am feeling that tension again. I have lost my balance.

I think my biggest fear in this world is that I will waste my life, that I won’t make the most of my time here. I am always aware—sometimes painfully so—of how “productive” I am being. I want to spend my time being a positive influence, giving my gifts to the fullest, and making my dreams come true.  When I am doing that efficiently, I feel at ease. The moment I lose my way, I feel tense. Imbalance strikes again!!!

How about you? How balanced is your life? Get out your journal and take an honest look at your life and how you are spending it. Does your schedule match your priorities? Are you like me, getting stuck on one aspect of your life to the detriment of all others? How many hobbies do you have, and how important are they to you? Do you work too much? Do you make time to recharge your batteries? Do you spend as much time with your loved ones as you would like? If not, are you willing to change your day to make it happen? What can you sacrifice from your current schedule in order to spend more time on your highest priorities? Do you have any areas that others would say are imbalanced—like me never getting a babysitter—that feel just fine to you? If you knew you would die in one year but had to keep earning a living, how would you spend your non-working hours? Would you become more balanced, or less? How important is balance, anyway? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you falling off the tightrope?

Live a 100% self-approved life today,

William