“And her fever is 102? Alright, thanks for calling, I’ll be there in 20 minutes to pick her up.” I hung up the phone with daycare, closed my computer and picked up my keys. In the last two weeks, while my wife was away on a work trip, I got 4 of these calls.
Balancing the flexibility required for being a parent of young kids and the routine needed to grow a career is difficult. My wife is a doctor in the Navy and we have five beautiful kids. Flexibility is a must. Routine is a must. Sometimes flexibility and routine seem at odds, other times they compliment.
I know you’ve seen flexibility and routine at odds recently in your own life, but I don’t know the details of that story. So here is an example from my life.
Yesterday, daycare called and said that the room for our toddler was closing because someone tested positive for COVID. No one was really sick, but the policy said the class needed to close for 5 days. Our toddler was home with me. I had planned on running my normal routine yesterday and today. Recently it’s gone like this: early morning work, get kids ready to go, drop them to school and daycare, workout, home to put in hours on CappaWork till the big kids get off the bus. Each day includes a big chunk of work. James is an average toddler, so is a pro at pulling things off shelves, but not at putting them back. When he’s home, I can do a fraction of my normal work. So, when I got the call from daycare, how should I respond?
What's The Opportunity?
Opportunity always presents as a change of path. It may be small, like a new role in the same organization, or major like a switch of careers. To receive an opportunity, you have to get off the path you’re on, out of the routine you’re in. Opportunity is received with flexibility. When you are forced to be flexible, ask “What’s the opportunity?”
When daycare called, my first response was a grumble. Then I broke my monologue
and asked myself “What’s the opportunity?”
The opportunity was walking around the grocery store with James and holding his little hand. I got to see him woof at the tiny dog on the Caesars pet food jar. I got to play with him as he tried to hide in the cereal aisle. I got to tell him I love him. Children grow very fast and the opportunities to quietly love them are numbered. Forced flexibility allowed me another chance today.
At the same time, when being flexible up-ends the routine, I get back to it as soon as possible. Where flexibility affords opportunity, routine builds strength and resilience.
A number of years ago I ran the DC half-marathon with friends. When you run a half-marathon, you have an achievement goal in mind. “I would like to run this race, in this time.” This was my third half and I was hoping to break 2hrs. To aim for that, I needed to have a training plan that built up miles and dropped times to get me to a consistent 9:05 per mile. I needed a good routine; a consistent process to follow to build strength and endurance for the race. Good routines are aimed at something. They have a goal. Your routine may be focused on finishing your coursework, so that you can be set up for a good job. Or it may be focused on finding that next job, consistently sending out applications. Or maybe it’s with your kids, having a nightly bath-story-song routine to help them learn to fall asleep on their own. Routines are good. They’re how we do hard things over the long term.
Routines should be strongly held, but loosely measured. I do not get upset like I used to when routine is broken by a need to be flexible. Because good routines are aimed at something getting out of routine matters more when the achievement date is close. If I broke routine my half-marathon routine and didn’t run for two of the final weeks before the half, I’d be smoked (I was - that actually happened). If I break routine for a few weeks when my goal is on a five year horizon, it’s no sweat. As long as I get back to my routine and continue to do the work that builds strength and resilience, it’s fine. Since I didn’t have any near term achievements I’m pushing for, like a final exam or client deliverable, I can accept being flexible and change my attitude to benefit from it. If I did have something immovable, then it’s time to ask for favors so you can stick to the routine.
What Am I Training For?
When you consider your routine, ask “What am I training for?” and allow yourself to have an honest conversation. For a while I stuck to a routine built for a sprint-deliverable, but I was working on a slow product launch. It was an “all hands on deck” routine for a deep-thought goal. Then suddenly I realized that I didn’t actually have to be at my desk all day. That I could go for a walk and think instead of stay in my chair. Occasionally questioning you routine can be worthwhile.
Consider it Pure Joy
Life will force you to be flexible. Sometimes we want it, other times we’d take nearly anything else. How we respond to these curveballs, these inevitable stresses of life is what forms our character. One of my favorite verses is from the book of James, Chapter 1.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Flexibility affords opportunity. Routine builds strength.
This weekend I pray you won’t be forced to be flexible, but will have the opportunity to be. I pray that you’ll find a routine that helps you grow in perseverance so that you can achieve the goals you have in sight. Let's get em.