A Seaman's Journey

Adventures of a Lifetime

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Struggle for Balance

My thirties were characterized by constant pressure to perform and succeed. This was a time of enormous inner conflict over goals and direction in life. I realized that I had three major life goals that were required to feel fulfilled. Each of these goals could have taken my full mindshare and consumed my time and finances.

Each of these aspirations was more than a check-off item for me. I would not be satisfied with anything less that the 90% of perfection. Each of these areas of development hit close to my core identity and I began to see them as essential to reaching my life destiny.

The three areas of Family, Career, and Spirituality were absolutely essential to me leading a meaningful life. None of these were really optional. The dilemma that I faced daily for close to two decades was how to squeeze it all into one lifetime. I often envied those who could be satisfied with less, but that is not how I am wired.

Family

It was so easy for me to get married. I remember the joy of our early days of married life. It felt like a slumber party every night with my best friend. We would sit and talk for hours about science, politics, religion, hopes, and fears. I found my soul-mate. I have never met another person that seems so perfect for me.

The first year-and-a-half we lived in married student housing and were dirt poor. But we had each other and total freedom. When we graduated college we immediately started a family, because we wanted to be careful of Stacie's back condition. She had severe scoliosis and a spinal fusion and it was now or never.

We graduated college, moved to Idaho, had a child, and I started a career at HP all at the same time. This began twenty years of intensity. I am not familiar with any of the pop culture (movies, bands, fads) from the 80s and 90s because I was so busy during that time trying to keep my head above water.

I had no idea how demanding parenting would be. It has changed my life in ways that I never thought possible. I didn't want to have an OK family; I wanted a great one. This takes a much greater degree of focused effort than I would have expected. From that day 40 years ago I have never stopped being a parent and this has become a key part of my identity.

Career

At the same time, my career took off. College was the thrill of my life to that time, and working at HP was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
I graduated Summa Cum Laude and joined one of top technology companies at the time. We knew that we were building the future and that what we invented would change the world.

I was 21 when I joined the R&D lab at HP's Disc Memory Division. Most of the engineers were much older (around 30) and I felt very intimated. There were a few people pushing 40 that were running the show. I aspired to be one of those old-timers someday. They appeared to possess all of the knowledge needed to succeed.

The environment consisted of people that had all been at the top of their class. Hewlett Packard would cherry pick the top engineering graduates from universities across the country. Many of them came from much larger schools and many held Master's Degrees. For the first time in my life I was no longer at the top.

I felt a lot of pressure from this. HP uses a forced ranking system and every engineer is told their percentile ranking once each quarter. This creates some nasty and unfortunate competition in the environment. Office politics takes on a whole new dimension when played with the extremely intelligent and driven people.

I started taking classes from Standford to get my Master's Degree but after three classes realized that I could not work full-time and take classes. I eventually got authorized to go full-time for a year on campus and applied to Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT. But this collided with other things that were happening in my family life and I was not able to pursue that.

The HP workplace throughout the eighties was extremely exciting. The invention of the PC, Optical Disk Drives, Solid State Storage, Imaging Software, Scanners, and Printers became my world. I lived and breathed the latest developments as they happened for about 50 hours per week.

This fast-paced lifestyle began to take a toll. By thirty, I was experiencing a significant amount of burn-out. I loved the lure of the jet-set lifestyle of Silicon Valley but also saw the dark side. I needed to find balance.

Spiritual Growth

When I think about spirituality, it goes far beyond religion or church life. These are often included in the journey of spirituality, but sometimes they are barriers that must be overcome. I think about spiritual growth as the entire journey to be the person that I want to be.

At times the religious teachings and practices of corporate worship and sense of community resonate deeply with me. At other times I find the church culture to be completely alienating and utterly ridiculous. In recent years, we have seen a progression of harmful ideas and attitudes permeate the church culture in America. These are in direct conflict with my beliefs and values.

I became a Christian at age 15 after a radical conversion experience. I fell in love with my current wife at the same time, so my spiritual life and our married life are fully intertwined. Most of our church connection has been with the Vineyard and we recognize that this is our tribe.

In 1985, when we were 25, we became involved with a church plant that was happening in our city. Starting a church is exciting and we were "All In". The typical week involved 3-4 meetings of different types. We were intimately involved with the daily lives of others and led home groups and other small groups. If there was something happening in the church we were a key part of it.

In the early nineties we began traveling to Mexico to build houses for the homeless. I think we went 4-5 times and our kids went on some of the trips by themselves. These were very exciting trips and we gathered lots of stories to tell.

But again this level of involvement comes at a price. Because the activity is good, it is tempting to invest completely in it. We both recognized that there was a necessity of limiting church activity to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Spiritual growth is about more than the public connection with church. It is also about the personal growth in beliefs, values, behavior. It is quite common for people to be fully invested in church life and still be unchanged on a personal level.

Over the years I have invested attention, time, and energy into study and contemplation for my personal growth. I have always sought to balance my private and public spirituality. I believe that it is the only way to have sustainable growth and finish well.

Finding Balance

The three areas of Family, Career, and Spirituality were absolutely essential to me leading a meaningful life. But I faced constant pressure in each area to up my performance and invest more into that area. I had a boss, at one time, tell me that a horse race is won by a nose and that in order to move to the very top ranking (up from 90%) I was going to have to put in even more hours.

Parenting is a game that you can never win. Because I feel a deep personal need to be perfect, this is extremely difficult for me. There is no way to be the perfect husband or father or grandfather or son. The best we can do with our relationships is to be adequate. It is an unrealistic expectation to hope for excellence.

Relationships

I've learned to decrease my expectations, to preserve my own mental health. My goal for family life became to manage myself and my own attitude and learn to love and forgive more easily. As I take the long view of my life, I am quite satisfied with what I have accomplished in my family. But if I am honest, this has been the most difficult area of daily experience for me.

I am also deeply committed to being a part of a spiritual community. Church is an area of life that is also quite complex for me. Some people have a deep desire to connect with others and automatically feel a part of any organization that they become involved in. This is not me. I always feel like an outsider.

I know that relationships are extremely important for my emotional health. However, I find it very difficult to understand others. I am not naturally empathic and struggle to know what others are feeling. Interacting with people is seldom natural and requires enormous mental and emotional energy for me. One hour of conversation requires the same energy as ten hours of systems design or writing.

My personality influences how I experience life. My public life (involving other humans) is often difficult, while my private life (involving ideas, software, and creativity) is a predictable joy. But to live a full life I have realized that balance is the key. I can not be healthy unless I develop those areas that are not natural for me.

I have learned to enjoy my private time and work at developing relationships. I actively resist the temptation to retreat into hermitage, and seek to build meaningful connections with others, even when it feels unnatural.

Time Budget

Around twenty years ago I started using the idea of a time budget to protect my mental energy and force some balance. I went through a lot of experimentation and refined it over many years. I realized that a lot of my life satisfaction depends on how I spend my time.

If my activities deviate significantly from this pattern then my life becomes ragged. Things begin to unravel and I need to find a way to get back to a more sustainable lifestyle.

I believe that each person is responsible for how they spend their time. Your profile might look different, but you need to find what works for you and negotiate with others to allow you to stay healthy. This is the most important lesson I have learned to establish balance in my own life.

Leisure Activities

I find great pleasure in a variety of leisure activities. These provide with with a useful counterbalance to the many productivity driven pursuits that I have going. My leisure activities tend not to be oriented toward specific goals, but instead, have fun and relaxation as the main objective.

I've always enjoyed travel and have had many opportunities to visit many countries and all fifty states (except Vermont and Maine). Travel has always fascinated me and engaged me from childhood.

The entertainment that I enjoy most is watching movies and TV. I love a great story and also read a lot of books for pleasure. Beyond that, I also read and study for the purpose of learning and growing. My favorite type of music is the Blues and I have enjoy many live concerts in our area with my favorite artists.

Learning has always been a cornerstone of my life. I have a much higher need than most to learn new subjects and skills. I devote about 10 hours each week to learn and grow in a variety of ways and this keeps my life fresh.