Stop For Joy

teal person surrounded by yellow rays

A personal note from Bo as we wrap up 2022:

Joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

What brings you great pleasure and happiness? That answer is different for each of us, and it likely will evolve over time.

Where do we find our joy? How do we keep it?

In the study of Stoicism, Seneca writes of joy:

“It comes from a good conscience, from honorable purposes, from right actions, from contempt of the gifts of chance, from an even and calm way of living which treads but one path…There are only a few who control themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose; the rest do not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in a river. And of these objects, some are held back by sluggish waters and are transported gently; others are torn along by a more violent current; some, which are nearest the bank, are left there as the current slackens; and others are carried out to sea by the onrush of the stream. Therefore, we should decide what we wish, and abide by the decision.”

My vision of joy

My joy is having control over my time. For many years I lived to work. I worked to build a business. I worked to grow a business. I started another business. I invested in real estate. I worked to grow my businesses even more and grow my real estate portfolio. Growing my business required an immense amount of time, leaving very little for friends and family or even myself. 

I was not in control. 

In 2019 the book, A Life Through Letters, made me stop and examine my life. The book, compiled by Ash Davis, was a collection of letters his father wrote toward the end of his life. They were letters to every person who had touched his life in some way. Using the one hand that still had a degree of mobility, he painstakingly typed messages of rumination and appreciation to family, friends, and even inanimate objects that made a positive difference in his life.

What struck me deeply was not wanting to be on my deathbed days or decades later, wishing I had done things differently. I reflected on missing my grandmother’s funeral for a work event and going years between visits to my mother in New York. I considered past friendships that rotted on the vine because I didn’t do my share to invest in them.

What would my letters look like?

Many would-be apology letters. I couldn’t bear that thought and the feelings it stirred. It was as though the ghost of Christmas Future had visited me and shown me what life would be like if I did nothing to change it. 

Seeking joy

My personal word for 2020 was ‘joy,’ but I needed to define what it meant to me. On that journey, I realized I couldn’t experience true joy without great change.

My life turned upside down as I experienced many necessary endings. In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings, I read this statement:

“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”

Early in the pandemic, we were interviewing someone for a position at Your Marketing Co., and one of the questions we asked was, “What advice would you give your younger self?”

Her answer shook me. “Go to the concert,” she said. “You never know when there will be no next time. Work will be there after, and your chores will be there when you get back, but sometimes that musician or that opportunity won’t be there. Just go to the concert.”

I immediately reflected back on A Life Through Letters and my many regrets about how I spent my time for almost 20 years.

Inventorying priorities

In Dying for a Paycheck, Jeffrey Pfeffer presents copious data illustrating the costs and effects of work-related stress. He wrote, “Indirect costs from things such as disengagement, being physically present but not feeling well enough to do one’s best, and being distracted by stress are typically estimated to be about five times as large as the direct medical costs.”

This statement gave me pause and made me take inventory of my priorities. Why were we working with clients who abused boundaries and didn’t appreciate the time and effort we put in to help them succeed? I found myself creating priorities out of tasks, purely because I derived my self-worth from checking them off. Month by month, the changes I made and the necessary endings I endured helped me start to experience joy.

In his book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried writes, “Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.”

I shifted from wearing that mark of stupidity to managing my time. I found a system that worked for me, prioritizing the tasks that were truly important and managing the urgent.

I made this quote from that book my credo:

“A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck. Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.”

Finding joy

Over the last three years since I began this journey, I have experienced more joy than I ever had previously. I continue to make small changes to get closer and closer each day. Viktor Frankl writes in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

In the last two years, I have spent more Saturdays at kids’ baseball games than working. I have made time to ‘go to the concert’ and be intentional to make time for experiencing life. I have endured the pain of necessary endings to enjoy growth, which has been better than I could have dreamed. 

I am no longer a prisoner of my life. I now tell my time what I am doing with it rather than the other way around, and I take advantage of the margin to enjoy life’s experiences. The majority of my real estate portfolio is debt-free, relieving me of the fear and anxiety of what-ifs. Those shackles I identified as holding me back from joy are, for the most part, broken.

My life through letters for the next 20 years will look very different from the previous 20. 

What about you? 

What would your life through letters look like right now? 

What is your definition of joy? 

What is keeping you from experiencing it? 

What necessary endings do you need to endure?

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