A few years back, I attempted to write one thing per day that I appreciated and loved about my wife, Courtney. This would remain a surprise until Christmas morning. Then, on that glorious day, I would see her opening it. I would explain what the journal was. She would smile and maybe even shed a tear.
A few months in, we hit a moment when the world was allowed to bleed in. The foundation of our marriage was rock solid. We were just covered in too much crud. I allowed it to impact me. The journal became a burden. I surrendered to poor judgment, and I stopped. Even worse, I told her about the journal and stopping.
That decision has haunted me for years and remains a huge regret. I knew our relationship was strong. I could feel the strength of our relationship. It did not truly reflect our marriage, my commitment to her, and the inexhaustible list of her incredible qualities. It did not reflect how I felt about her. Yet, I stopped, and I did not truly know why.
On January 1, 2017, I quietly began a new gratitude journal for Courtney. One day, one entry. It took two journals in all. She received those on Christmas morning.
The obvious question is “What changed?” The answer is that I changed.
The better and truer question is “What did I learn that caused this change?”
I later realized that the original attempt was a journey that began with the wrong purpose. Beginning with the wrong purpose would have been acceptable if allowed the option of anything else.
This was all about my aforementioned vision for Christmas morning and how I would look. I wanted to quietly but triumphantly nod to myself like the superhero of Christmas. It was about my story. It was selfish and vain.
This changed with the simple act of writing in the journal. The days when we didn’t click? I wrote in the journal. The days when the world was perfect, and I didn’t want to let go? I wrote in the journal. Days spent away from each other and days when everything was just ordinary? I wrote in the journal.
Pissed off at your spouse? Write down three things you love about them. Don’t use words like “but”.
This changed the purpose somewhere along the way. It became about honoring her and our relationship. This caused the journals became the greatest gift I could have given myself. There were no more visions of grandeur for her opening them. They allowed me to see Courtney in a positive and appreciative light every day regardless of the circumstances of the day.
Thus, I learned that purpose often comes on the journey and to be skeptical if it comes before.
Startups and entrepreneurs love to talk about failure should not be feared. Past failures are considered badges of honor or a rite of passage. This completely misses the point.
Failure typically comes with damage and destruction. At a minimum, it destroys the currency of time. One should fear failure. One should not be proud of the failure itself.
It’s what happens after the failure that matters. Failure can be a seed of growth. This is the growth of a person, a team, a family, an organization, and a relationship. That growth can often reimburse and replenish the failure’s damage.
It took failing for me to get here. It was a course correction for me. I grew from failing the first time around. I approached the endeavor this time with the correct priority and commitment.
Describing a role as a firefighter conjures images of danger and treacherous situations. That’s not the daily reality for firefighters. Calmness reigns over most days. Actions are not dictated by a crisis because there often is no crisis. They remain diligently prepared while conserving mental and physical energy. It’s boredom bookended by crises.
When the fire does happen, they run into it fully prepared together as a team.
This was the mistake made my first time around. The outside world caused a fire in the midst of calmness and bliss. I wavered between running away, running in ill-prepared, or going alone.
Courtney and I are peers and partners in this relationship and this world. We do not need to go it alone, especially when it impacts the relationship. The right response would have been to open a dialogue and communicate. This gives time, options, and support.
I learned to enjoy the bliss and to be prepared for the moments when called to action. Once called, battle the blaze with heart and as a team.
The kids knew what I was doing. I did that because I often wanted their thoughts on what they saw in Courtney. It also created this vibe and excitement as the year went along.
I began to believe that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give her/his child is the true image and story of herself/himself. This also includes the reality of relationships. I want them to see that we love each other and our relationship is not all roses and unicorns. It’s real.
Leave something your children will smile reading when you are gone. Leave something your children will learn from (but not idolize) when you are gone. And also leave something your children will blush reading when you are gone.
Finally, I believe that our marriage is imperfect yet a loving and relentless commitment to each other. We each make a decision every morning and every night that our relationship and the other is important and that each is 100% responsible. Thus, we each commit to improving and growing our individual selves and the relationship.
For me, this is a fairly easy commitment to make when your other truly is your better half and brings you joy. Don’t believe she is? She has two journals put together over one year to prove it.
Also published on Medium.