Think of your week as a coffee cup.
For everything you’re obligated to do, everything you commit yourself to (and later regret), every habit you’re trying to build, every single thing you must do during the course of the week, you pour in a splash of coffee straight from the pot.
Going to work? Pour.
Taking a work call after hours? Pour.
Committed to go to a dinner (that you’d rather not go to)? Pour.
Pretty soon, that coffee cup is quarter-full, half-full, three quarters-full.
And before you know it, that coffee cup is dangerously full.
You know what I’m talking about.
The coffee cup is so full of steaming hot java that you nervously shuffle your feet on the way back to your table so that you don’t end up with first-degree burns on your hand (I’ve been there).
This is the state that most of us live in on a daily basis.
The coffee symbolizes our commitments, obligations, and duties.
We fill our metaphorical cup so full that the we need to take a ginger pace just to make sure the coffee doesn’t spill over.
But that’s not what happens, is it?
Rather, our cup is so full that we run.
We stack our calendars so full that we find ourselves sprinting from one thing to the next.
And when you sprint with a full cup of coffee in-hand, you’re bound to spill.
Until finally, your foot catches a crack in the sidewalk and you’re sent tumbling down to the ground, coffee flying everywhere.
As soon as you come to rest on the ground, you realize what happened.
Your face is beet red. You’re embarrassed by what just happened and how many people saw you take the tumble of your life.
You get up, brush yourself off, and start down the path again.
Albeit, at a much slower pace.
Gotta preserve the little coffee that’s left.
This is a parable about why solitude is so important.
Back in September, my wife and I moved to Charlotte, NC.
Now, moving isn’t anything new to us.
Since getting married in December 2018, we’ve lived in 6 different homes spread across 4 states.
But there was something different about this move.
Maybe it was the fact that we lived with 5% of our belongings for the first two weeks.
Maybe it was the fact that we were unable to unpack all of our stuff until the first month was over.
Maybe it was the fact that we flew back to Wisconsin for a wedding.
Maybe it was the fact that we both got sick and had to stay home.
Maybe it was the fact that I started a new job after not working since March.
Or maybe it was the sum of everything.
Either way, this move was the hardest for me so far.
Not because I regret moving here. Not because I want to go back.
No, this move was the hardest because every part of my life was affected in some way.
My weekly workout routine? Changed.
Daily writing practice? Obliterated.
Typical flow of a work day? Nice knowing ya…
Now I’m not saying that these changes were bad.
In fact, they were all necessary to building up to something great.
But I’m telling you this today to help you reflect on your circumstance.
Take a moment to think:
How full is your cup?
Have you filled it to the brim with commitments, obligations, and promises?
Are you running from place-to-place, hoping and praying that your feet don’t fall out from under you? Doing everything you can to keep from spilling that cup everywhere?
How about your news consumption?
Have you gotten caught up in the crazed election cycle (not to mention daily updates about the coronavirus)?
Be honest. Has this positively or negatively affected your well-being?
As you’re reading this, are you realizing that maybe your coffee cup is too full, your pace too fast, your attention too scattered?
If your answer’s yes, there’s no shame.
You’re certainly not alone.
“I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.”William Deresiewicz
Solitude and Leadership
Former Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz famously took what he called a “Shultz Hour”.
NYT journalist David Leonhardt wrote of Shultz’s daily practice:
“His hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest. And the only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions.
The Secretary of State is one of the busiest, most difficult jobs in the United States.
Yet even with that being true, Shultz deliverately forced himself to step outside of the hustle and bustle to think.
To slow down.
Each day, as Shultz stepped outside the day-to-day tactical decisions and fixed his gaze on the larger questions facing him and the entire administration, he found the opportunity to pour out some of that coffee cup.
And when he returned from that simple, 60-minute thinking time, he was able to walk–not run.
He was able to think, not react.
That hour alone defrosted the windshield of his life and helped him see clearly.
And it’s this kind of thing that I want to leave you with today.
No matter where you are and what you’re doing, would you consider taking some time away?
To step outside of the hustle of everyday life?
It doesn’t need to be an hour of silent meditation.
No, not at all.
It can be listening to a song that connects with your heart instead of a podcast on your drive to work.
Better yet, it can be listening to nothing at all.
It can be getting lost in a book or calling up a friend and catching up.
Solitude can look like many things.
But the most important thing of all is that you find time for it.