“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” – Desmond Tutu
Today is my son’s third birthday. This moment, shown above, happened three years ago today.
I could go for a full-tilt, sappy, dreamy-gush of how much I love him, how much he has grown, and how much I’m amazed by how quickly the time has passed.
Not that those sentiments aren’t completely true; instead, I’m simply choosing to take a different tangent with today’s IQ.
Three years ago, I had not long completed my first marathon, grown my business to an extraordinary level of activity and turnover, and published two books. I watched as my wife stepped out of our business to look after our son full time, and I watched as my four-year-old daughter grew up and prepared for school, while I worked my butt off.
I thought I was happy, balanced, and going fine.
Within three months of my son’s birth, I was desperately clinging on by my fingernails. I was trying to keep up, while my life moved with a pace of activity that gave me no downtime at all, and enormous levels of physical, emotional and mental stress.
Within six months of Rilien’s arrival, I had been diagnosed with stress-induced depression, put on a treatment plan, and left in a kind of limbo. During this time, I tried to re-connect with my wife, and tried to figure out what should happen to our business and our lives from here on in.
Meanwhile, my daughter Indrani had started school, and her early years of childhood had closed without me even being truly present to enjoy her last few months before school; I was simply working too hard.
My son’s birth was not to blame in any way; I was exclusively at fault. Looking back I can see that my ego sent me down the path of bigger, better, faster, more. My greed and desire to “show them” led me to a position of utter burnout and emotional exhaustion.
This story does, fortunately, have a happy ending.
With the enormous love and support of my wife, the help of a great doctor and psychologist, and the understanding of my employees, my friends, and my family, I was able to fully recover and create a new path for my life, my family, and my business.
What my son gave me, was the gift of being a catalyst. His arrival added the stress to my life that finally broke me down, and as a result, initiated a full-scale life reassessment that has led me to where I am today.
The 2.5 years since I was diagnosed with depression have been some of the toughest and some of the happiest times of my life. With my wife’s help, we have gotten to the heart of what really matters for us, and have worked hard to re-shape our business to serve and deliver that.
My son’s gift was to (ultimately) give me my life back. He gave me the insight into what is important for me: time for myself, time for my family, and time to do satisfying, meaningful work that makes a positive difference. The gift of my depression has meant that now I am now a better father, a better husband, and a better photographer than I have ever been.
I do my best, each and every day to repay that gift my son brought to me. I do my best, each and every day.
For you? Three things:
- Try reframing difficult experiences as a gift. Look for the lesson, and look for the opportunity. NB It might take a couple years for that gift/lesson/opportunity to become apparent. Be patient with yourself.
- Acknowledge that your family, exactly as it is, is a gift to you, AND you truly are a gift to them. Always remember the gift YOU are to the people in your life.
- Do your best, each and every day.