Still drinking lots of coffee, but starting to want to write more about it (and all the tech). More to come...
About twenty weeks ago, I was catching up on some missed episodes of Back To Work while driving. When I got to the episode titled I Handed Him My Luke, things began to change in my life. Merlin Mann detailed his communication strategy called E6W, short for "Every Six Weeks." E6W could not be more simple in both its function and its execution. You choose a day of the week, six people who enrich your life and pull out your calendar. The idea is that if you find yourself getting so busy with this thing called 'life' that you go months or years without talking to people that you really enjoy, make it easy for both of you and schedule it. I'm 18 weeks into my own E6W program, and it couldn't be going better.
I started by making a list of people I don't talk to very often and with which I never have a bad conversation. Then I picked four names from that list. I didn't want to start off by maxing out my six slots. In theory, you could talk to several people every week, but still have a recurrence with each person every sixth week. I don't have a lot of extra time in my current daily routine, so I decided that I would limit my list to a maximum of six people. In addition, I decided to start off with less than that to make sure that if I failed miserably, less people I respect would know I couldn't find an hour for them every six weeks. Once I had my names, I pulled up Sparrow and wrote the following email (E6W methodology removed to avoid duplication of the above summary):
I really hope no one thinks this is spam, but here goes...
Each of you hold a special place in my life. Some of you I've known better than myself, others of you I consider family in the most sincere sense of the word. A couple of you I wouldn't even say I know very well at all, considering, but you all have something in common. You're people that I'd like to have more regular contact with going forward.
There are a few of you that each and every seldom time we speak, we both say "we should do this more often," and we both mean it. Inevitably, our lives continue to march down their own ever more complicated paths and we go weeks, months, even years w/o having a phone call again (or seeing each other in person). I know I hate it when I realize that much time has passed, so I'm hoping this plan helps with the one thing I've become horrible about, taking time out to pick up the damn phone.
So... If there are any of you that don't think I'm a total nerd for approaching you with this, let me know. Obviously I'd work with each person on my list to try and find the best day/time that works for both of us, but initially I'm just going to throw Thursday late afternoon/early evening out there as a starting point. Thursday is generally a day where I don't have meetings in the afternoon and maybe it will work for some of you as well. If not, let me know what would work for you. If you think this is dumb, I'm totally okay with that, and it doesn't mean I no longer want to know you. It just means that you didn't feel the same level of need I did for keeping in more frequent contact and that's cool too.
Let me know by text or by email if you decide you're down... I deactivated my Facebook account today, since I didn't feel like that network was helping me strengthen any actual bonds that I have with people. That same feeling is actually a large part of why I'm proposing this system.
Thanks for taking the time to read this,
I hit 'Send' and hoped for the best. Within a day or two, I had three recurring calls scheduled.
I've had three calls with each of the three people who agreed to be a part of my E6W plan. From these nine calls, I have achieved more meaningful insight and interaction than I ever did talking to these same people via any social network. Topics of conversation have included:
- My kids
- My marriage
- iOS apps
- UI/UX design paradigms
- My work
- Their work
- Their families
- Their goals
- My goals
- Their tech decisions
- My tech advice
- Android tablets
- Home refinance
... and the list goes on.
I am sure that as more calls occur, and more people get added to the three remaining slots, the conversations will drive both T&C post content as well as a mindfulness about the importance of meaningful communication in our lives. The latter has already been cemented, but it grows with each interaction. I hope this post inspires readers to start their own iterations of the E6W plan (feel free to plagiarize my invitation email in part or whole). I hope that if any of my three current slot-holders read this post, they realize how much the last 18 weeks have meant to me.
Today, my eldest son, Camden, is five years old. This post has been written and re-written, section by section, about five times. I finally realized that rather than telling the reader what I have learned, I'd tell Camden directly:
I hope one day you read this and understand how much the last five years have meant to me. I was a different man before you came into this world, and I will be forever in your debt for the lessons you've taught me about life, as well as myself. Camden, you are such a special young man. The similarities between us are probably the reason that I learn so much from you. You are wise beyond your years. Your mind approaches things from a very familiar perspective, and your need to have things "just so" hits close to home as well.
While I never thought of myself as being selfish, I certainly was with my time and attention. You have taught me how important it is to place attention on the right things in life and how so many things that fight for your attention are not what is truly important. Being a hard worker and being passionate and knowledgable about what you do is great, but remembering those that you do it for is paramount. Seeing you transform in front of my eyes over the first five years of your life has made it crystal clear to me that if I didn't look up, and quickly, I'd miss it in the blink of an eye. You are so patient with me, and I recognize that. Thank you for teaching me that investing in people you love is the most valuable thing you can do with your time.
Your mind and your perspective are so sharp. You see things in a very pure way, but your mind has the ability to boil down even complex situations to their most basic components. I have to believe you get this from me. I tend to overcomplicate things in my mind. I think, and re-think things that are better left at the simple, surface layer. If you read this early enough in life to be conscious of the gift and the curse an analytical mind can be, reap the rewards of the benefits, but keep things simple when they're better that way.
I know that you will struggle with patience, especially with people. You will want to get to the end of something, often times at the expense of leaving someone behind along the way. Try to control this tendency, and learn to find joy in seeing others succeed along with you, versus being the only one at the finish line of something. I hope you never lose your ability to see the best in people, and help them see the best in themselves. In case you don't remember (I have the recording of the ceremony if proof is needed), you were voted Most Compassionate in your K4 class. Give of yourself, but remember that your path is still the one you must walk down daily.
Master the ability to focus. Distractions are more prevalent in today's society than ever before. There will always be a screen or interface fighting for your attention. Learn to turn them off and enjoy the calm that comes with things like reading. Reading is a way to train your mind to focus and to build things on its own. Your imagination is already so deep, so don't let the easy satisfaction of packaged entertainment make you forget that your mind is where the real magic happens. I used to read, a lot. I hope to get back to reading more frequently, because I can directly correlate the degradation of my ability to focus on a singular task with the decrease in my reading of books.
All of the above was important, but if you take only one thing away from this letter, please act on this last section. Love your family, and do so vocally and with frequent demonstration. In the time you have been here, I've lost two of the people that I loved the most. Two of the people that enabled me to become the person I am, and specifically one that gave me an example of the man I strive to become. Looking back, and knowing that they wanted to hear my voice and what was going on in my life much more often than I took the initiative to call breaks my heart. I am so happy that they both got the chance to meet you, because you are the perfect image of all the love that I had, and still have, for them. There will be times in your life that you feel like no one understands you, but your family will, just give them the opportunity.
Thank you, Camden. Thank you for being you every day, and thank you for continuing to teach me how to be the best Steve I can be.
A lifetime of love and respect,
For anyone who read this open letter to my son, I hope it provoked a positive thought about your own life or the people in it.