Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Balance: the Art of Prioritizing

On Saturday, my wife and I brought home our first child. She was born on December 1st and she is the cutest thing I have ever seen. We got home to an empty house; Ole, our one and half year old black Labrador was at my parent’s house while we’d been at the hospital. In the quietness of our vacant house, I was reminded of the seasons leading up to this new season of parenthood. I was reminded of the season before my wife and I got married, the season of being DINKs (Dual Income No-Kids); although each of these seasons has brought a very new and wonderful change they each have posed a new level of responsibility and commitment to life. We are faced with the choice of prioritization and balance at every turn in the road. What will be of most importance? Who will have priority in my daily schedule? Which activities will make it to the top of the to-do list? At the root of each of these questions is the idea of priority and decisions of what is most important.

Although most of my closest friends, colleagues and family would be able to guess pretty easily what my highest priorities are, I will not give you my recommendations for what you ought to list, but I do think it is an important enough topic that every athlete ought to think about as they look at the here and now, and the future. In the last year I have read more articles, comments, and editorials about balanced living in triathlon periodicals and websites than ever before. Triathlete Magazine published an article in its November issue about “Walking the Tightrope” referring to the complex and challenging balance of life and training.

In my recent article on Reflection, I offered an exercise, for your self-assessment, on how you as an athlete are doing in your training, how you’ve done, and what you might plan to do in the future. In this exercise I purposefully asked how you’ve involved others (and how you might) in your training. This was done as no accident. Often times athletes see training and family as antagonists. When one is doing well, likely the other is not. This is one of the large misconceptions about the multi-sport life, “Aw, I could never do a triathlon, I am just too busy with my wife and kids….” This ideology of mutual exclusivity is trite. I argue to reason that involving your family in your training will actually make it more profitable and fulfilling. I can remember many times that ‘dad’ would take us kids out on training sessions with him. Whether he was dragging us in a sled behind him on a cross-country ski workout, strapping us into the seat on the back of his bike, or pushing us along in the stroller on a run, these were fond times and cherished memories. Be creative and think outside the box.

As endurance athletes, we are no strangers to the concept of periodization. In a nutshell the term essentially means to break down our training season into periods or segments so that we focus on specific incremental objectives, in a certain succession, so as to meet or exceed an end-goal. In the same way we plan our training and race season, so too we need to think about the goals that we have in our non-sport life and try to plan a strategy for meeting those goals. Maybe that means intentionally planning a daddy-daughter date on Saturday afternoon to purposefully spend time and invest in your daughter’s life; wouldn’t that be an appropriate training phase for the objective of cultivating and maintaining positive communication lines with your pre-teen daughter? How about planning a weekend camping trip with your buddies from college, wouldn’t that be an investment into the relationships you’ve grown and the relationships for which the tough times in life will inevitably be supported upon? Maybe it’s the investment in your marriage through purchasing your spouse a bicycle or trainer so that long rides can be spent together. These are just ideas and certainly not specific relationships that might find their way to your top 3 priorities.

Balance is not something that comes naturally for most people. It is something to think about, work at, and invest in. Balance takes careful thought regarding what is most important to you, and how you will allocate time, energy and finances to support that priority. If the proverb we reap what we sow is true, then all of us could benefit from meditating on what we’ve prioritized and whether what we’ve spent out life’s time and energy on, will leave a worthy legacy.