My Son’s “Work Ethic”
I took this photo during our recent vacation. That’s my son sitting at the dining room table, and as the dark windows show, it’s well before dawn. He deliberately got out of bed early so that he could work, alone and undisturbed, on a Lego kit that had frustrated him the night before.
I’ve been looking at this photo off and on for the last few days, mainly because it’s a delightful and endearing picture of my awesome kid. But it’s also encouraging and inspiring… as well as a wee bit convicting.
In order to really grasp why this photo’s so great, though, there’s something you need to know about my son: when he’s interested in something — e.g., cowboys, soccer, Lorenzo Insigne, the Denver Broncos, dinosaurs, Legos — he goes all in. Whatever it might be, no matter how seemingly random or trivial, his entire existence soon begins to revolve around it. Sometimes I suspect that he lives in a near-permanent state of flow.
As a result, he has no problem waking up before 6am in a darkened house while everyone else is sound asleep so that he can focus. He knows what he loves and what he needs to do to truly enjoy it, he makes the necessary sacrifices to do so, and he’s not too concerned about what others might think.
Of course, I want my kids to get a good night’s sleep (often because, selfishly, I want to get a good night’s sleep). But at the same time, it’s wonderful to see your kids find a passion, something they’re willing to go above and beyond and fully immerse themselves in, even if that means they’re occasionally up before the crack of dawn. I suppose you could call it a work ethic, though if you were to ask my son if he’s “working,” he’d probably shake his head without ever losing focus on those tiny plastic blocks.
Much of adult life is dictated by what you’re obligated to do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having obligations, and following through on them is simply part of being a mature, responsible adult. Indeed, I’ll be a failure as a parent if I don’t teach my kids the importance of honoring their obligations, even — and especially — when they don’t feel like it.
At the same time, however, finding something you love enough that it becomes more than mere obligation — instead, it fills you with so much life, energy, excitement, etc., that waking up before dawn to work on it seems like the most obvious and natural thing to do — well, then you have something special. And that’s something I want for all of my kids, as well as myself, though it becomes harder to acquire as you become an adult.
As my son grows older, he’ll learn that life becomes increasingly complicated, with more and more things placing claims on his life, time, and resources. But I hope that, a few decades from now, he continues to have something in his life that gives him enough joy that he can’t help but wake up early, and all so that he can sit in a dark, quiet dining room to work on it undisturbed. Something for which dedication and sacrifice, even if it’s just of a few extra hours of sleep, is no big deal because it’s what he has to do.
In the meantime, the above photo is a reminder that I need to carve out space in my own life for similar endeavors as best I can. (Opus being a prime example of one.) Not so that I can shirk my obligations as husband, parent, friend, co-worker, etc., but rather, because it’s good to have passions that don’t simply equate to things that you have to do. And if that requires waking up hours before everyone else so that I can work on them, alone, undisturbed, and fully immersed, than so be it. That’s a small price to pay to experience what my son’s experiencing in the photo above.