Taking work lessons from a baby robin

I listened to the baby robin chirp for its momma. I wasn’t sure if it was one or two babies, but I could hear at least one baby cry out from the nest underneath my deck. In the first few days of a nestling’s life, the parent bird regurgitates partly digested food into each baby’s mouth. By day five, the nestlings get earthworms that parents break into small mouthfuls. The babies eat more each day. Parents soon give them whole worms and large insects. Each young robin may eat 14 feet of earthworms in a two-week nest life.

Besides the birds, the only other thing I heard was our wind chime swinging in the breeze. I closed my eyes and took in the moment. The darkening skies told me that I would be scurrying inside soon to avoid the rain, but I wanted to remember the moment. 

In fact, I’ve been trying to do more of that lately. In years past, I would’ve been thinking about my work assignment due in the next day, why the managing director had not gotten back to me on a project request, what my boss thought of my work, and how she was viewing my performance. I’m a perfectionist by nature, my head would have been anywhere else, but enjoying the beautiful spring evening.

In my twenties, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go in life and the quickest way to get there. In my thirties and forties, my wife and were having kids and I worked countless hours trying to climb the corporate ladder. In my fifties, I don’t know if I’m smarter or wiser or just don’t care anymore, but I find more and more that I’m trying to live in the moment. 

Writer Toni Morrison wrote in the New Yorker a few years ago about talking with her father and some of the lessons he passed along, including 

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

Like Morrison, I’ve worked for morons and geniuses, me-focused blowhards and team-focused saints. I still believe in giving my all for a higher purpose, working my very best, but I’ve changed too. When the clock goes off — even in this work from home, the work never stops environment — I step away from work and don’t think twice about it. I remind myself constantly that I’m not my job.

In many respects, I’ve become like one of those baby robins focused entirely on its mother. When I’m at work, I focus on work, but when I’m out of the office or have the work laptop closed, I’m focused entirely on my family and I don’t look back.

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