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When Work Needs to Be Done
In 2010, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, resulting in one of the western hemisphere’s greatest natural disasters of our lifetime. The nonprofit organization I work for responded immediately with humanitarian aid and supplies. People were dying, so we had to move quickly. Most of our staff members started pulling twelve-hour days, and I was one of them.
For weeks I stayed up late and got up early, glued to my computer. Each day, hundreds of emails poured in with updates on the catastrophe and what was being done to help.
If I worked those hours in a typical week, my wife, Ashley, would've scolded me—after all, what woman encourages her husband to bury himself in his work for weeks on end? What husband would support his wife working such hours? But Ashley knew that timing was of the essence and didn’t question my drive to push so hard. In fact, she supported it.
One especially hard week, I would crawl into bed late each night, falling asleep next to a warm body I hadn't cuddled with in days. Dragging myself out of the same bed a few hours later, I'd kiss Ashley’s forehead and resume work. Seated on the couch with a cup of coffee and a laptop that creaked when opened, I'd start my day before the sun rose.
As the world began to awaken, I'd hear the pipes rattle and the shower kick on. Thirty minutes later, my wife would emerge from the bathroom. I'd get up to greet her with bloodshot eyes and a scruffy kiss. On days when I forgot to turn on the coffee maker, she would head to the kitchen and return to set a steaming mug on the table in front of me. Never one much for mornings, she'd smile and sigh and head out the door, without saying a word. Eight hours later, she'd return from work, and I'd nod at her from the same couch where I started, often still in my pajamas. My day was only half over.
I was responsible for sending out press releases and updating a blog that notified people of ways they could help quake victims. When I wasn’t sending out those messages, I was on the phone, brainstorming what else could be done. Many of our family dinners were interrupted by the constant communication flow that included urgent text messages and emails.
It was a lot of work that needed to be done.
But that kind of hustle can't last forever. Towards the end of those crazy few weeks, Ashley and I took a trip. We spent a long weekend in Indianapolis with some friends to celebrate Valentine's Day. Even then, the crisis cried for attention. Though I was tempted to stay plugged in, I needed a break. I had to reconnect with what inspired the work in the first place.
At one point after answering a few calls in front of friends, I eventually left the phone in the other room, trusting my colleagues to handle the most urgent needs for a few hours. Then I reached out, raising my glass to my wife and friends, as we sat around the dinner table. I realized that without a life to support it, no job can last.
Back home, I flipped on my phone and dove back into work, but communication slowed and my work gradually returned to a sustainable pace. I started to sleep reasonable hours and did my best to give Ashley my full attention when the work day ended. Before long, our morning routine resumed, and it was me who was bringing her breakfast.
Image by Marty Hadding. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post is adapted from the just-released book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, by Jeff Goins.
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