The Highest Stakes Relationship in My Life

Is the relationship I have with... ❓ [±5min read]

Mistakes are so important. Making them is how we learn. Doing something one way which turns out to be the wrong way, means that hopefully the next time we have the same opportunity, we'll hopefully do it differently. Hopefully, we learn.

'Hopefully' is fine when the stakes are low. Heck, making mistakes is even encouraged, but is 'hopefully learning', when the stakes are high, good enough? If you've only got one shot at something, is just being hopeful going to cut it?

For me, the highest stakes relationship in my life is the relationship with Tracey. Everything, e v e r y t h i n g is less important than the relationship with my wife. And it's only because of past mistakes that I now understand just how high stakes our relationship is.

You see, I've been divorced, and I don't say that, or wear that statement as a badge of honour or some modern inconvenience. I say it because my divorce is a marker, a reference point of sorts, a low point, somewhere I don't ever want to be again in my life, and a reminder of just what can go so very wrong when you wait until the very end to learn what makes you happy.

Like most marriages that end, the official reason my first did was along the lines of "irreconcilable differences/incompatibility" or something similar - I'm not sure, it's not a document I tend to stay familiar with. But the truth is, Vaughn's mother and I got divorced because we simply had no idea who we were. And when you have no idea who you are, there is no way in hell you can expect a marriage to work. And as a result, we were very unhappy.

I'm so very fortunate to have a second shot at marriage, and it's only with time, understanding and brutal honesty, both deeply personal with myself and together with brutal and deep conversations with Tracey, I have come to understand that it is no one's job to make me happy, nor is it my duty to make anyone else happy. My true happiness can only come from within me.

I now know that the greatest gift I can give Tracey is a happy me. And by extension, the best gift I can give my family is a happy me. I know now that my most attractive trait, at least for Tracey, is my happiness, and vice versa. But we both know that this is not a duty to each other but rather driven from within and 100% controlled by each of us as individuals, and no one else.

"Luke, you're so fucking selfish! Of course it's your duty to keep your wife happy!" I hear you say.

To that, I call bullshit!

"Happy wife, happy life."

Urgh, if there was ever something I hear men say that irritates me more, it's this. I don't cringe when I hear because I disagree with it - I agree with it wholeheartedly - I cringe because it only tells half the truth about marriage, and it perpetuates the destructive belief that it is your duty to make your partner happy, and that they expect it. (Spoiler: They don't!)

More than that, I cringe the most because I always hear it used negatively - it's almost always preceded by an anecdotal story of having to do something that that person doesn't like, like shopping or watching a romantic comedy or, god forbid, having an emotional conversation.

"But hey, happy wife, happy life. Right guys... Right?"

Nope! Dead wrong, you're desperately unhappy and you're trying to tell everyone that with this dumb unfunny phrase. Except everyone can see through your bullshit. And if you’re saying it ironically… Well, ironically, the joke’s on you methinks. Also, you know what? It doesn't have to be that way.

We all have things we love to do, and ways we enjoy spending our time, at least when we're not working. For me when I was young and unmarried it was (and still is) the sea. I was passionate about bodyboarding, bodysurfing, swimming - being anywhere near the ocean made me very happy. I guess I loved being outdoors, being active. I loved connecting with people, friends, talking, sharing... Sure, being young and unattached, clubbing and partying was cool and fun, but I almost always preferred the intimacy of a fun braai over the chaos and noise of a nightclub.

And, I had an overarching yearning for family. I couldn't wait to be a dad.

I didn't know who I was, though, not truly, not intimately, and so I pursued this desire for marriage and family regardless, not knowing that combining the two was, well... A recipe for divorce. I thought 'family' was enough as if just the word alone would be enough to hold everything together - by some magical force apparently, so little did I know or understand.

I also thought it was my duty to make my wife happy, and in some weird justification for 'family' those pastimes and passions I had enjoyed before marriage, I found myself doing less - sacrificing my own happiness for what I thought was hers. Multiple times a week in the sea turned into maybe once a month. Being outdoors turned into being in malls. Intimacy became occasion and happiness devolved into resentment. And all the while I had no idea what truly made her happy.

And so we divorced…

I can say with certainty that if you're consistently doing things you don't like or enjoy in order to make someone happy, you're heading down a road filled with resentment. Because at one point or another you'll start asking yourself "Why am I so unhappy?" and "Why are they not making sacrifices like I am to make me happy?".


Take the time to do the things that bring happiness in your life. And take the time to do these things alone. No, not all the time, that would be ridiculous and that is the definition of selfishness in a marriage. But an hour or two every other day pursuing things you enjoy, alone, not derived from interactions with others, is not selfish, it's needed.

I don't look to Tracey for happiness. I look inwards at what makes me happy, I do that, and then seek out time to spend time together with her, doing things we enjoy doing together. And you know what? That time we do spend together - talking intimately in the evening after I've gone for an hour-long run, bathing together after she has had an hour or two to be creative or to meditate, is infinitely better, infinitely more enjoyable. We are more present, we are more attentive, we are content in those moments, and we are happier.

"For me, the highest stakes relationship in my life is the relationship with Tracey." Not true...

The highest stakes relationship in my life is my relationship with me.

And the relationship I have with myself is merely mirrored in the relationship I have with Tracey.

🏁

Header Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels

I Haven't Seen My Parents in Six Years

It's complicated... 🤔 [±4min read]

An interesting and absolutely necessary process happens when the human body is under extreme attack, for instance in the third and most dangerous stage of hypothermia.

There is a sacrifice. The body knows that in order to preserve itself and the areas that perform the core functions of keeping itself alive, it has to make a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is other, less important parts of the body.

Excessive shivering which is an early symptom of hypothermia, you know when it's really fucking cold, has ceased and now there is extreme difficulty in trying to speak, thought processes slow, and there are often signs of amnesia, of complete impairment. Walking or using your hands is now almost impossible as your body stops sending blood to those regions. But, your body knows that in order to preserve the areas which truly matter, the main chest cavity (for breathing and pumping bloody) and the brain (for erm... staying conscious), sending blood to those extremities is useless, and so it sacrifices them, it cuts them off. And so cells and tissue of those sacrificed parts start to die and frostbite sets in.

I haven't seen my parents in over six years.

The fact that we are now over six hundred kilometres from them makes no difference, that at one point we were less than ten kilometres from each other, even less. We could've been one kilometre apart and it still would've made zero difference. I chose to cut them off, sacrifice them if you will, and concentrate on what truly mattered. Us.

This might be hard for you to comprehend, it might sound irrational, mean, bitter, stupid, and because my Tracey and I have children, even selfish. Yes, my stepdaughter and sons with Tracey will grow up (for now) without grandparents on my side of the family, and that is something that all of us will have to live with. And yes, there will be repercussions stemming from that choice.

But, that sacrifice, saved our marriage.

In order to preserve what we had, to preserve the critical functioning in our lives, it had to be done.


It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don't agree. The wounds remain. Time - the mind, protecting its sanity - covers them with some scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone. - Rose Kennedy

You know, though, during extreme hypothermia, the body doesn't cut off blood supply to extremities knowing that ultimately a finger, or hand, or whole leg might need to be amputated. It does so because at that very moment it is absolutely necessary and not doing it would mean the whole body would die. And, sometimes amputation is not necessary, with enough time the body repairs itself and you keep all digits and extremities. Great! Sure, there will be scars, and perhaps what is left might not work as well as it used to, but you will be alive!

And the same thing happens when you cut away people from your life. Truly cutting people off - amputating them if you like - is an extreme decision, and with toxic friends, acquaintances and colleagues, life will go on without them. After my divorce, close friends, friends that I had known for a long time, friends who I thought would be my friends forever fell by the wayside. I cut them off. They were a toxic influence in my life so I cut them out of my life and I concentrated on the things that mattered the most. Myself, my wife and my children.

Some people you might never see or think of again, and some might circle back into your life, but with family, there is, of course, a little more to fight for. The question is whether or not it is worth fighting for...

And the answer to that question takes time.

Scars from previous conflicts will remain, a reminder of what was and a lesson that if you want things to be different, you'll actually have to do them differently. And sure, things might not function quite as they used to - it all might just be super-fucking awkward, but with time these things can be overcome, if it's what you want.

Six years is a long time. Six years is what it has taken my mind to protect its sanity, to cover the wounds with scars, and slowly move forward. And even though there has been a huge sacrifice (on both sides) - a huge loss even - and that it is just the beginning where things will not function the same as they used to, I'm thankful, that all is not lost.


You might not be married, you might not have children, your relationship with your family might be great, all might seem just A-OK, yet somewhere you might be letting toxic people or influences rule and potentially ruin your life.

What matters the most to you and what will you do to preserve it? If it doesn't add value to your life are you willing to cut it away? If you have a similar story I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below (you will have to subscribe first if you aren't already).

🏁

Header Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

My Life is Ordinary...

And that's okay ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ [±3min read]

I saw a Tweet in my timeline the other day.

My kneejerk reaction was to Retweet it. "Hells yeah!" I thought, "I don't want to live an ordinary life..." Ordinary is boring, ordinary is lifeless, ordinary is unhappy. Who would possibly want that?

I didn't Retweet it, but it did make me think. I'm 37 and my life is ordinary as fuck. And I think the same can be said for most of us. No, not the 1%. Us, you know - regular folk. Life is ordinary.

And that is okay.

It doesn't mean our lives are boring, lifeless or unhappy. But, they can tend to seem that way if we're constantly comparing ourselves to others...


"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt

I've felt for a long while that I spend too much time on social media. So I've made a commitment to spend less time on it. Simple. It's not easy, mind you, social media is, whether you will admit it or not, addictive. It's also massively destructive, and I can only laugh at one of Facebook's founding principles, that is of creating an environment of, "openness and transparency, where friends connect with each other about things they care about..." because we plainly live in a time where almost the exact opposite is true. We're certainly more divided than we ever have been, connected, yes, but divided.

And the same is true for all social media platforms. They're all the same in my opinion. Just that some are worse than others, and some diminish the joy derived from life more than others. Because when we're on them, we can't help but compare our lives to the live's of others, often strangers, rolling out in front of our eyes, one Tweet at a time, one Status Update at a time, or one Photo at a time. We compare.

"Oh look at this guy, all bitter an angry, I'm glad I'm not that bitter and angry..."

"Oh look at so-and-so boasting about that job promotion. FML I'm broke and stuck in a rut..."

"Oh look at her, on holiday again in another beautiful location. What the hell am I doing wrong that I can't vacation as good as her...?"

We compare.

Island paradise

*scrolls*

Underwater paradise

*scrolls*

Cityscape paradise

*scrolls*

Food paradise

*scrolls*

Technology paradise

*scrolls*

Paradise. Paradise. Paradise.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and when we spend inordinate amounts of time looking at and perhaps unknowingly comparing ourselves to others, we start thinking that our lives are boring and that in some way we are worse off.

Except the thing is, social media is a window - a porthole window - into the other people's lives. A snapshot, a thought, an experience, all mostly positive (okay, perhaps not Twitter), and when you endlessly scroll through a blur of only positive, beautiful things you get the impression that somehow everything you're seeing is permanent, that all those beautiful, positive things are happening all the time in those people's lives and not in yours, and that can be incredibly destructive.

Everyone's life at some point is ordinary. Everyone. The celebrities, the influencers, all the beautiful people posting about and seemingly always doing beautiful things, even they eventually have to do the mundane ordinary things we do. We just don't see them. Because that's not what social media encourages.

My life is ordinary and that's okay. And for me, the key is being able to derive joy from the ordinary, from the mundane. It's possible, I promise, but perhaps that is a topic for another time. Until then, maybe pick your phone up a little less, maybe make try make a few more real world connections. I know I'm going to try.

🏁

Header Photo by Robin Worrall on Unsplash

Head Down, Don't Look Up

Ok, occasionally look up...

They say that if you actually want to achieve your goals, you should write them down. Something along the lines of the physical act of putting pen to paper, and having evidence and reminders of what you want to achieve is proven to help bring them into reality.

Vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t. - Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them, Forbes.com

I've never really been very good at this, which probably explains a lot, but I have become pretty good at formulating a vision in my head of what I want to achieve and then constantly reminding myself of what I need to do in order to achieve it. So kind of the same thing, but without the action of actually writing it down.

I know of people who have short, medium and long-term goals for everything. I think I had those too at one point in my life, but more recently I feel more at peace with myself by setting immediate short-term goals and getting those done, rather than fantasising about grand long-term visions and all the could-be's and might-be's that tend to come with them. I tend to get lost in fantasies, and in doing so lose my way, getting demotivated when the grand, long-term vision doesn't materialise quick enough.

I've also tried to scale back my fantasies because ultimately I find them to be pretty destructive.

Small steps, always move forward, celebrate the small victories.

This is something I adopted not too long ago when I fell down hard and lost my way. When I had no job, no income, a soon-to-be-destroyed marriage and very little will to live. I thought, if I just take a few small steps forward every day, make sure I don't go backwards and celebrate these two things as victories, then I might be okay.

What small thing can I do immediately which will have an impact? What if I repeat that small thing - being consistent - will it just eventually become my new normal?

The smallest thing like banishing a negative, destructive thought from my head and being mindful of it as a victory and then repeating it daily became a template I could replicate elsewhere.

Small steps, keep moving forward.

A more positive, thankful outlook on my own existence, even completely insularly in my own head, meant I had the thinking space to take a few more steps forward the next day - forming a new normal - so that when an opportunity like an interview for a job presented itself, I saw it as an immediate opportunity, not some far off, distant, unachievable nice-to-have. It sounds weird but when you're depressed, in a downward spiral with seemingly no way out, even the thought of an interview, not even actually getting the job, is just too out of reach, too distant, too hard.

I had to make space for those thoughts. I had to banish others to allow those in. I had to try and move forward slowly and not slip backwards, every day.


It seems like I always refer to my running in this blog. And that's fine. It has had a big impact on my life. So much of what has happened in my life, the processes and thoughts and outcomes are mirrored in my running and vice versa. I've learned so much from my running that I apply in my day-to-day life, and so much from my life, I apply to my running. The two, it seems, are intertwined.

Running, and becoming fairly good at long-distance running was not a natural thing. It has been learned. Slowly. When I started running again, properly, 2 or more years ago, I never had a goal to run 21km. Running 21km sounded ridiculous, silly, scary, unachievable. And not even something I wanted to or allowed myself to consider. Similarly, I had no goal to lose 25 kilograms. I had my shoes on and I just wanted to start. So I ran/walked three or so kilometres for the next month. Each day running a few metres further before having to walk than the day before, until I could run the whole 3 kilometres without walking at all. Then I tried to run the same three kilometres a little faster.

Small steps, keep moving forward.

3km turned into 5km which turned into 10km. And with time and hard work, 10km turned into 21km. It was natural, progressive and even, fun. Being mindful of my progression and celebrating them as achievements - even just a mental slap on the back - allowed it to be fun. I was not driven by an over-arching goal to smash a half marathon. Small, consistent steps moving forward has eventually become the ability to run a half-marathon.

Head down, don't look up.

I'm often overwhelmed by life, but usually only if I start looking beyond my immediate circumstances. Getting a job when you're down and out is overwhelming. Picturing marriage, kids, and old age when you've just started dating can be overwhelming. Thinking about your children's future as young adults when they're still in nappies can be overwhelming. Paying off a million Rand house or a car when you've only just considered buying either is overwhelming. But, smaller affordable monthly payments is far more manageable. Enjoying the time you have with your small children before they grow up, and being mindful of empowering them with knowledge so that they will one day make wise decisions, is way less stressful. Loving your partner fully now, being the best version of yourself for them, and not worrying about what might be in the future, is a far better reality isn't it?

Why do we set out worrying about the big hill at the end of a marathon when we're only on our first kilometre?

Hills are hard. Hills require strong legs, strong lungs and a strong head. But beyond strength, though, for me, hills require keeping my head down and not looking up. Concentrating on the little patch of road two or three metres in front of me is way more manageable than constantly looking up, anxiously hoping to see the top. Manage my breathing. One foot in front of the other. Slow down if needed. Small steps, keep moving forward. No walking. And eventually, you're at the top and the more manageable flat or even downhill section arrives. A moment to breathe easier, regain your composure, settle your tired legs, and conserve some energy for what comes next.

Of course, on all hilly sections, I need to occasionally look up to make sure I'm on the right course, that I'm not veering dangerously off into oncoming traffic. In the same way that occasionally I have to take a step back in my life and ask myself if what I'm doing right now is moving me towards my long-term goals.

Life is full of ups and downs as we navigate our way through it. Sometimes we can see the next big obstacle, the road steepening as a big hill starts, and other times they just overwhelmingly appear out nowhere. But if you're prepared, if you've built some mental toughness, if you're up for just putting one foot in front of the other, not going backwards and celebrating the small victories, you will learn that even with adversity you can have fun, you can enjoy this journey.

I hated hills when I started running, and now I relish them. Small steps, always moving forward. Head down, don't look up.

Ok, occasionally look up... 😉

🏁

Header photo by Tyrel Johnson on Unsplash

I Was Drowning, Why Didn't You Rescue Me?

Because they couldn't...

This might come as a shock, but no one can rescue you, but you.

Obviously, I'm not talking about if you were in a pool, or in the sea fighting a strong current, that no one could rescue you. Of course someone could and they would. No, I'm talking about you, where you are right now, fighting whatever demons you're fighting - and we all are - no one can rescue you from your thoughts, or save you from the situation you find yourself in, but you.

I've always loved being in the water, from as young as I can remember I would swim in our family home pool. Cold, hot, raining, whatever the weather, I would swim. I was reasonably good too and ended up doing a lot more of it growing up, eventually competitively too. Training multiple times a day and throughout the year, training even when on holiday, camping with my parents (if the caravan park had a pool - which I think my folks always made sure it did), my sister and I swam.

I trained hard and developed the skills needed to succeed in the water.

There was natural talent though I think which made it easier. The training merely helped me become better and more competitive, but the natural talent in the water meant that swimming never felt foreign to me, it felt right like it was always that way and would always be that way. And thirty-seven years later, it still is. But, whether its swimming, rugby, tennis or anything really, if you have a natural affinity for it when you're young, you have an immediate advantage over others. My eldest son, for example, could ride a bike with pedals, unassisted, when he was just two and a half! He didn't even need training wheels. It just came naturally. And now, at ten years old, is earning provincial and even national colours for BMX and Mountain Biking.

And isn't life, in general, that way too?

Some people just seem to have an affinity for life, a natural talent. They're not hamstrung by setbacks or hindered by a war between their ears. They do life, and they do it well.

I've never had that affinity for life. For me life has been a struggle, no, not my upbringing - although I've had personal issues which have arisen from it - we were not desperately poor, we didn't want for much. We were loved and mostly brought up in a loving environment. Life for me has felt like a struggle because mostly I have felt lost. Like being in the middle of freezing cold pool and not knowing that in order to not be there you need to swim to the side.

And for many years, most of my adult life really until recently, I've resented people who just seem to do life well.

"How can it be that life can be so easy for you?" I would ask myself.

The answer is, is that it isn't. I know that now, those emotions was misplaced - wasteful and destructive even - because my life was no harder than theirs, they simply had better skills for navigating it than I did.

They knew in exactly in which direction to swim. Hell, they could do lap, after lap, after lap, in every different pool of life - school, sport, marriage, work, friendship, finance, parenting, everywhere... Where I was just treading water, flailing, not knowing what to do or where to go.

I was drowning, why didn't you rescue me?

Because they couldn't. No one could.

They could stop and tread water with me. Even lift my head out of the water just for a while, so I could regain my breath. Help me towards the shallow end where I could momentarily hold myself up on my tippy toes. But they couldn't rescue me or magically transport me somewhere else. They couldn't drag me behind them, or permanently keep me afloat, else how would they not drown themselves? No, they needed to get back to navigating their own troubles, circumstances... Their lives.

Because each of us is in this on our own.

Even with spouses and partners at our side, we are in this on our own. One cannot lift the other up, rescue the other from drowning. We can only swim together, sometimes scrapping and splashing, making hard work of it, and other times in perfect beautiful synchronicity, together slicing quickly through the rough water...

It's only with time, understanding and real learning from the past that those feelings of resentment have turned into admiration. I admire people who do life well. I admire their passion, hard work, their will to just keep going, to make things work. I admire their affinity for life, their natural talent. And now as a father, I admire their parents who guided, nurtured and taught until it became imprinted, second nature, a natural talent.


There was a swimming school down the road from where we lived growing up. I can remember my first day there - a clear and lasting memory. Standing at the edge of the pool in my Speedo, I was maybe three or four years old. Suddenly I was in the water in the deep end, but, I hadn't jumped in, I was pushed.

I remember being shocked as I looked up to see my new swimming teacher laughing and smiling knowingly. "Why would someone push me in? On my first day?" I thought... It didn't matter though. I didn't panic or cry. I just bobbed there, treading water, keeping myself afloat. I knew how to swim, and she knew it too.

The irony of knowing how to swim when I was pushed into the deep end of a pool, and drowning when pushed into the deep end of life, is not lost on me. It is however perhaps been life's greatest lesson; that anything can be learned if you are willing.

That guiding, nurturing and teaching my children will enable them to develop a natural talent to navigate life, so that one day when adversity arrives, when it feels like they're drowning, they'll know how to rescue themselves.

🏁

Header photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

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