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Priorities, Habits & My Ex Husband

Much is written about being in the moment, whatever that means. I had an epiphany today. It’s not just about being in the moment; it’s about turning moments into habits. Let me explain.

Someone for whom we were writing something mentioned that she has her Saturday “Mommy–Daughter Day.” She doesn’t plug in on Saturdays; she and her daughter plan a full day together. and it’s written in stone, or blood, or whatever ink is used these days to say it’s nonnegotiable.

Then I remembered that H2 (Husband #2) spoke to me about his closeness with his father. They didn’t speak numerous times on the phone per day. There was no email; his father has been gone for decades. But every day that he was in town, he walked around the Central Park Reservoir with his dad at 4 p.m., and they talked about all things. My memory tells me they did it every day, but I know that can’t be right. Maybe it was every Sunday? Either way, it was written in stone. It was part of the pattern of their lives. It was a habit.

Then I remembered how H2, when he was in New York City, would sit down with our fabulous daughter, about whom I am not allowed to write, but if I were, I would say she has that same single focus as her dad. Anyway, every single night, he sat with her and read through one book. Her hair wet from her bath, she would sit on his lap in her PJs and suck on her nighttime bottle, staring intently at what he read to her. Every single night that he was in the house. Same time. Same chair. It was a habit.

Did I mention he was an investment banker doing some of the largest global deals in the history of mergers and acquisitions? But even when he was merging Texas Oil & Gas and U.S. Steel, he still walked out of his study in the apartment and read that book to our child. It took maybe fifteen minutes.

Then I remembered how he had a call with a European client every Sunday from 11 to 12. Every week. From the phone in the bedroom while he was propped up on the bed, with papers in front of him that clearly had been prepared for him by someone earlier in the week.

And there was the time on a flight from Europe to the U.S. when I was sitting, shaking next to him and he was working on all his papers in the seat next to me. I’m not a good flier.

He put all his papers away, turned to me, and asked, “What is it you are afraid of?”

I answered without a moment’s pause, “We are all going to die. I’m sure of it.”

He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry; I can’t help you.”

He took out his papers and the focus wasn’t on me any longer. I don’t think he gave it a moment’s thought. He couldn’t fix it, so he focused on something else that could make good use of his time and expertise.

I hope you give me credit for sharing this part of me that doesn’t put me in my finest light. I thought it was worth the exposure because it so shines on the fact that he was also able to assess and not worry about that which he couldn’t fix. I saw him behave that way with deals too. He never considered them done, and there was no celebration until the ink was dry. And, if I’m being fair to him, I think he never wanted to make a deal more than making it a good deal. He could walk away.

He had the exact same routine every morning: Rise. Shower. Paper. Breakfast. Driven to the office. Habit.

If we went to the movies at 74th and Broadway, we always walked home. Always.

Every Saturday morning, he played tennis. In the city or at our country house. Same time every week. Usually with the same people.

He chose the wines every night to accompany whatever was being served for dinner, about a half hour before we sat down to eat. If it was a wine that needed to breathe, there was time.

Here is the thing: The man was busier than me, to be sure, but I never once saw him rush. Not once. The space between his habits (or rituals or whatever you want to call them) was the time for spontaneity. Trust me, he could come up with a spur-of-the-moment thing to do, but overall, his very, very busy life was planned, though not in that “there is no time for fun or important things” way that I see around me.

When we were in Europe doing his deals, he would schedule appointments and calls, but he would also schedule trips to museums and fabulous restaurants, and they might just be in the middle of the afternoon. Everything that mattered to him — his child, his work, his tennis, his art exploration, food, and wine — had a place and a time, and it was not generally sacrificed.

I would tell you that it was his nature to be that way. But now, as I read book after book that speaks to the need to segment time — and not just business time — in the same way he has been doing for … well, for a lot of years, I realize that some of us are built to be that way, and then there’s me, who should have spent more time segmenting my time. And, maybe it was less his nature and more something he honed over the years to be the success that he was and is.

The man was ahead of his time. Move over, Brendon Burchard, whose book “High Performance Habits” just blew me away. I just have to learn from the master, H2.

Priorities + Focus + Habit = Success

Christine Merser, Managing Partner

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