There was a carpenter who was hired to help restore an old farmhouse, and he had just finished a rough first day on the job. A flat tire made him lose hours of work. His electric saw died on him and now his pickup truck refused to start.
His client saw him struggling with his vehicle and offered to drive him home. The whole way to his house, the carpenter sat in stone silence as he stared out his window. Upon arriving, he finally spoke and invited his boss in for a few minutes to meet his family. As they walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.
When he opened the door, his demeanour completely changed. His face was now wide in smile; he hugged his two children and gave his wife a kiss. Afterward he walked his boss to the car. They passed the tree and the man’s curiosity got the better of him. He asked the carpenter about what he had seen him do earlier.
The carpenter smiled. “Oh, that’s my trouble tree. I know I can’t help having troubles on the job, but one thing is for sure: Troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and the children. So, I hang them up on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning I pick them up again.
“Funny thing is,” he continued, “when I come out in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”
As someone who runs a business and makes his living entirely from that and other side ventures, I run into a lot of problems every single day. Sometimes they’re minor ones, like messing up an intricate part of a design I’m fabricating and losing a day because of it or hitting the mental brick wall when I’m trying to write. Other days they’re much more serious, such as deadlines being changed and becoming unworkable timeframes or disputes with clients who are refusing to pay.
These problems, big or small, can have a serious impact on me. They leave me angry and frustrated, with a fuse so short it only takes the slightest thing to set me off again. Some of the problems cause me to feel emotionally exhausted. Solving them can be equally tiring—when you have one of those days where you feel like all you’re doing is putting out fires, you sometimes wish it would just set you alight too. When these problems have their knock on effects, whether that’s on your financial affairs or life, the stress and strain of coping with it takes its toll.
Worse still, I used to bring all of this home and dump it on the lap of my fiancée, expecting her to handle it or deal with a less-than-friendly me. I would cause fights over stupid things. I’d frequently be present in the room in body, but not mind. I would forget to ask about her day or talk about her problems because all I did was bring mine home.
I realized this was going to cause a rift between us that would be too big to reconcile. If my work was going to continue to affect our relationship, it was going to become a “me or your work” choice. I didn’t want this, and neither did my partner.
Something had to change. And that’s when I decided to grow myself a trouble tree. There is of course no actual tree—it’s a process of learning to decide which troubles are really worth taking home and which just need to be hung up and worried about another day.
I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t use your partner’s support and guidance to help you through issues. Sometimes a second opinion solves everything. But many times, the problems you go through in your work can’t be solved by your partner. They might not understand, or they might not even care. They will have enough problems on their plate as it is without getting a helping of yours too.
The fact of the matter is there are far more important things in life than work, such as your relationships, and the best way to make a success of these is to learn to leave your troubles at the door.
Life is too short to have the time spent with loved ones overshadowed by problems that can’t be solved until another day. Grow yourself a trouble tree and hang your shit up on its branches before you let it affect your home life.
What’s more, when you return to collect them in the morning, you’ll find the majority weren’t worth worrying about anyways.