As Bob Miyamoto talks about playing trumpet in a band the one frivolity in a life otherwise a dash from task to task his wife, Deanna, leans against the kitchen doorway...
MILL CREEK As Bob Miyamoto talks about playing trumpet in a band the one frivolity in a life otherwise a dash from task to task his wife, Deanna, leans against the kitchen doorway and urges him not to give up his sole night out.
“I probably shouldn’t be doing it,” says Miyamoto, 52. He probably should work harder, help his daughters with their homework more, visit his parents longer. But instead he’s doing work of a different kind: searching for balance.
For the next few months, Miyamoto will attempt a life makeover with the help of a professional life coach paid for by The Seattle Times.
He is not getting Botox treatments or changing jobs. He wants nothing more from his new life than to feel relief from the need “to optimize every second of the day,” to rush through everything, even things he enjoys.
And he is not alone. Hundreds of Times readers responded to a story that ran last fall about Take Back Your Time Day, a national event to recognize that overwork and overscheduling rob us of purpose and pleasure. We asked for makeover volunteers and got an earful from people so busy they wake up every day feeling behind.
We picked Miyamoto not just because he wrote his thoughtful note from 36,000 feet in the air (typical of his demanding job) but because he hit so many pressure points other readers talked about.
Miyamoto works full time and is on the East Coast up to five days a week raising money and reporting on the achievements of the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
When he’s home, he and his wife, an art director in Redmond, commute to work across King County’s clogged highways. They have two teenage daughters, one with a genetic disorder.
He asked his parents, both near 80 and with diabetes, to relocate from California. In return for uprooting them, he visits them briefly every night he’s home and has two meals with them on weekends. That’s after he gets up before everyone else on weekends to run.
Miyamoto keeps a blood-pressure machine next to his bed so he can monitor stress.
“I’m 52 and would have a midlife crisis, if I had any energy,” he quips.
Can a coach really help Miyamoto? We gave that challenge to Carolyn Fung, a former psychologist now working as a personal coach. During January and for the next two months, she will encourage Miyamoto to examine what he wants in life and to come up with the changes to get it.
Fung’s job is not to tell him what to change. Instead she’s asking him questions: What would life look like if it were perfectly balanced? How would he feel if he had that?
She has no agenda, she says, except to let him see that he’ll be a better worker and family man if he can let go of some pressures and find time to enjoy his life.
Miyamoto says he’s happy with his achievements and that he’s always on task. But when he looks at his desk or his garage or his financial plan, all he sees is a big undone mess.
“I’m a lazy person who can’t stand it when things don’t get done,” he says. “What a contradiction.”
Worse, he says, he’s got a “Type A mouth,” meaning he can’t say no.
Do less, get more
None of this is new to Coach Fung. She’s used to working with executives and high achievers who equate slowing down with slacking off. To her, the opposite is true.
“By doing less, you can often accomplish more because you are relaxed, can focus better and become more efficient with your time,” says Fung, who’s made some major life changes of her own with no regrets.
When her husband moved to the United States from Canada for work, Fung gave up her career as a psychologist and added two years of training through Colorado-based Coach U, an International Coach Federation-accredited school that trains coaches around the world, mostly by telephone conference.
Instead of helping people with their deep-seated problems, she now focuses on helping clients get the most out of life by setting goals “like we do at the new year.” The first thing she does each day is set time aside for herself and her new baby.
Fung’s first contact with Miyamoto came during a free half-hour phone consultation to see if they were a good fit. That’s when she gave him the dismal news: She wasn’t going to do the work; he was. It started with soul-searching questions:
How is his time divided between seven areas work, family, social relationships, health, leisure, spiritual development, errands/chores?
What are his long-term goals, and what gets in the way of those goals?
What drains his time and energy?
Fung says it often makes more sense to consider what can be dropped from a schedule rather than what can be added. Otherwise, it’s like committing to exercise three times a week but then having no time to do it.
The Miyamotos have almost no social life outside of their parents and the volunteer work they do related to their 17-year-old daughter, Tamra. She has a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow along nerves. Miyamoto already stepped back from being president of the local chapter of a neurofibromatosis advocacy group; can he give up more than that?
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There are not enough hours in the day to do everything, and the kids won’t be around that much longer to share things with them, Deanna quietly reminds her husband.
“But there’s this huge, crying need to talk on behalf of people with genetic disorders,” Miyamoto says. “I may think short term about Tamra’s growing up and making sure she goes to college, but long term, will she be able to have health care, will she have equal opportunity for a job?”
The hours he spends on homework with Tamra and Leah, 13, pay off. Tamra was the first at Jackson High School to finish her senior project, and she’s already been accepted to a college.
Not a swim coach
Fung asks Miyamoto to imagine saying no to some of the demands on his time as if there were no consequences. He has a hard time doing that. There are always consequences, he tells her.
He’s open to change, but the change has to make sense. Fung understands.
“It’s not easy to set boundaries and say no,” she says, encouraging him to think bigger. “And it’s especially not easy at work these days when people are afraid of layoffs or they’ve lived above their means and now feel trapped to pay for it.”
When she asks him to consider that his family and his work will benefit if he’s relaxed, he concedes that’s especially true with his family. It’s counterproductive for him to be with them if he’s stressed. But the stress at work goes beyond his own employment.
“Interestingly, I’m on the other side of that,” Miyamoto says. “If I don’t do my job, then people I’ve worked with for 20 or 25 years may lose their jobs.”
Yet to keep going with life like this is not possible. He has to change. True to form, he’s dutifully doing the homework Fung assigned.
The fact that Fung works strictly by phone works well for him because he so often travels. They follow up with e-mails and will meet face to face once a month so the newspaper can share their experience with readers.
At Fung’s bidding, he’s making lists of 10 things he would like to eliminate first “those things that you tolerate, that drain your time and energy.”
What about all those weekend and late-night e-mails? Does he have to answer them all immediately? Could he find a way to delegate some of the work, perhaps through a “virtual assistant,” someone he could hire to work by phone or Internet for administrative support?
In many ways, Miyamoto wants Fung to be like his high-school coach: Just tell him how many laps to swim. But that’s not how it works. Her questions will get him going, but eventually he will coach himself.
“Part of what I will do will be to hold you accountable to what you say you want to do,” she says.
Three months is considered a minimum for coaching. By March, Miyamoto should have a start on what he wants to create, which may simply mean a few guilt-free hours because he’s on top of his to-do list.
For now, there’s that financial plan that Miyamoto describes as a “disaster.” That hole in the back yard for Leah’s dream pond “that’s downright dangerous.” Yet one of the first things Fung has asked him to do is sit down and read for pleasure for 15 minutes twice a week.
“That was to give you a taste in hopes of motivating you to do more of what you really loved.”
And when Miyamoto admits that his family doesn’t take real vacations because he feels he can’t be away from work that long, Fung responds: “Yet.”
Sherry Stripling: firstname.lastname@example.org