Don’t Take the Little Things in Life for Granted

Posted on Jul 20, 2010 | 89 comments


Yesterday I wrote about the importance of choosing happiness.  Today I want to write about a related topic: not taking the little things in life for granted.  I promise not to turn this blog into a personal self-help blog!  But today is a special day and I’m thinking about this topic so please humor me just one more time.  More later in the post.

When I was in my early 20’s I was fortunate enough to live in a small house in Manhattan Beach, CA with a beautiful ocean view.  Having been born in Philly and having been raised in landlocked Sacramento, CA it was truly an amazing thing to literally hear the ocean waves crash every night from my bedroom as I went to sleep and to see the ocean view every morning as I got ready for work.

For weeks or months I gazed at the ocean at every opportunity I could.  “Pinch me – is this my life?”  But slowly, strangely and without notice I stopped looking quite as much.  I’d love to say that I always appreciated the majesty of the ocean and the sunsets every night.  I didn’t.  Eventually the ocean view just became life and life was filled with work, stress, bills, cooking dinner, watching football, suffering hangovers, talking on the phone, whatever.  The ocean had just become a picture on the wall that I occasionally glanced at.  I wish I could say otherwise.

Through hard work and persistence I got transferred to Europe.  It’s a fun story how I got there but I’ll save that for another day.  By the summer of 1995 I was living and working in Rome, Italy.  To this date the six months that I worked in Rome goes down as one of my favorite experiences in life.  Il Bel Far Niente!  Every day I took a Roman taxi to work (and still lived to tell about it!) and every day we passed by the Monument of Vittorio Emanuelle II – so beautiful.  (although the Romans don’t all think so – they call it “The Wedding Cake” or “The False Teeth.”)  Me?  Sheer beauty.  We also passed by the Colosseum.  For weeks I gazed out every time and sucked in the experience.  But eventually I started zoning out on the drive in – just another day in the office.  And then I started reading the International Herald Tribune lest I miss my daily dose of international politics.

I think you see where this thing is heading.

In 1996 I worked (then later lived for 8 years) in London and passed daily through Trafalgar Square.  It’s beauty undeniable but as ephemeral as the others.

In 1997/98 I spent months in Barcelona.  I was initially in an aparthotel on La Ramblas and later in a stunning villa near Park Güell.  Every day I walked passed Gaudi buildings on my way in the morning and again in the evening.  For weeks, maybe months, I looked up every day.  If you’ve never seen Casa Batllo (It’s the image at the top of the post) I’m telling you there’s nothing like in the world.  It’s really that awe inspiring.  As are Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Park Güell and his many other creations.  (If you don’t know Gaudi or Barcelona enjoy clicking all those links. Really, it’s worth the 10 minute diversion).  Predictably over time I started more noticing the tapas restaurants below these buildings of splendor as I craved a morning fix of coffee and food to stave off my hangover.  Otto Zutz never let out early in Barcelona.  So Gaudi became commonplace.

And this is how I lived the first 32 years of my life until I met my wife.  And thus the reason for today’s blog.  It’s my eighth wedding anniversary today (don’t worry, she’s as the spa having a massage while I’m typing this!).  I was married July 20, 2002 when I was 34 years old.  I had the privilege of experiencing so many things in life by that point that by 34 I truly knew what I wanted.  And it was Tania.  For life.

I knew I was in love when we first took the Eurostar together to Paris for a long weekend.  We stayed in the Hotel Vernet in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe.  It was a majestic hotel in the city of lights and we strolled for hours and hours sucking in every building facade, every cafe and every bistro.  We sipped Cafe Creme in the mornings and Bordeaux in the afternoons.  We talked for hours.  We sang show tunes as we strolled through the Jardin de Tuileries.  Cheesy, I know.  But it was a shared common experience from childhood and to this day we still do it.  What can I say, I’m Jewish – show tunes are in my blood!

But long before I asked Tania to marry me I knew what I wanted out of marriage.  I came from a generation of people whose parents had big families and started at young ages (my mom was 23 when she had my older brother and had 4 kids by 30).  And many parents in that generation became de facto families rather than husbands and wives.  So I guess it was no big surprise that when the kids flew the coop many parents found themselves alone with partners that they no longer saw as their romantic “better halves”  and got divorced.  My parents included.  I’m sure they’d tell their story differently but this is my version.  And that of many of my friends and their now divorced parents.

I think that many of the people from my parents generation eventually took their marriages for granted.  I swore never to.  I wanted something different in life.

I only asked my wife for one big concession before we were married.  I wanted her to agree that we would be friends and lovers as well as parents and a family.  I asked her to commit to doing one night every week as “date night” away from the kids.  She agreed and we’ve stuck with it since Jacob was 12 weeks old.  7 years later we go out almost every week as a couple – sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.

It’s not for everybody.  Some of my closest friends refused to go out without their kids when they were young.  They wanted to be families 24/7.  One even later admitted to me that they felt kind of sorry for us that we didn’t see our family this way.  He admitted this to me in a bar after his wife left him by announcing that “she didn’t love him anymore.”  She didn’t even make a real effort at reconciliation.  He (and I) were devastated.  They have two lovely kids.  I don’t think that the lack of date nights was the cause but I do think that there was a certain amount of taking each other and their marriage for granted.

I don’t take my wife for granted at all.  Whenever I come home from a day of 8 meetings plus an evening speaking event I always instantly feel serene and I always thank her for that.  I am fortunate to come home to my understanding wife who knows what it is that modern workers go through.  And I know that I’m not the easiest person in the world: I have strong opinions, I’m self righteous, I’m stubborn and I’m less organized at home than I could be.  I’m grateful that I have a true friend & partner who loves me for who I am rather than for my potential.  And I’m grateful to have a wife who doesn’t bust my chops when I start writing blog posts as 10.30pm in the evening as I so often do.  She knows writing makes me happy and she is unbelievably supportive (except when I come to bed at 2:30am ;-))

And that’s why 8 years into this marriage and 10 years since dating I can say that I’m as happy with my wife as when we met.  I now have a family with two kids, whom I adore.  But our life is a strain like for any family.  They don’t want to go to bed and night, they refuse to eat vegetables, they have everything in life and are not as grateful as you might expect.  So life becomes a routine.  But not one that I take for granted.

Sleeping faces are my modern day ocean views and I look EVERY night.  I’m conscious that “the days are long but the years are short.”

I love you, Tania.  And I don’t take our happiness or our relationship for granted.

[and to readers I promise not to make this an annual post or to be this mushy on a regular basis.  Please just think about what you have in life for which you are grateful and find ways to make sure you don’t take it / them for granted]

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    Happy anniversary to you both :)

  • Steven Dietz

    Mark: I think you and I work well as partners at GRP because we share common values. Hillarie and I celebrate our 18th anniversary next week and have made a similar effort to make time for just the two of us. It's a good thing!

    See you next week.

  • http://twitter.com/StaceyKann Stacey Kannenberg

    Awe…Happy Anniversary and thank you so much for sharing!! We just celebrated our 17th and agree that the sleeping faces of our two girls are a priceless journey, definitely not to be taken for granted!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, quality time certainly matters.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Alexander. I think I was trying to be funny and a bit ironic with “dark side” because when I was on the “other side” I certainly saw it this way!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I'm always sentimental – to a fault.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. And congrats on 21 to you.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. Yes, Park Guell is magical as is nearly all of Barcelona. I almost moved there permanently but hada change of heart and opted for staying in London.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. I'm not dependent too much on what VC's think about me ;-) Hopefully there are enough human ones. re: “I love you for you and not your potential” …. can't change the quote because it's my wife's! But she meant the same thing – that she didn't want to marry who she wanted me to be. Appreciate your kind words.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Alex. Kids & families first – for sure.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Happy anniversary, JT. Wow, the 1st! Enjoy.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Love the D Souza quote. It's exactly how I see life.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Tereza. Nice to see you still make public appearances after starring on Fred's blog for a week ;-) Hope you're well. Tania's right next to me – she says “hello.”

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Quite similar. As it happens I only live 2 miles from the beach now. Not close enough for the crashing sounds but close enough to go often. Magical.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, David.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. Let's hope I never need your services! But I do know some who would benefit so nice to know you're out there.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Nicky. You're right – not small things. Just the most obvious things people take for granted!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, my wife always says she has 3 boys – she considers me the 13 year old ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Modern medicine is a miracle, isn't it? I'm glad to hear Samuel is doing well.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Good luck in the times ahead, Will.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks. I saw the comment over there. I was 34 before I was married so you're right in the sweet spot to find yours!

  • Sam H

    Interestingly, it was only the other day that I tweeted something along the lines of “don't forget to look up”

    My inspiration for this was my walk back from our small office in fairly central London. I always used to get the tube and rush back, but with the hot weather decided to start walking the first stretch of my journey.

    I pass/see so many world famous landmarks on my way home. St Paul's, Tower Bridge, the wheel, the O2 arena, the square mile (or the City) and I of course cross the Thames. People come from all over the world to see these sites.

    I look around on my walk and see that everyone is just marching around, head down (in their blackberry or other such distracting device) – yet for me just looking up occasionally is so inspiring and also motivating. In its own unique little way.

    I'm now a danger to everyone on the street as I'm never looking where I'm going. But it's worth it. If I bump into you, say hi.

  • pmgandhi

    Interesting. Fred Wilson wrote a similar post not too long ago. Maybe the VC industry is shrinking and everyone is diversifying ;-)

    Seriously, I have loved your last 2 posts .I think its great to have a perspective of what's really important and how not to take things for granted. I have been married for 10 years and have a 4 year old son. No matter what shit I take at work, I can always come back to them and suddenly everything is fine with the world.

    Thanks for the post again.

  • Spenser

    Mark, I have been enjoying your blog since you first began writing it – as an entrepreneur it has been very helpful in understanding the VC and financing world. This post provided great insight into the wisdom and perspective that underly your more business focused posts. Far from being a mushy diversion, I believe it brings some perspective and insight to entrepreneurs on the importance of keeping things in perspective as we all know that things never quite go as planned and you need to make sure you are fully appreciating the things that are important in your life. thanks again – keep up the great work on the blog!

  • Thomfj

    awesome.

  • Jfinkle

    “Sleeping faces are my modern day ocean views and I look EVERY night”, is the best line in this post. When my kids were small and heard my key turn the lock to open the door after a long day, they would congregate at the top of stairs behind banister and shout in unison, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. ” And again ,”Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” Now I get “yo”, or “leave me alone, I'm doing my homework”. The years are short, enjoy those memories.

  • http://erica.biz ericabiz

    Hey Mark,

    No need to apologize. It's funny, as I read your blog I realize you and I have the same personality type. We are aggressive go-getters with big hearts that we only show in rare shining moments.

    And like you, sometimes I forget to look at the ocean. But I never want to forget to look at my partner, Richard, and tell him I love him! (I do this every day.)

    Your post also gives me hope that one day I may be able to have a kid or two. Right now I am very wrapped up in my businesses and don't want to have a kid. But perhaps someday. :)

    -Erica

  • http://terezan.tumblr.com/ Tereza

    Hahaha you goofball!

    Give her a big smooch for me!

  • http://terezan.tumblr.com/ Tereza

    That's not what she told me. She said 2-yr-old.

    ;-)

  • Blk911

    Wow. Straight from the heart…thank you!

  • http://yallaguy.com aarondelcohen

    Mark:

    I'm the CEO of AnyClip and been thinking of introducing myself, but this is the post that makes me most want to know you. I'd love to connect with you and tell you our story and get your take on the LA scene and how we are trying to integrate from New York.

    Have a great summer and I'll ping you in fall.

    Aaron

  • http://www.startupboyo.com/ RichardF

    Hey Mark congratulations… I just came back from being off the grid with the family, it's the best way to make sure you spend quality time them, being in Spain with shite data connections helps too

  • http://twitter.com/susanxzheng Susan Zheng

    This was a beautiful post. Your wife is lucky to have you as a spouse and I'm sure vice versa. =)

  • http://twitter.com/ravstr Ravi S

    wow…great perspective & a helluva reminder (by @msuster), thanks for the post Mark! also Congrats! – “Days are long but the years are short” http://bit.ly/cJELG1

  • Katrina

    Beautiful post. Always love the biz posts, but this one is truly unique, relatable, & even more important.

  • http://www.matthewburgess.com/ Matthew Burgess

    I'm catching up on your blog posts. You've been busy. Just wanted to say thanks for writing this piece.

    After a long, high-octane startup kind of day, I went home last night to my wonderful wife (of 2 years). She knew what kind of day (month) I've had, and there were candles and wine waiting. We had 10 minutes of meditation time together, then I read this and the previous post out loud. We both really enjoyed it, and it really helped make the moment. Thank you.

  • http://notesfromtheninjabunny.tumblr.com/ Emily Merkle Snook

    Well-said. Your message reminds me of how I try to live my life, as it seems you do: one day at a time, drinking in the smallest of details.

    Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
    Mohandas Gandhi

  • Kristin Hansen

    Hi Mark (and Tania), aww, shucks! Tears in my eyes! Missing you both very much. I feel very fortunate to have been an early — if somewhat clueless — witness to the creation of Team Suster. I forwarded this post to Eric, he sends his regards as well! Lots we can relate to in your blog … especially the part about not wanting to eat vegetables or go to bed. And then there's the kids… :)

  • http://notesfromtheninjabunny.tumblr.com/ Emily Merkle

    It's all you can do.