Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Filtering by Category: Reflections

Letter from the Future: A Marriage Tool

This was an exercise I learned from a great coach I had the luck to work with as part of a class during my MBA. Robyn and I have kept up with it every year or two since then. Here are the instructions. You could do it by yourself, but Robyn and I dedicate an hour or so and do the exercise together.

Letter from the Future: Instructions

  1. Get a few pieces of paper and a good pen.

  2. Find a comfortable place to sit, and try to eliminate distractions like TV, music, etc.

  3. Get a watch / timer

  4. Write the date at the top of the page that is five years in the future. So if today’s date is January 1, 2019, write the date as January 1, 2024.

    1. You don’t have to do 5 years exactly, but the point is to choose a date a few years into the future.

  5. Set a timer

    1. You’re going to go hard, so try for at least 15 or 20 minutes. Robyn and I find that we extend the time to 25-35 minutes most of the time we do this.

  6. Write a letter to yourself about the life you are living in 5 years

    1. Rule - don’t ever let your pen stop moving for the whole time. If you can’t think of what to say, just scribble until your brain kicks in with a new idea

    2. Rule - be very specific. If you’re at your desk drinking coffee talk about what kind of coffee. If you’re talking about a new job that you just got, talk about the name of the company and your specific duties. If you just came in from playing in the backyard with kids, be specific about what you were doing. The point of this exercise is to have a vivid image of what your life is like 5 years from now.

    3. Rule - Talk about whatever you want, but try to give a full picture of life. Not just family, not just work, not just leisure, etc.

    4. Rule - Write until the clock stops

  7. Talk about your vision with someone you care about. For me, it’s Robyn. If you’re not married you can still do the exercise. Be sure to share it with someone, if you feel comfortable, that really knows you and can ask you probing questions.

  8. Do something fun, you’ve earned it!

Temperature Check: A Marriage Tool

I look forward to Erik’s annual e-mail. One year, several years ago, he asked a question about relationships. I wrote him this letter. It’s a tool Robyn and I learned about from our wonderful friends Jeff and Laura. It’s something we’re religious about and it’s worked for us. We’ve missed our weekly temperature check less than 5 times in our whole relationship, I’d estimate.

Hope it’s helpful to you.

June 12, 2014

Robyn and I set aside time every week to talk about our relationship. We setup a structure, called temperature check, that we modified from some great friends of ours - they are married and have a kid. It's worked well for them. This check-in happens every week on's something we have committed to. You don't have to do it weekly, that's just the pace that works for us.

Anyway, we take turns sharing on each of the following topics, in this order. We also alternate who speaks first for each topic on a weekly basis:

1 - Appreciations: We talk about what we've been appreciating about the other recently. These could be small (e.g., I appreciate that you swept the floor) or large (e.g., I appreciate that you stayed up with me all night when my family's dog was sick). We always use "I messages"..."I appreciated it when you..."

2 - Issues: We talk about issues that we're having. It could be a self-issue (e.g., I'm having a hard time staying up so late), an issue about the other (e.g., I'm worried about how stressed you are at work), or mutual (e.g., I think we're not spending enough time with our families). Or it could be anything else. The key is, these issues can't be humongous. When we have bigger issues we say, I have this issue, let's set a time to talk about it. Temperature check is not designed for huge conversations, it's a check-in. Hopefully if you bring up small issues early, you have fewer big blow-ups.

3 - Requests for Change: We talk about small requests for the others. Keyword - small. (e.g., could you please not use metal utensils on teflon pans) That example is smaller than our average, but you get the idea.

4 - Other stuff: It's often easy to forget that your partner has his / her own stuff going on that affects them. We take the end of temperature check to catch up on all the news from other spheres of life outside our marriage. Work, family, ideas we have, societal issues we're thinking about, books we're reading, friend news...whatever. It's nice to know this stuff because it contextualizes where your partner is coming from and what external factors are affecting your relationship.

5 - Logistics: Finally, we discuss logistics for the week. Different meetings, social plans we have, grocery lists, whatever. It makes sure we have time to spend with each other and we both have the right expectations about the other's activity and stress levels. It's a chore, but it prevents us from squabbling about little stuff.

A note: Remember about all this, it's really important to create a safe environment to have this discussion. Listen actively, don't allow distractions, commit to it every week, and empathize with the other person. Temperature check is useless if it's not in a completely open and safe forum.

Hope this helps!

My Hopes for You Kids

When all you kids are grown up, there are many things I hope I don’t pass on to you.

I hope you don’t get my short height, or uncontrollably growing hair. I hope you don’t pick your nose or intermittently chew with your mouth open. I hope you don’t worry as much about what others think of you or be as beholden to pleasing others, as I am. I hope you don’t have as much youthful arrogance as I did. I always wanted to go on a road trip of the western national parks with your Dada, but we didn’t get to it in time before he passed away. I want to be around much longer, and I hope you don’t have to live with a regret like that.

I hope it doesn’t take you as long to realize how important family is in your life. Perhaps even more, I hope it takes you less time than it took me to open your heart to God.

I hope you don’t get my receding gums or my weak hips. I hope you don’t get my dreadful fear of being alone. I hope you don’t get gout, high cholesterol, or diabetes. I hope you don’t get my knack for verbose answers to simple questions. I hope you don’t get my outdoor allergies or my anxieties about failure. I hope you don’t get my temper or my weakness for fried potatoes.

Most of all, I hope you don’t get my tendency to obsesses over my imperfections, like I am doing now. I hope that if I try with my whole heart, that I can prevent you kids thinking that you’re not enough or not really that good at anything, like your pops does. I pray with my full heart and soul that you believe that what you’ve been given is enough, and that it is special.

Which leaves me in a predicament. Because I know that what you see me doing is what I will pass onto you. I can’t just hope not to pass these liabilities onto you, I have to change some of them. And the hardest change for me is self-worth: really believing that I have at least a few special gifts to pass onto you.

And so while I outline the things I hope I don’t pass to you, I must also try to tell you about at least a few parts of me that I do hope to share with you. Because I must learn to believe something of myself for you all to believe something of you.

I hope you get my curiosity and penchant for asking questions. I hope you get my openness to seeing the good in people who are rough around the edges. I hope you get my patience and love of a good bass drop. I hope you get your Dada’s honesty and your Dadi’s energy. I hope your mother and I can pass on at least a few lessons on how to build a strong, loving marriage. Perhaps most of all, I hope I can pass on the habits of reflection, spending time in nature, and reading.

My hopes are not enough, but perhaps they are a good start.

Thinking about my life backward from the very end I'm speeding toward

When I envision it in my head, I hope my final moments alive on this Earth are surrounded by my family. As many of them as possible, and I hope that means I don’t outlive my kids and maybe not my wife either. I hope that it’s peaceful and not too painful. I hope it’s at least a few decades from now, too. At the same time, I hope that moment isn’t one whose arrival I’ve cheated and delayed at great personal cost.

And amidst that scene, when my life is waning, I think about the last few minutes - the last few breaths, even - and how I want them to feel. The regrets that I hope I don’t have and what my life looks like from a vantage point at the very end.

This is a concept Robyn and I have talked about, in a general sense. And our conclusions are pretty simple.

At the end of our life, we don’t imagine wishing we would’ve spent more time working or wishing we had made more money. Or wishing we would’ve spent less time with our kids and our family. We won’t wish we would’ve drank more alcohol, or wish we had spent less time together. We won’t wish that we had been more popular or powerful, or conclude that we had wasted too much time praying. At the end of life, we won’t ever wish that we had put less effort toward being kind and loving toward other living things.

When my Papa went ahead, the part of me that wanted to be a king died with him. King of a company, king of my neighborhood, king of my peers, or even just king of my own backyard. For my whole life, I had wanted to be the king of something, but once he passed, I just didn’t care anymore.

Being the last person by my father’s side, in his final moments, changed everything. I stopped thinking of my life from beginning to the end, and I instead started thinking about it from the end - the very end - to the beginning. And when I did that, being a king didn’t matter much anymore.

And I feel such tension now with parts of American culture. I don’t care about being the big fish in the pond like I used to (and I used to). But I feel like the culture around me signals that competition, fame, talent, status, and wealth is the point. That I should care about those things.

I don’t want to be that person anymore because to be honest, that final moment doesn’t feel far away anymore. My father was older than 60, but he was a young man. And the final moment doesn’t just feel closer than it used to, it feels like it’s coming faster. Like I’m speeding toward it. Like we’re all speeding toward it, faster and faster.

And I don’t know what my conclusion is here. Maybe I don’t have one yet. I guess I hope writing and sharing this, reveals that I can’t be the only one feeling this tearing between the way I want to anchor my life, versus the way I see the brazen and competitive parts of American culture telling me to. Because at the end, the very very end, I want to leave this Earth without wondering whether I had missed the point, wishing I had changed something sooner.