Photo by wu yi / Unsplash

I love to cook. While I now get most of my calories standing over the sink eating what's left on my kids' plates, there are few things more rewarding than spending a day making a big meal.

I enjoy spending hours finding the recipe, shopping, prepping, searing, sautéing, and finishing... not to mention the solemn responsibility of tasting everything along the way and starting into a nice bottle of wine in the middle of the day. Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet would (probably) agree that it's always 5:00 when you're cooking.

More than having All Clad cookware and a high-end stove, the key to cooking is a sharp knife. If you've ever watched an infomercial for one of those as-see-on-TV knives, a dull knife is the scourge of cooks everywhere. With a dull knife, not only is it harder to chop, slice, and dice, but you also risk hurting yourself. The duller the blade, the harder you have to push. The harder you push, the more you risk slipping. Even with a dull blade, slipping can lead to some nasty cuts.

The lesson every cook learns the easy or the hard way is to keep your blade sharp.

Until recently, I'd been living life more or less the same way since college ended. Marriage and kids have changed the day-to-day, but my mindset, priorities, and habits have been pretty static for 15 years.

A typical weekday has been sleeping six or seven hours, chugging coffee all morning, getting carryout for lunch, snagging whatever candy was around the office to get through the afternoon, then numbing the day's stress with a beer or glass of wine after work. Thanks to hitting the genetic lottery, I stayed in shape, but workouts were irregular.

In a desk job, energy levels don't make a big difference. If you're tired, go to the break room (or your kitchen) and get another cup of coffee. If you had the extra beer at happy hour, schedule an easy morning and grab an Egg McMuffin on the way in.

But since staying home with kids, I've learned the hard way that maintaining energy levels is CRUCIAL. This may be part of becoming a real adult, but since I've had to pay attention to energy, I've noticed that old habits don't work anymore.

Skipping workouts leads to worse sleep, which means I can't keep up with the boys all day. Sugar makes me irritable. If I eat right for a few days and then cheat with a carb-heavy meal, I can't stop sweating. Alcohol saps my energy and patience, and hurts my sleep.

And I wonder why I couldn't wake up early for a workout and was spent by the weekend. While I'm nowhere near perfect, cleaning up these behaviors for the first time in 15 years has made all the difference in my energy levels and how I feel overall.

And it made me think about not only behaviors for health and fitness, but other areas of life. Who do I spend my time with? Who gets my best energy? What do I spend my time doing? Do I consume quality content or digital junk food? What important-but-not-urgent things am I neglecting? What can I do today that I'll be glad I did 10, 20, and 50 years from now?

I wish I saved the source, but I recently read someone talking about things that sharpen and dull their blade – they are working to prioritize things that sharpen their blade while eliminating things that dull it. It perfectly framed how I've been feeling over the past few months.

Like a dull kitchen knife, a dull blade in life makes it harder to accomplish the daily essentials AND may actively hurt you in the progress you want to make.

I feel like I've removed the sand from my gears. I'm now free to change life's priorities and get on my path rather than the well-worn path I've been on for 15 years.

I can make the right career moves for me rather than those that are typical for someone with my resume. I can practice habits and behaviors that leave me energized rather than drained. I can put away the gamified activity reminders on the Apple Watch and just go for a run. I can focus on nutrient-dense content rather than follow what Elon said today. I can be present with my kids and ignore group texts and email dings. I can better manage my most important asset – my attention.

And most importantly, I can focus energy on nurturing relationships that make me better and de-prioritize those that have run their course. Feeling the freedom to embrace this next chapter has felt as significant a life change as leaving home for college, getting married, and having kids.

And it's worth mentioning today and every day that no one sharpens my blade or deserves my best energy more than my wife. Happy Mother's Day, Jess!