People Over Things

I’m going to link this blog post from Vitaliy Katsenelson. The gist is ‘what would you do if you knew you had 6 months to live’. He shares some great insights – ones I hope to act on even today with my kids.

In the post he cites the story below, which is what I really want to share even if you don’t click over to Mr. Katsenelson’s blog. It’s the first-person story of Randy Pausch, a 46-year-old (same age as me) professor who has only six months to live – he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Here is an excerpt:

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy’s new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.” I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

I’ve been thinking recently how easy it is to be selfish and material, especially in America. I’m watching out for my own well-being, helping my kids through school and hopefully to college and off on the right foot in life, planning for my retirement, outlining travel trips I want. I contrast this with friends who are constantly reaching out to me and others, checking in, asking to make plans, willing to set aside their own needs, actively seeking ways to bring comfort to others. They embody the social support that makes us feel connected and loved.

Then there’s the video made by my daughter’s middle-school teachers, each self-isolating at home, and one of them edited a series of 30-second clips of each teacher recording themselves saying hello to their students. So evident how much these people love their kids! They exemplify prioritizing people over things.

So, too, do the brave health care workers who are out on the front lines taking care of sick patients, like my friend Brian who is a hospital physician in Philadelphia. People are more important even than personal safety.

Today’s daily blog post from Seth Godin challenges us to consider what our principles really are. “What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.” If my principles value people over things, what am I going to do today, even if it’s hard even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to live that?

Taking Action

I used to think, if I wanted to start something new, that I need a “big idea” to make it worthwhile and increase the chances that it will be successful. Most of us will not conceive a lottery-winning “big idea”. And even if we did, there’s really no increased chance of success just because of that. The idea still needs to be implemented and that could mean talking to people, getting funding, building skills, i.e. doing stuff.

It seems that taking action is the difference, even with small ideas. Everyone can come up with many small ideas. I may not be clear what the total future potential of the idea is, but I can take action on it now, see where it goes, and then evolve. Success is a process.

Will It Matter

Wintery weather this week and I fired up the wood stove in the family room. I remember when that stove first got installed many years ago, I think there was some issue with the product being back-ordered, and then maybe the installation crew wasn’t available or they were missing some parts, then I think there were delays with the inspection. The waiting was so frustrating, and I walked around feeling surly and snappish. Now I can’t even remember what the fuss was about! What a waste of energy that was.

Now when dealing with a frustrating situation I try to recall that perspective: “Will it matter a year from now if this happens today or tomorrow or next week?” If it won’t matter (and most of the time it doesn’t), then relax. Spend that valuable energy on things that matter.

I find the same is true with when dealing with a decisions: “Will this matter a year from now?” If the answer is no (which tends to be most of the time), make the best decision I can and move on. If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to invest more time and resources and then make my best decision.

Closed Eyes, Open Eyes

I close my eyes. I think about everything that’s most important to me: family, friends, home, career, music, etc. Then I imagine that it’s all taken away. How does that make me feel? I quickly realize that what I already have is so much more important than what I don’t have. I realize how fortunate, successful, and happy I already am. Then I open my eyes. My life might not be what I consider “perfect”, but it’s already pretty great.

What I Value Most

It’s been a long process to get clarity on these 5 aspects of being alive which I value most. I think I’ve been working toward this for my entire adult life, and it was finally during the 2019 holiday season that most of this finally fell out in my morning journaling. I suspect many people do this naturally and subconsciously, and I envy them. For me the conscious act of writing it out has been empowering. I find myself using these as filters to make decisions about what I want to do with this one wild and precious life. Activities I plan or events I attend, how to spend my free time and vacation time, career decisions, who I spend my time with – all of these are better informed through the lens of these filters.

What I Value Most (my definitions)

Community – Bringing people together. Usually working together on something.
Freedom – Uninhibited flow: personally, professionally, financially, emotionally, physically.
Adventure – Avoiding routine. Making each day feel longer because my brain is constantly stimulated in different ways. This is a way to slow down time; to extend life by staying awake and turned on.
Mindfulness – Self-awareness of who I am, what made me this way, what choices I am in control of, and how to let go of the things I can’t control.
Love – Heart glowing. Romance. Children, friends, family. Sacrificing my needs for someone else’s. Offering support for another’s hardships. Being tamed and taming another.

What if I organized my life in a way that everything I do filters up to at least one of these passions? What would THAT feel like?
Even back off from that a little – what if 90% of my life was spent doing things that align with these passions? Wouldn’t that be an incredible way to live?

That’s my next step of this journey. Getting to 90%. Some actions I’m taking in 2020:
– Resigned from the Transportation Advisory Board. This is meaningful work that is valuable to the community and is often very satisfying. But it doesn’t align with my definition of COMMUNITY, so I am leaving this post in February.
– I love riding my eBike to work. Yes it’s good for my health, and for the environment, and for my pocketbook. But the real motivator is FREEDOM and ADVENTURE.
– Networking into the local running group at the office and organizing a running relay team in 2020. Inviting friends and musicians to play music every Wednesday. This is how I can help build COMMUNITY.
– Reading, watching TED talks, attending seminars, and meditating are all part of my internal process toward MINDFULNESS.
– Regarding LOVE, well I’m checking in with my kids and with my girlfriend on this one. 🙂

I feel clear and energized and can’t wait to see where this goes in 2020.

As point of reference I’m recording these mental notes of tools that helped me get clear:
– ‘My Passions’ Cards
– Advice from a speaker I once heard: “Where do you spend your money? What do you make time for even when there is no time?”
– This blog post about reverse-engineering your life style (Know how you want to live, and then fit a career around that vision.)

It’s Temporary

I’ve heard about not being attached to outcomes. But how about this sensible statement I came across last week: It doesn’t make sense to get upset or frustrated or angry if the current situation doesn’t match what I expected, because it’s going to change anyway.

The delta between what is really happening and what I expected would happen, or what I hoped would happen, or what I believe could or should be happening, can be small or large. If the delta is small, then I’m happy or content – things are going the way I want. But if it’s large, I find myself imagining how much BETTER this could be if only things were going differently. I know, I know! This robs me of actually experiencing what is here and now, but it’s so hard to let go (that has been my experience).

But what if it’s all going to change anyway? Doesn’t matter if it’s going the way I wanted, or if it’s not. This circumstance is temporary and it’s going to shift. Just wait a little while and stuff will be different.

With that perspective I’m finding it easier to be content with what is. Doesn’t mean I don’t make decisions to move this direction or that, following a path that I think fuels my passions or serves my mission. But it does mean that right now, tonight, even though my kids are out with their friends and my plans fell through so I’m alone for the evening, I don’t need to feel frustrated or lonely. It’s just the circumstance right now. It’s temporary and it’s going to change.