July 2009

Good morning!

How do we keep our eye on what truly matters?

To say that we are busy is the understatement of the century. Life comes at us from all directions at all times. One modern writer claims that “life is fired at us point blank.” How true.  Processing and prioritizing is challenging. We sometimes receive even our most reliable information in a jumbled way; the reported news often fails to distinguish the highly important from the trivial scandal. Sorting out that which is essential is tough--and getting tougher.  Listening and paying attention takes real work when your mind is racing with the lists of important matters which must be tackled. We used to be more subtle in meetings, at least trying to hide our blackberrys to email colleagues.  Now, manners and decorum  have become even less important. 

We can’t change what comes at us-- only how we respond. Technology has become too ubiquitious to ignore; it can quickly fill our every moment and space.

I was recently in London for a PathNorth Experience that focused on Learning From History and Greatness. We took an incredible four day journey with 24 of our PathNorth friends.  We opened the experience with a dinner in the the Churchill War Rooms. In this tiny space, Churchill, his Cabinet Secretaries, and his military leaders, quite simply saved civilization.  With  50 invitees ranging from members of the House of Lords, to Churchill’s grandson,  Nicholas Soames and many other unique and accomplished friends, it was quite an evening.  The former Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Phil Lader, closed the evening with remarks that stuck with us for the rest of the experience.  Phil  observed that we all pride ourselves on juggling many balls.  Most of these balls are rubber,  if one drops, it doesn’t break, but simply bounces back.  He also noted, “Some of those balls we juggle, however, are crystal.  If we drop one of those, the consequences are dire.” The crystal balls are those things of vital importance to us:  family, health, faith and friends.  Identify your own personal list of crystal balls (for example, an important  or ruptured friendship or a treasured relationship with an important family member).

Despite the demands on our attentions, we must learn to prioritize and figure out what is truly important to us. What crystal balls must we keep from dropping? Making such decisions requires a bit of perspective and bravery.

I recall an illustration from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  Covey suggested that we think of our lives as a large glass vase.  If we fill that space with the unimportant first, there will be little room for the essentials.  He suggested that instead of putting sand (unimportant) in the vase first, that we first place the big rocks (the truly important) in first.  The smaller rocks, sand and water can then easily fill in the gaps. Our tendency, however, is to do the opposite.  There will always be room for these smaller, less important matters if we place them after we handle the big rocks of family, health, friends, etc.

It is never too late to start  focusing on our ‘big’ rocks or to take greater care with our crystal balls.

Let’s get over the guilt and truly change.  It’s time to be true to ourselves and to put what is most important to us first. When we do that, everything and everyone around us changes. We see life differently. Don’t wait until others take the first move, do it! I am reminded of Polonious’ word to his son Laertes in Hamlet:

“Above all to thine own self be true and it follows as night follows the day that thou cannot be false to any man.”

Simple to understand. Hard to execute. Do it!   doug


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