Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy. The question is: Busy doing what?” – Jim Rohn
Isn’t it funny that when many people are asked the simple question, “hey, how are you doing?” that they often answer in the same predictable manner:
“Man, I’m SO busy.”
“Ugh, I’m busy as hell.”
“I’ve never been so busy in my life.”
It’s almost as if that word carries with it some invisible street cred. I personally know of quite a few people who proudly rock “busy” as a shiny badge of honor.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing impressive about being “busy.”
We all know of at least one “busy” person in our lives who is always running around doing something, but in reality, he/she isn’t accomplishing a damn thing.
That’s because proudly saying that we’re “busy” all the time doesn’t mean that we’re actually doing anything important.
So, let’s start here with that critical word.
What is important, anyway?
Let’s be real, there is not one person reading these words who doesn’t have stuff to do–and a lot of it is very important.
It’s important to go to work in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on our plates.
It’s important to finish that proposal before the boss gets back into town next Monday.
It’s important to clean the house before our in-laws arrive this weekend.
I won’t argue that those things are important, but I will argue that there are other things in our lives that are equally as important, if not, much more so.
And sadly, sometimes we use “busy” as an excuse to put off those things.
Our kids tug on our shirt and excitedly ask us to play catch outside or play dress-up, but we’re too busy cleaning the house, cooking food, or writing blog posts (I’ll give you one guess who that last point was directed toward) to take the time to play with them.
Our significant other wants to have a meaningful conversation with us, but we’re too busy swiping through our iPhones or catching up on our favorite TV show to pay them our full attention.
Our parents haven’t heard from us in weeks, but we’re too busy with our daily lives to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Our friends have been trying to get us to go out for drinks for months, but we keep blowing them off because we’re too busy with all of the work that needs to be done at the office.
I’m going to challenge you in this post to deeply think about the following question:
Why is it more important to clean the house, write a blog post, or stay late at the office than it is to make genuine connections with the people in our lives who matter the most to us?
Tough question, isn’t it?
Or is it?
Either way, it may be time for all of us to re-evaluate what’s really important in our lives.
Lessons of the Dying
My dear friend Smita, who besides being a fabulous blogger, is also a physician. A few months ago, she wrote a blog post called 7 Lessons I Have Learned From The Dying, and it is a must read. In fact, it’s such an eye-opener that I won’t give away any of the lessons here–just do yourself a favor and read it.
One thing that I can say is that it’s amazing to me that people who are near the end of their lives have the uncanny ability to see the most important aspects of life so clearly.
Do you think that people who are near death are losing sleep and stressing out about cleaning up their houses, finishing up that project at work, or finding time to buy an outfit for next week’s party?
Surprising to no one, anyone who has spent time with someone who is close to death will tell you that the most important thing to them is to spend quality time with the people who matter the most to them.
I’ve never heard of a dying person who asked to have a print out of his Gantt Chart for his most recent work project by his bedside, or a dying person who needed to have her fancy sports car wheeled into the hospital room in her final moments.
In the end, it’s not about things. It’s about the people in our lives.
It will always be about the people in our lives.
Simply put, the quality of our lives will be determined by the depth of the connections that we make with these people.
So, why do we have to be near death to realize this?
We can learn from those who are near death, and from those would give anything to have a do-over by connecting deeply with the most important people in their lives before it was too late.
The Mexican Fisherman and the American Businessman
If you haven’t heard the story of the fisherman and the businessman, please read it closely and fully soak it in. The brilliance of this story will definitely challenge your idea about what’s truly important in our lives:
An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctors orders.
Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head.
A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of the fish.
“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.
“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
“But…what do you do with the rest of your time?” the American asked curiously.
The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you would run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will all this take?”
To which the American replied “15-20 years. 25 tops.”
“But what then, señor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”
Interesting, isn’t it?
We can either buy into the fisherman’s philosophy about life or the business man’s philosophy, but we can’t do both.
Which one is more important to you?
A Very Real Wake-Up Call
I’m 38 years old, and it’s easy as we get older to lose touch with the people who we were close to in our younger years.
There was a friend of mine in particular who I was really close to in high school and college. She was a fantastic person who had the exact same sense of humor that I had, she was incredibly sweet, and we even dated briefly.
But of course, as time went on, we lost touch. I moved to the west coast and she stayed on the east coast. After many years of completely losing touch, we found each other on Facebook and we were finally able to catch up on our new lives as happily married parents of beautiful children.
I remember telling her in a Facebook message that we needed to chat on the phone one of these days. She happily agreed and said that she would be looking forward to my call.
But of course, work, family life, writing blog posts, and the millions of other things fighting for attention in my brain were more important than catching up with an old high school friend.
After about a year or so of not reaching out to her on Facebook, I decided to post a message on her Facebook wall to wish her a happy birthday last October.
I remember posting something stupid in an attempt to make her laugh.
“Happy birthday, old lady! How does it feel to be another year closer to 40?”
“That’s weird,” I thought. “Maybe she was upset that I didn’t call her as promised? She always responds with something witty and clever.”
I decided to write another message on her wall.
“Hey, are you too cool to reply to an old friend? Hit me up when you get a chance–it has been way too long!”
Minutes later, I received a private message from someone who I didn’t know.
I’ll never forget that woman’s words–there were only 9 of them, but each word seared into my consciousness unlike any electronic message has in my life:
“She’s not replying to your message, because she’s dead.”
After recovering from the initial shock of that woman’s incredibly blunt message to me, I immediately researched the situation only to find out that she had cancer and that she died two months earlier.
Let me safely tell you that you no one deserves a wake-up call like that.
I’ll be haunted by those 9 words and my failure to reach out to her for the rest of my life.
What’s Really Important
Like I said earlier, we all have stuff going on in our lives that’s important.
We have to put food on the table, we have to work, we have to do what’s necessary to keep the lights on in our homes–believe me, I get it.
But we also need walk away from the laptop or the company-issued Blackberry and grab some crayons to playfully create doodle-filled masterpieces with our kids.
We need to turn off our cell phones, iPods, and televisions and deeply talk to our significant others with depth and meaning, instead of unconsciously mumbling, “umm yeah, so how was work today?”
We need to pick up the phone and call our Mom and Dad, even if it’s for no other reason than to say these two life-changing words.
We need to leave work at a decent hour to go to Happy Hour and share some belly laughs with our closest friends.
We need to simply take a break, climb into bed with our favorite comfort food, and dive into our favorite cheesy novel without feeling like there’s some other “busy work” that we should be doing.
This shit is important.
Don’t wait until you’re near death to make this realization.
Don’t wait until someone close to you dies unexpectedly to make this realization.
Don’t wait until your kid grows up without really knowing you, your significant other leaves you, your parents pass away, or your friends no longer return your calls to make this realization.
The universe has a funny way of helping us to realize what’s really important, and unfortunately, some of those methods can be less than pleasant.
Trust me on this.
There is a better way.
We can reject the glorification of “busy,” we can be the fisherman instead of the businessman, and most of all, we can connect deeply with the people who matter to us the most while we’re alive and able to do so.
There is nothing that’s more important than this.
Have you ever had a wake-up call that reminded you of what was really important in your life? What is really important to you? Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!