What’s Really Important

Is it really important to be busy?

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.

For example:

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 don’t.

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.

Time passed.

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?”

No response.

“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.

Your Turn

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!

19 thoughts on “What’s Really Important”

  1. Beautiful and profound (as always!!)

    18 years ago I got “the flu that never went away”. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome merged with Fibromyalgia. As the years went on, I developed other painful, crippling conditions. I had to redefine what was important–because my choices of what I did (or didn’t do) would impact me for days or even weeks.

    It’s been humbling. I’m not the mom I wanted to be–but my children are loved, happy and thriving (we just took our baby to college this weekend).

    I often cringe when asked “what I do all day” since it is quite the opposite of busy and what people see as “important”. Very few understand what life is like for a person with chronic pain/illness. But I do think the silver lining is that it has made me choose a better path than being “busy” all the time.

    Have a fantastic vacation 🙂

    • Crafty, thank you so much for sharing that with us. You are such an inspiration, not only to me, but also to the people who have read your comment. Your honesty, realness, and courage are uncommon and I’m honored that our paths have found a way to cross here at TPS. Believe me, you are being the best mom, friend, and person that you can be, and that’s what is really important.

  2. I love your subject here. It’s so important to spend that quality time with your friends and family. I read a quote that said “Good moms have sticky floors, messy kitchens and happy kids.” I have no idea where it came from, but it’s so true. Who cares if the house is messy? One time, when my son was maybe 5 or 6, he wanted my husband to go outside and throw the football with him. The problem was that it was about 20 degrees outside and my husband wanted to watch TV and didn’t want to go outside. My son was disappointed of course, so I said to my husband “Do what you want, but TV will be there later. He is always going to remember that his dad played football with him in the freezing cold.” He rolled his eyes at me, but he went out. 🙂 Now that he is 15, it is harder to get time with him so those memories are even more precious!! Here is a good song that goes well with this post.


    Have a wonderful week Shola!

    • Damn Spring, you just had to go and drop Cat’s In The Cradle on me, huh? What an epic song, and it’s hard not to get a little emotional after hearing it. What you told your husband is brilliant and so true. Whatever is on TV can wait, but your son will ALWAYS remember that his Dad loved him enough to throw the football around in 20 degree weather. Those memories can never be replaced, and that’s why they should be valued more than anything. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I have been fortunate enough to have 2 really clear wake up calls. 5 years ago I lost a partner who was killed in a hit and run. He left behind 2 children from a previous relationship, ages 4 and 10, and me, who loved him dearly. I think about and miss him every freaking day.
    Then 2 and a half years ago I had a very serious accident. I fell down 15 stairs and shattered my right foot. I spent a month in hospital, 6 months in a wheel chair and 10 months learning to walk again. I have 10 screws and 2 plates in my foot. I am a single parent, to 2 children, ages 9 and 15. My children had to go and live with my family for 10 months and 6 months, respectively. That, alone, nearly put me in the grave!!!
    These life changing events forced me to see what’s important and what really matters. I see them as blessings in disguise now.
    Great work Shola!!! As Always. Xx

    • WOW. Joanne, that is absolutely horrific and having to receive not one, but two life-altering “wake-up calls” in a lifetime is almost too much for any one person to bear. You said that it nearly put you in the grave, but somehow, someway, you tapped into an inner strength to keep fighting when you were in your hospital bed after your accident. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I am in awe of that inner strength. They say that we never know how strong we are until being strong is our only option. It has actually taken me close to 10 minutes to write this response because I keep re-reading your comment. The comments to this particular post have been very moving to me, and I’m just very thankful that I’ve been given the gift of connecting with such exceptional people here at The Positivity Solution. Thanks Joanne, you are awesome 🙂

  4. I am definitely a busy person, but that word makes me cringe! If I say I am busy, I am NOT trying to sound self-important or dismissive. And I don’t like being this busy at all. To go non-stop, all day and then have to cram in family time or laundry because of all my professional ‘busy’ makes me resentful. I am at a crucial place in my career where people are looking at me as promotion-worthy. I have to admit, though, that I day dream about being back to the low man on the totem pole who simply does her job and goes home. I have not touched knitting needles in months and I feel empty from it.

    What is really important? Gosh, Shola, you ask such good questions. I think it is time for me to take a long, hard look at that question and the resulting answers. I have a pretty strong feeling that the ‘busy’ that occupies so much of my time might not be the right answer.

    • Kathy, I soooooo feel you on your comment! As a parent, it is so tough when that moment in your career comes where you’re being considered for a promotion. Because of course, in order to get that promotion, you’re probably going to have to put in more work than you ever have before, which will inevitably bleed into the time/energy that you have for life outside of work. Unfortunately for people like you, being the “low man on the totem pole” isn’t what you were put here to do, my friend. You have some big things happening in your career right now, and those things are important because you are spreading your positivity all over the state, and who knows, maybe the country is next? I know that the “what’s really important?” question is a tough one. But please know that you are making an incredible difference in the lives of many young people, and trust me Kathy, that is definitely important 🙂

  5. Damn this was powerful. Those nine words hit me so hard.

    It’s so easy to lose perspective on everything. We focus on our business and blogging, and then we realize we’ve neglected the people around us. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

    I had a pretty strong wake-up call last week. I was perusing Facebook for a little bit and I saw someone write “Can’t believe he’s gone..we will miss you.” I immediately searched around and found out that a kid from my high school had just died of cancer. I didn’t know him personally, but I saw him all the time. He was fighting it in high school and I thought he had beat it. In fact, I saw him bagging groceries at the local grocery store about a year ago. But evidently, it came back and he couldn’t beat it. He died at 17 years old.

    It was tough man. It put a lot of things in perspective. Our relationships trump everything. Beautiful advice Shola.

    • Kevin, my man–it’s always great to see you here! You’re very right about how neglecting the people in our lives can be a very tough pill to swallow. Life is so fleeting, and as much as we’d all like to say that our friends, loved ones, and even we will be here tomorrow, we can’t say it. Cancer got the guy from your high school at 17 years old, for crying out loud. Last summer, one of my close buddies from high school had a persistent stomachache, only to find out that it was esophageal cancer. He was dead a few months later. It’s shit like this that reminds me why we absolutely MUST live our best lives now, balls to the wall, as if our lives depends on it, because we don’t know if we’ll be here tomorrow. On a good note though Kev, you already know this stuff–it shows in your actions, your words, and on your blog too. Keep crushing it bro, the world is watching.

  6. It was my father. I was about 11 years old when my mother shook me awake, and said very calmly “dads gone”.

    I knew he was sick, but I wasn’t aware how sick he was; as a kid, any adult that could walk, and talk was relatively healthy in my head. I spent my teenage years feeling guilty, and regretful; I wished I would have spent more time with him, and that drove me into a harsh depression.

    Eventually I realized that he would never want to mourn his death for this long; that he’d want me to be happy.

    And while I’ve taken steps toward happiness, and am quite content with my current circumstances, I am still missing the things I value the most, and it gets to me sometimes.

    Sometimes when people say they are busy, they’re trying to hide the fact that they are being starved. They are lacking passion, or love, or pride, and so to try and remain positive, or competent they say busy.

    Because busy means they’re important.

    Busy means they’re wanted.

    It means they are useful, in some way.

  7. Hi All,

    I came to know about this website today. Its really worth visiting it.

    Thanks, feels good


  8. I’ve never heard the fisherman story & I love it! Makes some of my ‘busy-ness’ seem so foolish. I’m gonna think a lot about this….

  9. Wow! I had the same thing happened with a friend who passed away. He was young and talented. We had fallen out of touch because I was “busy”. I too left a goofy message on Facebook for him. No reply. I too found out from a friend he had just passed away of cancer. What an eye-opener! I so wish I had been there at the end of his life to tell him so many things I felt for him.

  10. I so much agree with this Shola. Nothing is really more important than the people in your life, and who knows this better than a careerwoman like me who at her 40’s struggling to connect a cord with her family kids & husband in order to keep her career cord intact. Above and earlier articles are so inspiring and worth reading regularly. I liked the tag here which says universe has weird ways of making us realise the importance of things we are blessed with. So go with your heart and soul than your head, as even for the feotus the heart beats starts first. So that is your first connection with the universe and one should always listen to that over the mind.

  11. Excellent. I totally agree with you. However, it’s strange that even though many of us want to spend quality time with the people who matter to us and even get to know new people, we aren’t able to do so. I’m a single mom who has a full time job with no help at home. I’ve given up on climbing the career to ensure that I don’t neglect my son. I do say “no” at my job to the extent that it’s antagonised my bosses – rather put my job at risk. That’s added stress. It’s not helpful since the pressure to hold on to your job in this world is so high that no matter what you truly wish deep inside, you don’t get it unless you decide to make a huge financial sacrifice to spend a few hours of quality time with your loved ones. Unfortunately, its a vicious circle – either you get isolated if you don’t have enough money or you get caught up with the demands of todays’ work culture. How many companies truly care about a work-life balance? Even someone earning very little has to slog till the end of the day to buy his bread. Add to it the inflation….and believe me it’s not funny when you reach home exhausted from work – you are basically physically present but mentally almost knocked off! Not everybody can live like a fisherman or even a simple villager….in a perfect world, it would be possible….life has become highly competitive even when it comes to just earning your basic necessities….just my few cents ☺

  12. I so appreciate your sentiments and the fact that you openly spoke about the busy-ness of our lives. As an “at-home” mom and homeschooler of our kids I am shocked by the busy-ness of parents. It has become some kind of badge to be able to tick off five to nine different things in which you have your kids involved outside of their education. It seems that “experiences” (music lessons, soccer, ballet, learning Greek, robotics camp, space camp, etc) are more important to most parents than the actual experience of life. The most important part of life is relationships. However, while the kids are being shuttled around all day long 6-7 days a week, they are not learning how to be a friend, how to empathize with another, how to take time to build a relationship and make real connections with others. They are not learning the most important things in life. As parents we need to model what is real and important, not what society says looks good. Thank you for your article!


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Hi! I am Shola

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Over a decade ago, I was drowning in the despondency of yet another workday. My success as the top regional performer had been numbed by a culture of incessant workplace bullying. And, I’d recently made the situation worse by filing a formal complaint. In short, I was collateral damage in a company without the process or intention to address my experience.

Exhausted from the drama, with an unrecognizable version of myself at the wheel, I intentionally swerved off the interstate in an attempt to take my own life. But in that half-second, my reflexes responded, and I yanked the wheel away from disaster. As I clipped the guardrail on I 405, something changed...

I uncovered a power within myself

...a burning desire to reverse a trend that happens daily to sixty-five million people in this country alone. This catalyst has since become Go Together™ Movement - a transformational roadmap of mindset, behaviors, and tools that transform workplace cultures and drive results.

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