Birthdays are funny things. You know intellectually that you are only one day older than you were the day before. But the flipping of the year – in my case from 62 to 63 – has effects that have nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with your emotions.
In approaching this year’s birthday, I’ve been focused on the fact that life is short. I’ve written in the past about the need to savor every moment. However, when you truly recognize that life is short, you think about how that knowledge will change the way you live.
You begin to think about the things that matter, and the things that get in the way of the things that matter. I can only speak from the perspective of someone still in the workplace, but it is easy to find all-too-many instances from the working world that get in the way of your focus on what matters: useless meetings without agenda or purpose, process designed without thought, colleagues looking to you to do their work. I try and push back against these calls on my time whenever I see them. Technology can also be a time suck, both in and out of work. David Sax, writing in the Revenge of Analog, quotes a time management expert who says, “You can waste time with all kinds of stuff, but the digital world provides a lot of opportunity to waste a lot of time.” Getting sucked into the distractions of the never-ending clown show currently taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue strikes me as a waste of time. Thank God that Robert Mueller seems able to focus on the things that matter.
Paul Graham, in an essay on the topic, calls the stuff that life is too short for bullshit, which he describes as the “junk food of experience.” Amen.
I have found that the things that matter are often focused on — and around — people. I’m something of an introvert, so I sometimes have to push myself to reach out to others. Fortunately, I have (almost) never regretted the time I find to focus on others: family, friends, colleagues, people much younger than me, those in need, the exceptionally talented, the wise elders, the total stranger. It may not seem substantial, but breakfast with a friend can very much matter.
Being intentional in seeking out the things that matter is a good way to avoid the junk food of experience. That also helps in pushing you to do more of what matters right now. As the new year began, I started a list of “50 things to do in 2018.” Some were major, others were simple, but they all mattered to me and I wanted to do them before too much time passed. Reaching right now for the things that matter is another key to living with the knowledge that life is short.
Graham ends his essay with the following:
“Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.”
That sounds about right. I hope your birthday, whenever it happens this year, gives you a renewed chance to do the things that matter.
More to come…