In July 2016, I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. Luckily, it was caught early. One surgery and a few lymph nodes lighter, I am doing well. I did get my college ring resized (larger) because my body doesn’t evacuate fluids in my right arm as well. It is a small price to pay for the powerful, life-changing impact I experienced mentally.
Many people are on an express train to the proverbial end of the line. They are in a constant, non-stop rush to the next thing; whatever it may be. It might be a promotion, a new job, children, or whatever. People are so preoccupied with the future that now goes unappreciated. Or worse, the value of the present is not maximized. Right now (this moment) is ours for the taking. Sadly, too many people are more concerned about tomorrow and do not appreciate the wonder of now and the almost infinite number of choices we have for this moment. We must keep the speeding train moving, no matter what!
My youngest son, started high school football practice this past Monday. I am a huge fan of the sport and played myself many years ago. I spent almost two hours watching the team do drills from my car in the parking lot. Some might say, what’s the big deal? Here is a little secret. I would have been too busy to invest that time before cancer. Cancer changed my priorities in life.
“If you are owned by the things you own, you will lack yourself.” ― Mahendar Singh Jakhar
I have committed to stop giving a crap about too many things at one time. I am not saying this is easy. I am predisposed to worry so giving a crap is definitely in my “wheelhouse” as they say. I have learned we only have a certain amount of bandwidth for what matters in life. It is easy to dilute our present with too many things that just don’t matter in the long-run. I firmly believe that when our trains reach the final destination, many people will regret giving a crap about things that really didn’t matter.
Following is a little trick I learned from Tim Ferriss (4-Hour Work Week). Start each day thinking about two other people being happy in life. I do this in the car on the way to work. I know this sounds crazy but stay with me. Take sixty seconds per person, imagining them happy. You will be blown away about how you feel the rest of the day. You will actually feel happier. This simple form of meditation (prayer for many) performs mental jujitsu on our own minds. Happiness (as it turns out) is a derivative of how we see and imagine others. When we focus on ourselves; self-judgment, anxiety, and worry take over. The old saying, “get out of your own head”, really works.
“My voice is never much louder than a ripple, but even small voices sound loud when you talk about things that matter.” ― Natalie Lloyd
In his book, Things That Matter, the late Charles Krauthammer, espouses some powerful ideas that matter. The wonder of space, the innocence of dogs, manners, habits, curiosities are things he said matter. What would you add to the list? The love we feel for a child, the power of diverse thoughts, and the opportunity to learn, might make many people’s lists. Now think about things that would not make your list. The car you drive, size of your television, or your child’s class ranking in high school ten years after graduation. At one point in your life, these things seemed to matter; however, in retrospect, they simply do not.
It is easy to obsess about our future. I guess it is considered normal. However, it can be rationalized to seem ridiculous. In statistics, we learn the cone of uncertainty. Imagine a horizontal cone with you at the narrow end. The farther you go into the future, the less certain things become. This means you are likely worried about things that will never happen, or worse, never matter.
Your high school senior does not get accepted to her first choice for college. Your mind can invoke all sorts of negativity for her future. You can obsess over the disappointment, or worse blame yourself as a parent for not better preparing her for this moment. In ten years, it will not matter. You lost your job during the pandemic. Unless you give up, life will give you a new set of choices that are often better than the reality of the past. You can seize new opportunities, new directions, or a new career. You have been liberated from the yoke of the past by the choices of the present.
Here is an exercise for you. Write down ten things that “really” matter to you. What are you doing for those ten things today? What is one thing you can do for those ten things today? We have a family member who is experiencing mid-stage dementia. We must remember that things are the best they are going to be for her today. Every day going forward will be a decline in her cognitive reality. Today really really matters. If you discovered you are declining cognitively, what should you do today?
You only have so many "give a craps" at one time. Don’t waste them on things that don’t matter. You can love people without carrying their burden. You can be happy with fewer things. Have a purpose that transcends popular trends in society. Let's appreciate the little things that always seem to matter.
“When you care about things, it ends up wearing you out.” ― Sakisaka Io
Are you “‘worn out” from caring about things that have no long-term significance? Will those things matter in five years? Are you exhausted from stress? Try something completely new. Get a new hobby. Quit your job. Change zip codes. Take a yoga class. Do something awkward that is completely out of your comfort zone. Joyce Rachelle says, “It is only awkward if it matters”.
Use the magic of one step at a time. If something matters, take one action today. This action allows you to minimize stress and worry. The anxiety of the future can be mitigated by one step today. If going back to school matters to you, download the application today. If starting a new business matters, pick your domain name today. If family matters to you, make a phone call today. If playing golf matters to you, leave early and play today. One step today should be repeated every day. One step each day then put it away. I do not sit in judgment of what matters to you. It is your choice. If you can do one step for each of the ten things that matter today, you can put them away mentally and repeat tomorrow. The most important distance (in life) is between zero and one step. I purchased a boat after ten years of hesitancy and vacillating over the time I would have (or make) to use it. I discovered that my time on the boat with family and friends matters. I don’t give a crap about many other things when I am on it! By the way – she (the boat) is called The Bounty – karma?