Awakening from our slumber because of a shock

Sometimes it takes a shock to bring us to our senses. Catastrophic news can jar us from our slumber and cause us to reconsider how we are leading our lives. Consider Tim, for instance. Imagine his shock when told by his doctor he had a terminal illness (cancer) and should prepare for death. His initial shock was followed by anger. Interestingly, he changed that anger into a fierce determination to prove the doctors were wrong. Like Marcel Proust (1871 ~ 1922), Tim believed “For each illness that doctors cure with medicine, they provoke ten in healthy people by inoculating them with the virus that is a thousand times more powerful than any microbe: the idea that one is ill.” Tim also took to heart the advice that appears in a Mother Goose rhyme, “For every ailment under the sun, There is a remedy, or there is none, If there be one, try to find it; If there be none, never mind it.”

Tim refused to buy into the idea that he was ill. He ignored all dire warnings to prepare for death and just went on living. And that was more than seven years ago! Not only did Tim get a reprieve from death, but he also got an opportunity to reflect on what is most important in life for him. There is nothing like a death sentence to help us set our priorities.

If you discovered you had a terminal illness, would you do anything differently? Most of us would. Now, here’s the point: you DO have a terminal illness. All of us do. It is called LIFE. So, what are we waiting for? The time to do things differently, set our priorities, and strive toward our goals is now. We can no longer wait. We cannot afford to treat life like a rainstorm, whiling away the time as we wait for it to stop. When will we start to spend time on what we believe is most important in our lives? The choice we have to make is a simple, but urgent one. For as Time Management Expert Alan Lakein says, “Time = Life, Therefore, waste your time and waste your life, or master your time and master your life.” To reinforce this message, I’m including a list of reasons to act on our priorities now.

1. Because of the brevity of life, there is no time to delay. Yang Chu (Yang Zhu, 440 ~ 360 BC?) elegantly reminds us how brief life is, “One hundred years is the limit of a long life. Not one in a thousand ever attains to it. Yet if they do, still unconscious infancy and old age take up about half this time. The time he passes unconsciously while asleep at night, and that which is wasted though awake during the day, also amounts to another half of the rest. Again pain and sickness, sorrow and fear, fill up about a half, so that he really gets only ten years or so for his enjoyment. And even then there is not one hour free from some anxiety.” Here’s how Austin Dobson (1840 ~ 1921) expresses his view on the subject, “Time goes, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays, we go.”

2. The sooner we act, the sooner we can learn from our experience, make corrections, and reap the rewards. Remember, things generally take longer to do than we imagine, and we may not get it right the first time. We cannot choose the day and time we will be successful, but we can choose to begin now, thereby hastening our eventual success.

3. Although everything takes longer to do than imagined, they are also easier to do than imagined. But this advantage disappears if we keep postponing things. For as we delay, the number of tasks keeps rising, reducing the time we have to spend on our projects. As we try to cram many tasks into the little time we have, the quality of our effort decreases and the likelihood of making a mistake rises.

4. The need to act now should be a foregone conclusion, for the only time we have the power to act is at this very moment. The past and present cannot help us, only this moment can.

5. The consequences of our positive actions boost our value, confidence, knowledge, and power. What better time to enjoy these benefits than now?

6. Enjoy life instead of watching others do so. Become a participant, not a spectator. Rather than watching what happens to you, make what you want to happen, happen. If we have time to complain about how bad things are, we have time to do something about it. Keep in mind what Andy Warhol (1928? ~ 1987) said, “They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

7. Self-discovery. Surprise yourself by becoming the person you never dreamed possible. For as Golo Mann (1909 ~ 1994, the third son of Thomas Mann) said, “Man is always more than he can know of himself; consequently, his accomplishments, time and again, will come as a surprise to him.”

8. Do you have any regrets about time you have wasted? If so, use those regrets as a catalyst to take advantage of your remaining time to reach your goals. By sticking to your priorities, you will protect yourself from future regrets over what might have been.

9. Awaken to opportunity, for opportunities come to those that act. And once it appears, we need to act quickly because it may never return. The news of the death of a loved one, for example, may arrive before that phone call we were planning to make to them. Opportunities don’t linger. They are like worms that are gobbled up by early birds.

10. If we keep ourselves busy, there will be no time to complain or fall under the negative influences of others. Many a person avoided disaster by keeping busy.

11. Create more time! If we always tackle our tasks as soon as they appear, we act efficiently and wind up with more time to spend as we please. I look at it this way, procrastination is a life extinction plan while a constant stream of action is a life extension plan.

12. Experience peace of mind. We may not be able to do everything we would like to each day, but if we at least finish what is most important, we will be able to sleep soundly.

When are we going to act? Today! Why are we going to act today? Kalidasa, the 5th century AD, Indian Sanskrit poet explains, “Look to this day for it is life. In its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence, the bliss of growth, the splendor of action, the glory of power. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today, well lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore to this day.”