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Urgency… Without the Crisis

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”  - Mahatma Gandhi


Steve JobsIn recent years, there have been books, blogs and videos encouraging us to seize the day and follow our hearts / dreams/ passions, by people whose lives were marked with impending death. I think we need to hit the pause button and take the advice to heart. Today. And repeatedly.

The Stanford commencement address by Steve Jobs is inspirational and based on more than 25 million YouTube views, people have felt compelled to tell their friends about it.  The message has taken on a whole new meaning since Jobs passed away.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”  - Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement Address, 2005.

I don’t want to learn that lesson first-hand.

Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon in August 2007, ten months before his death from pancreatic cancer. In the interim, he wrote a book, had a YouTube video of the lecture go viral, and he touched the lives of millions.  His message resonates in a variety of cultures around the world; his book, The Last Lecture, has been translated into forty-six languages.  Pausch’s talk is a public presentation of the advice he wanted to give to his children, ages six, four and two, on living life and achieving your dreams.  You can’t watch the video or read the book without developing an uncontrollable urge to hug your kids. Hard.

Eugene O’Kelly, the former CEO of KPMG, in his book, Chasing Daylight, describes how most of us interact with other people: although physically present, we’re usually preoccupied with replaying the past or dreaming about the future.  After receiving a doctor’s grim prognosis that he had late stage brain cancer and three months to live, O’Kelly resolved to spend his remaining days creating “perfect moments.”  Perfect moments require you to eliminate distractions, and focus your eyes, ears and heart on the person you’re with and the conversation you’re having RIGHT NOW.

If you haven’t read Chasing Daylight, do so.  Then you’ll probably react like I did and block out time on your calendar with your family members, try to stare into the depths of their souls when you speak to them… and scare the crap out of them in the process.  Do it anyway.  You’ll settle down eventually. To the extent anyone comes to visit you when you’re wheezing and drooling in the nursing home, it won’t be the clowns you work with now.  It will be family and your one or two closest friends – so long as you haven’t alienated them over the years being “too busy.”  Spend time with them now.

Unless you want to start stalking your kids, or be attached at the hip to your significant other, there’s only so much time you can spend with loved ones.  So how do you deal with the rest of your time, and all those other people out there?  It sounds a little Jimmy Valvano-like, but I think you make sure you show up for life, and treat every day as an opportunity to learn, love, laugh, and lift up someone else.

It’s not about busyness. It’s about connecting.

It’s not about giving money  - or even time. It’s about giving the best of you.

The Rent song “Seasons of Love” describes a year as 525,600 minutes.  Yes, I did the math.  It works.  How many of those minutes will be spent dwelling on yesterday, and a steady dose of shoulda, woulda, coulda?  Speaker and author Nigel Risner says, “the past is a place of reference, not a place of residency.”  Too many of us are stuck watching an old movie on continuous loop.  Others times, we’re so focused on a daydream that we miss the beauty of life and the potential perfect moments that await discovery – every day.

Focus on today.  Focus on now.  This is the day the Lord has made – rejoice and be glad in it.  525,600 minutes. Don’t waste them. Starting now.


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karl,

    Thank you for this very powerful reminder about the fragility and beauty of life. I know first hand what it’s like to face an uncertain diagnosis, to stare my mortality in the face. I’m one of the very lucky ones who made in on the other side of cancer. It really is true that sometimes our greatest obstacles become are greatest blessings because I received the gift of a second chance as well as the gift of perspective. I will paraphrase Joseph Campbell when I say I learned that ” our greatest treasures are found in the abyss” I hope I never lose sight of the preciousness of each day. As usual, Karl, your stories hit a chord. God bless you, my friend, for spreading the good word!

    March 6, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kathy, there is a depth, sincerity and warmth about you that I now understand just a little bit better. It is encouraging to hear that you’re on “this side” of the health issue. I’m glad that you recognize the treasures you’ve carried out of the abyss – and that you’re willing to share them through your writing and your friendship.

      March 6, 2012
  2. Well brought together, Karl. We hear this sentiment over and over, because we need to. It takes a surprisingly large push to impel us to pause and focus here and now on people we love.

    I especially like the bit about knowing you’re being weird, doing it anyway, and eventually settling down. Practical, understanding, yet still a nice kick in the butt. :-)

    March 11, 2012
    • Karl Sprague #

      Shelly, you can provide perspective that some of us can only try to interpret second-hand. The story you tell on your video at is inspiring, humbling, and makes people not only want to root for you – but to embrace life itself. It means a lot that you stopped by.

      March 11, 2012

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