Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This is IT!!!

Years ago I heard the great line "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans." It was in John Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy". (He wrote it for his son, Sean, though I picture my son, Jack. You can listen in the background while you read.)

Everyone I know is "so busy", myself included. There is so much that we mean to do that never gets done. And now I have added "blog" to that self-inflicted treadmill.

After posting my weekend potpourri of plagiarism (links and quotes), I figured I had better come up with a zinger of a blog post for Monday. A brilliant one. Original. Game changing! But, instead, I did a whole bunch of other stuff. It was a great day (as usual). A busy one. Generally, a productive one. Still, there are several things I would have liked to have done that I didn't.

Conversely, there were wonderful things happen that I could never have planned. Serendipitous visits with old friends. Unexpected client calls returned with promising results. A missed exit resulting in 15 lost minutes that I turned into a found quarter hour of mindful silence.

Please don't misunderstand this idea - I am not preaching a completely laissez-faire approach to life. Go back to Do The Work to see that I am a big fan of action. Or to My Weekend at Camp to read Joe DeSena's "let's get this tire up the hill" story. When you set your mind to something, get it done.

But don't beat yourself up about every little thing that you didn't do today. It is over (literally, "today" is over as I type this at 12:09am "tomorrow"). Wake up and start again.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever heard was from Stephen Covey, who told the following story.

  • One day, as an expert on the subject of time management stood in front of a group of high-powered over achievers, he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
    When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is the jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he asked, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.
    Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time, the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
    "No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
    One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"        
     "No!" the speaker replied. "That is not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

So, what were my big rocks today? 6AM workout - check! Breakfast with my daughter - check! Return all my clients' calls - check! Three hours focused work on client files - check! Healthy lunch - check! Coach my son's elementary school wrestling team - check! Two hours business planning - check! Coach my daughter's wrestling club practice tonight - check!

My gravel? Coffee with a friend. Phone conversation with my mom. An hour of organizing my files for year-end taxes. Sat quietly and listened to Explosions in The Sky's incredible album "The Earth is Not a Cold, Dead Place"

My sand and water? Posted some fun links to Facebook. Listened to the NCAA Men's Basketball final while reading some great blogs. Stayed up later than I intended.

And the things I didn't get done - well, now I guess "blog" is no longer on that list (though, as mentioned earlier, I am technically doing that "tomorrow"). But there are lots of other little things that may get done tomorrow (or "today" ... WTF?? Am I on "Quantum Leap" right now?). Or may not.

As long as you are getting the big rocks into the jar, you are doing OK. And if you are not, then start today. Don't beat yourself up over yesterday or even a minute ago. That is just throwing good energy after bad. Start right now. And as soon as you are getting the important things done first, you will be amazed at how much more energy and time you have for lots of other "stuff".

To wrap up (and go to bed, as I am back at the gym in 5 hours - yikes!), I want to share a thought from my meditation mentor, Dr. Bill Knight. He practices and teaches Mindfulness Meditation, as introduced to the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He explained that whatever is happening - good, bad, indifferent - that IS your life. You can be as busy as you'd like making other plans but, as Bill said, "This is IT". This is your life.

Though he would certainly not have chosen to model such a dramatic example, Bill was diagnosed with skin cancer halfway through our 3 month program. He was ordered to undergo surgery immediately and begin further treatment right after. In sharing this news with us, Bill explained that this would, of course, disrupt much of his day to day life for the foreseeable future. This was not one of the plans he was busy making. But it was his life.

So, surgery became a big rock. Chemotherapy (or radiation, I honestly don't recall which) became a big rock. Other big rocks that stayed in place - time with his wife, teaching our course and his own daily meditation practice. He did not fall apart. He did not spend any of his vital energy bemoaning his fate. He faced it head on - focusing on the things he could control and enjoying his life for exactly what it was.

So, look at your life. Control what you can. Put the big rocks in first. And enjoy it all.

Because "this is IT".

Once again, my quick "sorry I didn't write anything" has turned into quite a rant! But that's OK. This is my life and I LOVE it :)


  1. Thanks Johnny!
    A beautifully-written reminder to orient my life around the big rocks, and watch the pebbles, sand and water arrange themselves. The serendipity that usually results is always far better than I could engineer myself by cramming everything in.

  2. I've heard a variation of the Stephen Covey story where instead of water, wine is the last thing added. Same overall message...you have to take care of the big things first...but a reminder that no matter how busy your life is, you can always make room for a little wine. :-)

  3. Awesome point! Thanks! I know I always get so caught up in the "What could/should I have done" that I stop enjoying the right here & now.