On Changing Priorities

I promised myself that I wouldn’t write anything about the death of Steve Jobs. Too many people took advantage of the opportunity to eulogize him. His 2005 Stanford commencement will become one of the great speeches of the last decade based on the number of people who hear excerpts from it. So, this is not about Steve Jobs, but rather about the kinds of retrospection created in many of us by the death of an iconic figure.

The mass appeal of Jobs’ speech is the truth about the reality of death. Jobs read, “If you live each day as if it will be your last, someday you will most certainly be right.” On the other hand, if you treat each day as if it’s not your last, you’ll only be wrong once. So what’s really the smart bet?

I’m not putting my money on either. Yes, I believe that facing one’s own mortality tends to clarify priorities, but it doesn’t take a near-death experience for that to happen. It just takes time being present. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

– A couple of years ago, doctors discovered that I have a slight pinch in my spine (C5,C6) that causes pain in my shoulder. To avoid long term dependence on pain meds, I tried traction and it worked as a temporary relief. I’ve spent 20 minutes nearly every morning since in a home traction device. Woe for me, having to sit every day. No woe, I spend that time meditating, which I was unable to do before because sitting still for that long was hard for me. Use the moment instead of harping on it.

– I have this recurring pain in my back. Once every couple of years while doing something completely routine, I throw out my back and have to spend the better part of a week in severe pain. My most recent bout started this past Saturday. As I hobbled into the grocery store on Monday, thinking about how painful it was to walk, a man in a wheelchair came rolling out. Appreciate what you have instead of what you don’t have.

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