What Matters Most
Many people I know here in Australia and around the world are having a challenging year – ill health, financial difficulties, job insecurity, loss of loved ones and increasing dissatisfaction and disengagement with political leadership around the world. At times it feels as though the world is becoming less tolerant, less generous, less kind, more judgmental, more impatient and more willing to exclude anyone who doesn’t “fit in”, whatever that means. My family and I have not been immune to these challenges, and many times I have felt my patience and resilience tested.
In those circumstances, I ask myself these questions:
- What’s the lesson here for me?
- What do I need to change?
- What am I grateful for?
- How am I showing up? (Thank you, Dr. Adam Fraser for teaching me this as part of The Third Space)
I have reflected a lot lately about what really matters, and whether a problem today will matter a week, a month, a year or a decade from now? And the answer often is that it won’t matter a month, a year and certainly a decade from now!
So, what does matter? In two separate articles, one on social media recently, the other in a book I read many years ago, the answer to this question, asked of both children and adults as they were dying, produced similar answers. For those who haven’t read the articles, this blog will summarise their life’s lessons. I have realised that as I approach a new “decade” in my own life’s journey, these things matter so much more to me every week, month and year than they ever did – to the extent that I am growing increasingly restless to spend more time on what matters and less on what others and society often thinks matters!
A South African pediatrician asked terminally ill children (aged as young as four years old) what they enjoyed in life and what makes life worth living. Their wise answers included:
- Animals make human life better. One little boy believed that dogs didn’t live as long as humans because they already knew how to be loyal, love unconditionally, have fun and forgive easily. Advice from these kids was “Hug your dog every day.”
- Kindness matters. People who are kind are nicer to be around. Wayne Dyer wrote that every day you get to choose to be right or to be kind. I choose kind!
- Spend time with family and friends, the people who love you most. As adults we know which family member and friends are always there for us, so give them your time, not those who just take from you without gratitude
- Read more books, spend less time online
- Laugh a lot and tell more jokes. We have become so serious and often politically correct that I wonder if we have lost the art of genuine humour and belly laughs
- Go to the beach or the bush. Mental health specialists including R U OK? constantly advocate time in nature, and these young children know it instinctively
- Tell people you love them. My view – every day, because you never know when you will get to tell the again. It costs nothing and makes both giver and receiver feel special and loved!
- And eat more ice-cream!!!
A palliative care nurse did the same exercise with elderly people in their dying days. There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. The number one regret of the dying, especially men was:
I wish I hadn’t spent so much time at work!
This was followed by:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
I wish I’d spent more time with my friends, and not let so many friendships slip away
I wish I’d allowed myself to be happier, laughed more, been silly more often!
Time for each of us to reflect:
What do I wish I could do more often, what do I want to do less, where do I really want to spend my time and with whom? It’s not too late to practice more patience, more kindness, more joy, more gratitude, more generosity. Just go do it! I know I am going to, starting now with more walks, more time for reflection, more time at the beach, more time with my family and friends and more work that brings me purpose and joy, not work and clients that drain me, and do not appreciate what my team and I can bring to the table. Onward, upward and forward, definitely not backward!