“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 14 June 2013

Getting Your Priorities Sorted

When I logged onto Facebook today, there was a post from David Smith, member of the UK Unitarians group, with a quotation from whilom Apple Chief Executive, Steve Jobs. It said:

"If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"
It stopped me in my tracks. My first response was "not exactly, I'd rather be spending time with the people I love", but then, I realised that I was also blessed to be doing a job that I love, and now, in the late afternoon, I have a feeling of accomplishment, as I've got done the things I needed to get done, and can now look forward to spending the evening with my family and friends.

But I do wonder, how many people are as lucky as I am? I appreciate how very privileged I am in my soft Western life, with enough food in the house, clean water to drink, a nice house, an abundance of belongings, and a reasonable amount of security. It also made me realise how important it is to ask the right questions about life, so that if it were to end today, I would have no (or few) regrets. How do you sort out what your priorities should be? I was reminded of the old story of the Professor and the golf balls, which has been doing the rounds on the internet for a long time (I truly do not know the original author, so cannot credit him or her):
"One morning a professor of philosophy stood in front of his class and wordlessly began to fill a very large and empty vase with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the vase was full.  They agreed that it was. 
 The professor picked up a box of tiny pebbles and tipped them into the vase.  He shook the vase lightly allowing the pebbles to roll into the open areas between the golf balls before asking the students if the vase was full.  They agreed it was. 
Next the professor poured a box of sand into the vase filling up all the remaining space and once more asked his class if the vase was full.  The students responded with a unanimous "yes."  
The professor then produced two glasses of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the vase, the students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this vase represents your life.  The 'golf balls' are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends and your passions.  In other words, all those things that if everything else was lost and if only they remained your life would still be full.
The 'pebbles' are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car, holidays, etc.  
The sand is everything else, all the small stuff.  
Now if you put the sand into the vase first," he continued, "there is no room for the 'pebbles' or the 'golf balls'.  The same goes for life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important to you.  So pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness, play with your children, take care of your health, make time for your friends and go out to dinner with your partner because there will always be time to clean the house and fix the car.  Set your priorities and take care of the 'golf balls' first for they are the things that really matter; all the rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and asked, "What does the wine represent?"  The professor smiled, "I'm glad you asked.  I was also showing you that no matter how full your life may seem there's always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.""
Sorting out your priorities, your “golf balls”, can be a difficult task. As the professor said, they are “all those things that if everything else was lost and if only they remained your life would still be full.” But working out what it is you truly value can be hard, and people get it wrong. We’ve all heard of top business types who are so addicted to their work that they take their laptops and Blackberrys on holiday with them. To my mind, they are out of balance, and their health and family and social lives will suffer.
So how should we approach this most important task? Bill Adams, author of The Five Lessons of Life, passes on the following method from his teacher, Sangratan, the Amchi teacher from the Himalayas:
Firstly, think of the things and people you value most. Give yourself plenty of time to do this, in an environment where you will not be disturbed.
Secondly, on a piece of paper, list all those things that you value most, and why you value them. Include such things as family, relationships, health, career, religion, hobbies.
Thirdly, try to number them in order of importance, beginning at 1.
Fourthly, examine your choices. Be honest with yourself. Consider the questions [that follow]:
  • What do you spend most of your free time thinking about, or wishing for?
  • What have you always wanted?
  • What gives you most pleasure?
  • What ways of behaving do you find most admirable?
  • Are there things you enjoyed as a child which you were told to put away for the sake of a career or a relationship? If so, do you still value them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What attributes do you most value?
When you have considered these questions, look again at the list of things you value. Is there a contradiction between your most important values and what you spend most of your life wishing, craving, wanting, or working for?”
Of course, our priorities will change during the course of our lives, so this is not a once-for-all exercise. But doing it, and trying to put it into practice in our lives, might mean that we could answer Steve Jobs' question with a "yes".

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