Last week most of us read about this horrible accident, where a young doctor and his 3 year-old daughter, who were both waiting for the school bus to take her to her first day at school, were senselessly mowed down and killed by a bus that was fleeing after having hit a cyclist.
Think for a moment about those left behind. Think of the unfinished conversations, about the make-up after the argument that can now never happen, about the things that can never be said. Think of the regret for not having had the time to say what they wanted to because they were caught up in some mundane act of life, and for whom now it can never be said. Think of those who might have had a tiff, and while having the inclination, may not have had the time to make up, because of the pressures of work, and now never can. And of those who wanted to spend some quality time, but were never able to do it because there just never seemed to be any time?
And think about the unfinished aspirations of those whose life is abruptly ended this way? What of all the things they wanted to achieve, the things they still had to do, the mountains they still wanted to climb?
And now think about yourself. If, God forbid, tomorrow the life of someone who’s dear to you gets snuffed out in this manner, or you’re told that you have just a few days to live, what will your unfinished conversations be? And what will your regrets be? And will you look back, maybe with regret, and think about how things might have been very different had you just prioritized differently?
In the manner and environment we live in, in the rush for the immediate, in the push to acquire more, it’s easy to forget the really important things, like the people, relationships and experiences that so enrich our lives. And quite often, by the time we realise this, it’s too late.
Through my work and life experiences, I’ve put together some principals that could help ensure we don’t end up this way. I’m going to share them with you here; they may be useful.
1. Make an ‘A’ List for yourself
Begin by putting down a list of people that are important to you- Don’t be pressurized to put down people because they have to be important to you- put down those people you really want to keep up with- the people who enrich you, who leave you feeling warm and secure. Remember this is your list, for you to see, so be honest with yourself. Keep this list fairly short- not more than 8-10 people.
Move on now to experiences. Here by experiences I’m including a vast swathe of things- all the way from watching the sun rise over the mountains to curling up with a really good book on a Sunday afternoon. Again spend time thinking about the key experiences that really energize you, that really refresh you. If there is an overlap between experiences and people- all the better!
A word of caution as you make this list- don’t include things in it. An A list of material acquisitions can, by definition, never be complete. And don’t forget that for most of us, it’s the rush for acquisition that has made us forget about all the people and experiences on the A list in the first place!
2. Make targets around achieving the A list.
Put down definite targets for yourself- how many times in a year are you going to meet that old school friend of yours; how many people from your past are you going to rebuild a relationship with this year? How often will you take a good book into a Starbucks and spend the afternoon reading? Don’t get into a full-blown strategic plan here, but put down some targets for yourself, keeping in mind the context and feasibility of the task.
3. Actively commit to making the targets happen
Make time in your calendar for the A list. You may need to modify some parts of your routine; you may have to prioritise your time more carefully; you may have to schedule your breaks from work more smartly; you may even sometimes need to make some compromises to accommodate the A list tasks! (And remember, if the compromises are seeming really tough, maybe the A list item doesn’t belong there!)
4. Review and revitalise the A list
Check how you’re doing- to begin with four times a year, and after that at least biannually. Spend time understanding the impact on the A list of your actions, where you need to do more, or less. Also update the A list- bring in new things, move on from some old experiences.
All of this is going to take time and effort. And it’s not going to be easy. The most obvious difficulty is going to be to find time for the A list items; juggling time with your daily work and life. And there will be tougher things too- rekindling that relationship with a sibling that’s somehow withered with time, taking the time out and making the effort to go back to where you were born, and to meet people from your childhood.
But stay with it, so that when the flickering candle of life on one of your dear ones is extinguished in the wind, rather than live forever with the regret of what could have been, you can just smile and remember the good times.