Why do most of us humans need a huge shock to get our priorities right?
After my heart attack in 2010, I spent five days in critical care feeling good but reminded how lucky I was by all the tubes and wires attached to me. Remembering people I had known, many younger than I, who had not survived their first heart attacks, concentrated my mind incredibly well. As those five days progressed, I realised that I was going to survive in reasonable condition. I vowed to spend less time working and worrying, more time enjoying life.
Partly because of our unusual circumstances and absence of financial resources because of those circumstances, and partly from a determination to succeed in a new field in a new country, it did not take long for me to get back into the habit of working long hours.
The long hours needed to develop a new business in a completely different field to anything I had done before, the hours spent on collecting, cutting and splitting wood for heat in winter, the time spent on caring for and (weather permitting) riding my horses, fixing up an old house, add up to long days. I also do some off-line work, help neighbours with some farm chores. The values of perseverance and resilience that were essential for survival and success in Southern Africa, once again keeping me going.
It adds up to longer days than I used to put in as a farmer in Zimbabwe, running my own commercial business in South Africa before that, or even in the corporate world 30 years ago. I must be mad.
Last week, I went to visit a friend in the critical care ward at our hospital. A few years younger than me, four weeks ago he was playing hockey in the veterans league as he does every winter, he didn’t feel too good during the game, went to hospital and discovered he has cancer. Subsequent tests revealed the seriousness and inoperability of cancer in several organs. He has perhaps, 6 months to live.
That was a huge wake up call for me.
Since hearing of his condition, I have made plans to simplify and streamline what I do. Sue and I are seriously considering how and where we want to spend the remaining 15 years we expect to be fit enough to choose what we do and where we do it.
As a child of say 10, the next 15 years seem like a lifetime, encompassing the transitions from child to youth to young adult, for many the additional step of becoming parents.
Gradually as we age, that 15 year span no longer seems like a lifetime, from 35 to 50 it covers the transition from being an adult at the peak of our physical strength, with children still at school to middle age, probably near the peak or even past it, of our earning capacity. For many a transition from a large house now empty of children to smaller accommodation.
After 60, that same 15 year span represents just a season in our life, a transition from late middle age to senior status.
It’s not all bad, it’s the natural flow of life, it happens to all of us. The alternative to getting old is even worse, not getting old (until the fountain of eternal youth is discovered) means not being alive to get old. Dying before our time, as my friend is contemplating with unfortunate certainty.
I would much rather be here in reasonable shape for the next 15 years. The expectation of more aches and pains, less mobility and stamina will be minor inconveniences compared to the gift of living those 15 years or, with luck. 20 or 25.
But I am going to listen to that wake up call and make some changes in my life.
How about you?
Are you going to carry on doing what you are doing now for the next 15 years?
Or are you going to change things to live an extraordinary life?
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net