Years ago, Jim Collins, a business professor and consultant, sat down and drew up a schedule for how he’d like to spend his workdays in the future.
Half his time would go to endeavors like research, writing books, and authoring papers; a third to teaching-related activities; and the final chunk to all the other things he needs to do.
In order to make sure he was meeting his goals, he made the incredibly obvious and incredibly bold move of timing everything. For the rest of his life.
He literally took three stopwatches, labeled them, and put them in his pocket.
He still uses them.
Jim Collins is a serial bestselling author, and I’d place money that he will continue to lay golden egg after aurous, shining egg. Part of the reason for this is because he has made it his main goal in his business life to create an influential and lasting body of creative work, then scheduled his time– all of his time– accordingly.
In 2009, the New York Times profiled Collins, and they asked him about his time management experiment. He only had to point to the upper-right corner of his whiteboard on the far side of his conference room. Scribbled in marker was the lifetime tally:
There are some very special people in this world that take a certain pride in saying they live with no regrets.
No regrets? Really? None?
Did you never make a mistake in your life?
Or you did, but you don’t regret it. Why not? Is it because you lack the spine to condemn yourself for making a mistake, or for some other reason? Ahhh, I know: it is because you learned from it. But now wouldn’t it have been better simply to have done the correct thing from the beginning? I believe it’s called “Not making a mistake”. As I view it, not making a mistake is always better than making a mistake. The whole point of this learning you glorify is to prevent you from making mistakes.
But you persist, because you are (like I said) special and living in a culture that glorifies mistakes like they are an end in and of themselves. So now you perceive a romantic value in your past shortcomings. It’s not regrettable, it’s beautiful, you say. Yes, you are the hero of your own story, a story in which the protagonist is modern and complex and flawed. And you have no desire to change it.
No! Education is a lot less thrilling to someone who knows what is true.
* * *
I live with regrets. I regret, first and foremost, every wrong I have done to others, treating them as if they were less valuable or of less worth than myself (perhaps not every, but I try). Second, I regret the myriad of times I’ve failed to take and fulfill good opportunities by my own laziness, fear, or lack of clarity in what I’m doing. I think we are tempted to look at these past failings as inevitable. Whoops! I didn’t know better– couldn’t’a helped it!
But let’s be honest. Look at the challenges you’ll face and the opportunities spread before you. Are you doing your best to take them head on? I know that daily, I certainly let distractions and laziness get in the way of what’s really important to me, and I know that I have a chance to do something about these things. Sometimes I don’t take that opportunity, and I have nothing and no one to blame but myself.
So why’s the past any different?
* * *
In a news article that’s been making the social media rounds lately, one nurse who worked in palliative care records what she’s tallied up as the top five most common regrets of the dying. At first glance, they seem pretty typical, and you can probably skim to the bottom of the page without an inconvenient amount of soul-searching. Let’s see, “courage to live true to myself”, yup, yup, “most common regret of all”, OK, “most people hadn’t honored even half their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to the choices they made or didn’t make”– wait, what!?
You’re on your death bed and you didn’t do half the things you wanted? That’s downright depressing. I’m assuming we’re not talking about “I want to sail around the world on my private yacht… made of gold” sort of dreams. Nope, I think we’re talking about people who wanted to grow gardens, earn degrees, learn to ski, write letters to their friends, and, in other down-to-earth ways, push themselves beyond the drudgery of a perfectly crystalline schedule.
And they didn’t do half of those things!
This is why I am OK living with regrets, and indeed, the only reason you should have them– so that you do better next time. Indeed, if you don’t let your regrets change you for the better, what can you boast over the blissfully unreflective who death steals like a thief in the night, only to find there’s depressingly little to plunder? Realize you’ve made mistakes, and realize you can do something about it. Live the life you want. Start tonight. You haven’t always done the best, but you can do better.
Regret now so you don’t regret later.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is not for everyone.
Specifically, the signs at the entrance to the park say it’s not for those with heart or lung problems, but I think it’s mostly not for those who don’t really, really want to climb it.
As the tallest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain from base to summit, Kili makes a lot of mountaineering lists. Unlike many of the mountains on those lists, Kili is not a technical climb– you don’t need to know crevasse rescue techniques, or ice climbing or glissade or ice axe self-arrest– frankly, all you need to know how to do is to walk.
The main issue is that you need to walk a lot at a very high elevation.
And I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be up so high, but it’s not quite like it is down here.
Have you ever been on the ocean for a few days? You know how everything gets damp and salty and there’s water and salt everywhere and it contaminates everything and there’s nothing you can do about it? (It’s the same with sand in deserts) That’s what the elevation is like on Kilimanjaro. Instead of there being salt and it’s everywhere, there’s oxygen and it’s nowhere.
Especially your lungs. Read More
A perhaps apocryphal New Yorker cartoon depicts a man looking confused standing before two doors. One is labeled “Heaven” and the other is labelled “Books about Heaven”.
When I heard about this comic for the first time, it scared me just a bit– because my first reaction was “Ooh! Books about heaven!”
There’s something wrong with that reaction. If heaven is the place of ultimate happiness– the best possible experience you can have– what does it mean that some part of me deep down is more intrigued by words on a page describing this place?
* * *
The Internet is a dangerous place. It’s especially dangerous for those who want to do things with their life. You can now pick almost any endeavor or accomplishment and read about it until you die. Info porn.
You may notice that I’ve encouraged you to stop reading if you’re going to go do something awesome instead. I stand by that. The perfect situation: no one reads any of this because they’re too busy accomplishing their pacts with life.
In a way, reading about awesome things is a substitute for experiencing and doing awesome things. And for me at least, I don’t want it to be that way. That’s called white-collar failure and it needs to be fought. Read More
As I’ve said before, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re going to reform your life, don’t wait until Jan 1 to do it. People do, and they wonder why they fail year after year.
But in the spirit of looking forward on the next 12 months, I want to share my theme for 2012.
While not quite a goal, it’s a philosophy I want to adopt that encompasses a lot of the work I do on my goals this year. I tried to find a single word to encapsulate the idea, but as one doesn’t exist, I had to make it up: eurisk.
Allow me to explain.
I got the idea from the word stress.
When people talk about stress, they’re usually talking about a bad thing– the stress of an upcoming violin recital, the stress of parents divorcing. Psychologists, clever folks that they are, realized this one word stress actually meant two pretty separate things:
- Stress that causes us achieve things or perform well, called eustress (or “good stress”)
- Stress that doesn’t cause any good things, called distress (or “bad stress”)
When you think about your performance tomorrow and your palms start sweating and you want to throw up, that’s your body diverting what resources it can in the effort to make sure you don’t miss a beat. And guess what– you’ll practice really hard and then at the concert, you’ll rip out a beautiful Bach partita with ear-melting arpeggios Read More