A “priority” is a funny concept with a broad definition. Sometimes it refers to things that need to get done today. Sometimes it’s things that need to get done this week, or even this year. It can range from a visit to a grocery store to achieving a lifelong dream. But oftentimes, the “now” priorities get in the way of the “this year” priorities. We feel a burning sense of urgency to respond to the email, complete the grant submission, or set up the meeting – whatever these things may entail. It’s no surprise that for many of us living in fast-paced world of business leadership, the “Today” things often take precedence over our more long-term goals and desires.
I had lunch with a good friend of mine yesterday who has been battling cancer. It was just earlier this year that he had yet another recurrence of this cancer that he was hopeful had been previously cured. But as is often the case, the watchful eyes of his physicians revealed another unwanted return of the disease, so he had started chemotherapy treatments again. But this time, I also knew that the treatments had been particularly hard on him. Still, I assumed that he would get through this round and be okay again.
When we met at a restaurant, he walked up to the table looking as healthy as I’ve ever seen him. As we started our visit, he asked if we could get the “cancer” talk out of the way first so I wouldn’t have to ask him about it. He proceeded to fill me in on how he was doing, delivering unthinkably tragic news with an ease that comes only from plenty of practice. When I finally got the courage to ask how much longer he was going to need his chemotherapy treatments, his response was “forever.” This was his way of telling me that he was a stage 4 patient, and his prognosis was not good.
He then went on to tell me about his kids and grandkids and how grateful he is now that he can focus on doing those things he’s always wanted to do. He says that the cancer has ironically “cured him of procrastination”, and finally put things into perspective for him. The day-to-day priorities that had previously served him no longer felt important. With the end of his life now in sight, he had a new measuring stick to gauge his priorities. It wasn’t weekly, monthly, or yearly. Priorities, for him at least, were now defined by a lifetime.
It is another one of life’s fascinating paradoxes, that it seems only a life-threatening illness can cure us of procrastinating the enrichment of the very life it threatens.
As Rotarians, we live by the motto “service above self”. But this holiday season, I want to share the lesson that I learned from this encounter with this close friend, and with gratitude and kindness, suggest that we check in with ourselves as well. What would a life -changing event “cure” you of? Are you living in accordance with your own priorities, principles, and values? By servicing ourselves, we invest in our ability to service others.