I was already late when I left the office that day, racing for the airport. My flight was the last one that would enable me to have dinner with an important client in a distant city, and I had to make it. Driving well above the speed limit, I could feel my hands tighten around the steering wheel.
My pulse was throbbing as the stress of missing my flight began to rise. When another driver attempted to cross over into my lane, I accelerated to close the gap between my car and the one in front of me, blocking him. I couldn’t afford to lose even a single second.
Suddenly, I saw a sea of red brake lights ahead, forcing me to a complete stop. Sirens and flashing lights followed as two ambulances raced past me down the shoulder of the highway.
When I finally reached the accident, it was total devastation. One car was overturned, and several others lay crumpled at odd angles, while emergency personnel hurried from one injured person to another. I stared in complete shock. I had watched scenes like this on television, but never in reality.
And then, barely twenty feet in front of me, two emergency workers lifted the body of a man and placed him into a long, white bag. They pulled the zipper from foot to head with a slowness that seemed almost reverent, closing the body within it. The shrill command of a policeman’s whistle forced me to drive on, but I knew this was an image that would stay with me forever.
Had the man in that bag been in a hurry, just as I was? Was he driving too fast, texting on his cell phone, or mentally distracted by a problem at work when his last moment occurred? I’ll never know.
But I will always suspect that he was living in the same frenzied whirlwind that I was; and that the same urgent need to hurry had created the devastation that ended his life.
Except for a few minutes difference in time, and the miracle of grace, the man in that body bag could have been me.
Are You Creating Your Own Crisis?
On that day, making my flight was so urgent that I felt compelled to drive dangerously. But the truth is that it was a crisis I created by squeezing in one last meeting before I left. Today, I can’t even remember what that meeting was about, but it could have cost me my life.
When did you decide that “full speed” was your speed? That complete and utter exhaustion at the end of the day was the only measure of having done your best?
I’ll tell you when it was. It was the moment you decided that you weren’t worth it. That no matter how hard you work or how much you achieve, you aren’t worth a lunch break, a few minutes a day to walk or exercise, fifteen minutes to connect with a friend, or a night of uninterrupted sleep.
We wear “busy” like a badge of honor, but it comes at a terrible price. I didn’t know it that day, but I came within 30 seconds of having traded my life for a meeting. I’ll never do it again.
Dr. Stephen Covey famously said, “No margin, no mission,” meaning If you have no “margin”– a buffer between your commitments and your capacity – you have no life.
Instead, create space. Block an hour at the end of the day for the unexpected. Insist on fifteen-minute gaps between meetings and use them to stand in the sunlight. Have a least one meaningful connection with a friend every week. And take all of your vacation. You’ve earned it.
Wherever you are, are you there?
Constant multitasking creates the illusion of productivity, not the results. And the price you pay in never really being present at all.
Two days ago, I received a call from a colleague about an error in a complex financial spreadsheet. In the background, I could hear the sounds of a crowd cheering. When I asked, he told me he was attending his daughter’s soccer game. Even over the phone, I could hear him puff with pride as he said that he “never missed a game.”
Here’s this man, sitting in the stands with his head down and his laptop open, on his cell phone with me, while believing he was fulfilling an important commitment to his daughter. Unfortunately, neither the spreadsheet nor his child received his full attention that day.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I know the pressure that work, and life, can bring. But I also know that if everything is urgent, then nothing will ever be truly important. And it’s missing the important things that leaves us with the deepest regrets.
Remember that the commitments you make, and the people to whom you make them, are the essential elements in creating the life you want to live. Slow down a little. Give them the time and the undivided focus – the presence - they deserve.
Wherever you are, be there. I promise, you won’t regret it.