What’s Important Now?

By Scott Westerman
Our daily challenge is separating the wheat from the chaff. Deciding “What’s Important Now” can make all the difference.

 I received an email tonight from my friend Brian Willis. He teaches cops the things that they don’t teach at the academy. In his world, survival isn’t just about staying biologically alive. It’s about staying emotionally alive. Cops and journalists fight that battle daily. They often have to deal with situations that test our faith in humankind. People lie to them with regularity. They run down the bad guys but must also be compassionate enough to embrace the good guys.

Here’s how Brian closes everything he writes: “Take care and always remember Life’s Most Powerful Question – What’s Important Now?”

On those occasions when the Monday Motivator muse deserts me, I flip back to what this blog was about before I started sharing my ongoing quest to understand how we can chase happiness. I found these words in a post from January 5, 2008:

I was talking with a co-worker this week about a challenge she’s facing at the office. It’s a big one, an issue that would definitely keep me up at night. She said something that put it in immediate perspective,

“If you’ve lost a child, everything else is much less important.”

She and her husband lost a 5 year old son. She said it without visible emotion. But even though it’s been several years, it was clear to me in that moment that they are still trying to recover.

This was the lead in a piece I wrote about a soldier / blogger who had died that day in Iraq. He left a message to be posted by his blog editors in the event of his death. Five years later it’s still powerful, as is the huge sense of loss I feel whenever I reread it, even though I never knew the guy.

These are what my friend Jana O’Brien calls “watershed moments”, points of clarity that help us re-prioritize the consequential and de-prioritize the insignificant.

They happen in good times and in bad. It’s the moment the doctor says, “it’s cancer”. It’s the moment the triathlon finish line comes into view. It’s the moment you look into your daughter’s eyes for the first time. It’s how you respond when you hear that tone in a loved one’s voice that says, “I need you”. It can be as simple as the clarity that comes from reading something that resonates. Or it can be as significant as getting your dream job, or realizing that it isn’t your dream job anymore.

Our earthly adventure is filled with moments where we must ask ourselves Brian’s question. The thought we put into it and the action (or inaction) we take become the bricks that build our character, the definition of our personal brand, cementing or fracturing the relationships that tip the scale between success and failure, between joy and suffering.

So, what is important now?

  • How many of the things on your to-do list aren’t really worth doing?
  • What’s that thought that has been nagging you? The one that you’ve become so good at pushing out of your mind?
  • What’s on your bucket list and why? What’s keeping you from doing these things sooner?
  • Which important person have you let fall below your radar, perhaps in favor of an energy sucking squeaky wheel?
  • If you knew you would die tomorrow, who would you talk with today? What would you tell them?

Some of this may seem overly dramatic. But our days have a way of slipping into months that slip into years. I was thinking about this last night. Colleen and I have a group of close friends we have known since my college days. We all graduated around the same time, are still married to the same people and are still in touch. Several of us came together at an awards ceremony. You know you’re putting the mileage on when the people they honor are getting a lot younger than you are.

I looked around the table at each face, remembering with gratitude the watershed moments we shared together. I thought about how we all continue to struggle with “what’s important now” and the sense of comfort that comes from knowing that these people have my back and that I have theirs.

As the awards ceremony came to an end, several suggested that we head to Dusty’s Tap Room for old times sake. We’re beyond measuring time together by the quantity of liquid consumed, so I wasn’t worried about that kind of hangover. But I was running on fumes after a long day. It was late. I had another full day of commencement responsibilities ahead. The burdens of being a change agent in challenging times were at the front of my mind. I wanted to go home.

Brian’s question echoed in my ears. These were the people who were connected with every good thing that had happened to me in my adult life. Maybe tonight I could pay a little of it back or pay a little of it forward. Maybe just being together for another hour or so might generate another watershed moment.

It was after 2:30 when Colleen and I finally fell into bed. I was pretty much useless for most of the day today. But I didn’t regret how I answered Brian’s question last night.

The gift of human intellect is that you really do get to decide how to spend every moment of every day. The curse is that you won’t know if it was well spent until afterwards. But I promise you this: You will have fewer regrets if you ponder Brian’s question with care and take your best shot at focusing on…

What’s important now.