A lot of my friends are asking themselves weighty questions these days. I had brunch with a friend on Sunday who told me that someone we used to work worth just lost his mom to cancer. His mom was 58. It's a sobering thought to consider how short life is, and how much opportunity for living this world offers us.
In the book In Pursuit of Elegance, Matt May talks about how Jim Collins left HP. One of his former professors gave him an assignment called "20-10": Imagine you've just inherited $20M free and clear. The catch is you only have 10 years to live. What would you do - and more importantly, what would you stop doing? As a result of this exercise, he quit his job at HP, despite his success there, and pursued a life of teaching, researching, and writing. And we are the great benefactors of that choice.
This assignment takes great courage to complete, and even greater courage to put the results into action. It's easy for us to think we have a long life ahead of us. It's easy to think that we have all the time in the world to accomplish what we really want to do. It's easy to just play the game of "let me just get by for now". The trouble with that game is that for now very quickly turns into a long, long time. It might even turn into a lifetime.
This world is counting on us, on all of us, to do something truly extraordinary. And extraordinary can take many different forms, depending on our priorities. Depending on the outcome of our 20-10 assignment. I've been putting off this assignment for a solid week now. Too afraid to answer that simple question. $20M, 10 years. What would I do and what would I stop doing?
Have my family and friends close to me
Write and write and write, and read and read and read
I'd find a way to build a company or an organization around a product, service, or cause I care about, so that it would survive long, long, long after I'm gone
Fall in love one more time
I would stop...
Letting someone else tell me what my development plan is
Spending time in a gray cubicle
A shorter list than I expected on both counts. I thought there was a lot I'd stop doing, until I realized that most of what I do that I don't like doing is related to my worrying. I didn't know that. I didn't realize how afraid I was, of just living, until I wrote this list. I didn't realize that falling in love one more time was so important to me. And it further confirmed that the writing life is the right life for me. When everything else fall away, it's this act, this daily time translating my thoughts into words on a page that makes life worthwhile for me. And that is worth something - it's actually worth everything.
The photo above depicts Jim Collins and can be found at: http://www.seeseeeye.com/uploads/wp_161.jpg