“The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.” – Suzuki Roshi
Earlier this year, I made a commitment to myself. To remember the most important thing.
It’s remarkable how easy it is to forget…
So many things vying for your attention and your time. So many shoulds. Even the legitimate ones. So many things you want to do and places you want to be. Especially with the world opening up again and the possibility of seeing the people and places you love again after all this time. But, alas. We cannot do everything and be everywhere.
This can make things quite confusing. There are only so many hours in the day. How do you choose?
Many years ago, I took Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People training. It was full of many valuable gems. However, the one I find myself coming back to the most these days is the metaphor of the big rocks. The video does a much better job than my words can but, in essence, if you take a pile of big rocks and a bucket of sand and put the sand in first, you’ll never fit all of the big rocks in the bucket. But, if you put the big rocks in first, the sand pours in smoothly around them.
The big rocks are the most important things. Prioritize them and the rest falls into place.
Time with loved ones. Being there for someone when they need you. Embracing the moment. Focusing on the big strategic project that’s critical but not as loud as all the emails angrily pinging your inbox. You are never going to regret doing the right thing. The most important thing.
It’s simple. And I’ve learned it many times. Once you choose right, it creates a virtuous cycle that pays dividends.
Yet, we lose our way. Usually, when things start to feel off-kilter and my energy feels out of whack, I can trace it back to this. Forgetting. Getting stuck in the sand. When I ask myself if I’m staying true to my commitment, it’s surprisingly easy to rediscover the path.
Even, and maybe all the more so, when things are busy and chaotic, it is so powerful to go with what your heart knows is the right answer. Even if your mind hasn’t figured out how you’ll make it work, even if it seems impossible, trust that the rest will figure itself out. And it will.
This looks different all the time.
Some days, it’s simply (or, not so simply…) keeping perspective and remembering what really matters and how you want to live and feel.
Some days, it looks like this. Receive invitation to exciting work trip. Delight until go to calendar and see it coincides with special milestone for my child. Supportive spouse offers to cover and encourages me to go. I consider it, while something feels unsettled. I go to my child, mention the trip and its impact. I see his face fall. It confirms what I know in my heart, that the most important thing is being there for his big day. I cherish the special day with my child. I board the plane, confident and calm in knowing I’m exactly where I should be. And I revel in the special time with my colleagues.
Similarly, it used to be that when I’d travel for work to cities I loved or longed to know, I’d stay as long as I could – taking a full weekend before or after to ensure I maximized the time to explore and see dear friends near and far. It was the default. But, that has shifted. Because, I see now there is a point of diminishing returns. A point at which that exploration and cherished time ceases to be the most important thing. I’ve been experimenting with opening the aperture and making space for both quality time away and quality time back home.
And, on the flip side, this means that I lean wholeheartedly into my work. I’m all in. I love being a part of the team and making things happen. I love that feeling of momentum when you’re making progress on something impactful. I love being the rock for the hard thing, even when it comes up after hours. I love helping people tap into possibility and potential. So, those loved one moments that aren’t as critical, I miss them sometimes. And, dare I say, I’m at peace with that. Because I know I’m there for the most important things. And, I also know doing work that I love and modeling that for my child is important to me too and my thriving brings good energy to my relationships with my loved ones.
Essentially, it comes down to factoring in all of the impacts and unintended consequences and recognizing that the desire for any one thing must be balanced with all the other things that matter to you. Everything comes with a tradeoff. And it’s important to recognize that in every moment.
If the most important thing is remembering, perhaps the second most important thing is noticing when we forget.
It seems simple (and maybe obvious). But, particularly for those of us with the muscle memory of momentum and churn, it isn’t always. We’re running really fast most of the time. If we don’t force ourselves to slow down and center, it’s likely we won’t. Until we run off course.
It’s a discipline. And a new muscle we strengthen with practice. The training comes in recognizing when the energy shifts and we know, deep down, we are no longer focused on the big rocks. And, in that moment, we pause to remember the most important thing.