What Matters Most

Guest Author: Susanne Skinner

Author Rob Bell created a beautiful visual essay about saying no before you say yes. In his short video “Shells” he shares a story about a family day at the beach. He is watching his young son run in and out of the waves collecting bits of coral and shells. Before long his little hands are full. As he watches the waves recede over the sand one perfect shell is revealed. Rob urges his son to run into the water and pick it up but his son, hands filled with the fragments he has collected, holds them up and says “I can’t, my hands are too full.

As grown-ups, we know what this is like. We are not immune to the lure of bright shiny objects or the desire to have it all. We get caught up in cycles of having more, doing more, earning more…being more. Our lives and even our hearts become filled with fragments and we miss the opportunity to hold one shell at a time and marvel at its beauty.

Emptying My Hands

What Matters Most, Dieter UchtdorfBeing over 50 I have lived more, which means I know more. I am in the second half of my life and I have spent the past year emptying my hands (my professional briefcase and to some degree my mind) of the fragments I have accumulated. It was hard to let them go but I was given an opportunity to hit the pause button and reflect on what comes next. I wanted to find the things that mattered and incorporate them into every day of my life.

Some of us get to this age and decide to have to “work done”. I’m good with that. I recommend a little emotional Botox. Find that wrinkled bucket list and pull it out of the drawer or paper pile. Smooth it out and remind yourself why you created it. Study it and see if those things are still speaking to you. Get pumped! Choose something and do it. Pick up that one perfect shell and congratulate yourself on an amazing discovery! You will be hooked.

What Matters When

I hope some of you reading this post are much younger than 50 because what matters to you now is not what will matter when you are my age. One day you will ask if where you are is where you want to be. Maybe it is. If it isn’t, you must ask how you got there and risk the journey of discovering what matters to you now.

Do not be afraid to look in a new direction. Do not be afraid to say no while you are looking for the yes. Finding what matters requires work, patience and an open mind. I knew what I wanted to do; my hard work came when I had to move the other stuff out of the way. There was a lot of other stuff. What remained was a clear view of shells I had discovered over the years and set aside.

Things I’ve Learned

So what does matter the most? I thought about things I’ve learned and made a list. Your list might be different – you should make one. My list is not about things, it is about intentional living. Some of these lessons were learned the hard way. OK – all of them were learned the hard way. I am going to write a blog about hindsight, but not today. This is an excerpt from my list:

  • Nautilus shellBe thankful. You have something to be thankful for every day. If you doubt that, breathe in and breathe out.
  • Your body is not just a temple, it is your temple. Treat it with respect and it will sustain you, abuse it and you will shorten the life in your years and most certainly the years in your life.
  • Find a good doctor and become an advocate for your continuing good health. Ask questions.
  • Your personal happiness and professional success depend on your ability to build relationships. Invest often, invest wisely and they will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
  • Practice charitable giving. Your time and money mean more when you give some away.
  • Learn to accept change. It’s harder than you think.
  • Become well read and well spoken
  • Don’t confuse want with need
  • Walk away from anything or anyone that unbalances your life. This is also harder than you think.
  • Challenge assumptions. Yours and others.
  • Don’t skip your colonoscopy. It’s not that bad
  • Pay it forward anonymously
  • Choosing the road less traveled still requires direction and purpose
  • Make good friends, cherish them and keep them close for the rest of your life.
  • Not everything in life is fun, but fun is important. Have some fun.
  • Practice kindness – it’s contagious
  • Value the 24 hours in each day. They are not bankable, they do not earn interest. They must be spent.
  • Find what you love and you will find what matters most

Apart from the friends and the colonoscopy, it is a work in progress.

Act on Your Insight

Once you make your list, act on your new found insight. I took a cake-decorating class that was on my bucket list for ten years. Baking and decorating a cake for someone is what matters to me. What matters can be as simple as reading a book or as complicated as renovating a kitchen. I can distill it down to one sentence: I am doing things I love on a regular basis. I am not reading my book on a plane while I travel to a corporate meeting or attending my weekly small group every 3.2 weeks because something got in the way. These are fragments. Pieces that will never be whole.

Empty your hands in anticipation of beautiful discoveries. Reach for the shell. Live what matters the most.

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Henry David Thoreau