Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!

Love versus Stuff

Over the past week, those of us living in southern California have had a whole new complication thrown into our busy holiday schedules: wildfires. For me it’s a reminder of the lesson I learned ten years ago, when our long-time family home burned to the ground in the massive Witch Creek fire of 2007. The lesson is this:

What matters in life is who you love and who loves you.

Everything else is just stuff.

Sometimes in our lives—and particularly during the holidays—we get lost in accumulation. We want to buy more things, do more things, see more things—and we get ourselves and our priorities out of whack.

How are you doing so far this month? Are you focusing too much on stuff—such as what you have and what you have to do—and not on the people you love?

It’s not too late to turn that around.

Reach out today and tell the important people in your life how much you love and care for them. Better yet, cozy up around the fire and spend time talking and laughing together. That’s the real spirit of the season.

Gratitude: A Great Stress Buster

Having just experienced a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between thankfulness and stress. Recent research indicates that when you’re stressed out, if you stop and count your blessings and what you are thankful for, your stress will go away. Turns out that you can’t feel stress and be thankful at the same time. I love that!

Let’s keep this idea in mind as we head into the December holiday season. The minute you feel stressed out—shopping and thinking of all the other things you need to do in preparation for the holiday—take a deep breath and think of something you are grateful for.

This reminds me of the lyrics to a wonderful Bing Crosby song we used to sing when I was a kid:

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,

I count my blessings instead of sheep,

And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

Good on you all!

Blessings in the Rubble

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the massive fires in San Diego that took our family home. When Margie and I reflect on that time, we try to focus on the good things that came out of it. You might not think that makes sense. Of course, it was a tragedy—but there were many positives. One of our biggest blessings was realizing the difference between the value of people and the value of stuff.

Only a month before we lost our house, I received a copy of a new book called When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box written by my friend John Ortberg—a wonderful author and the senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California. I was so taken by one section of John’s book, I sent everyone in our company a voicemail about it. John wrote about how in life, some things are forever and some are temporary—and how easy it is for us to get the two mixed up. He suggested everyone do the following exercise.

All you need is a pen and two pads of sticky notes. Write TEMPORARY on each note on one pad and FOREVER on each note on the other pad. Then go around during your day and distribute them. Put a TEMPORARY note on your car, your house, your furniture, your checkbook, things in your closet, your TV, your cell phone, etc. Put a FOREVER note on people in your family, your friends, your boss, your coworkers, the stranger behind the counter—and don’t forget to put one on yourself. Because everything else is just temporary stuff. No one will remember what clothes you wore, your bank balance, or the kind of car you drove. When the game is over, all that’s left is love—who you love and who loves you. Everything else goes back in the box.

A week after the fire, we decided to have a memorial celebration for our house—so many people in our company had been there for get-togethers or holiday parties. And over the years a number of our salespeople and consulting partners and other friends and colleagues had come to stay with us, sometimes for days or weeks for various reasons. And even though there was nothing left of the house now, all of those memories remained—so about 100 people gathered and shared their memories with us. It was a wonderful, healing experience.

One of the blessings we hadn’t thought of—and one of the biggest laughs—came at the end of the memorial celebration. Our daughter, Debbie, said, “I’ve been having a lot of mixed feelings about the house burning down. Of course it’s very sad. But I remember not that long ago walking through the house and seeing all of mom and dad’s stuff in the garage and the closets—they never threw anything away. I had the thought that if something ever happened to them, it would probably end up being my job to clean the place out—to go through everything and figure out what to do with it. Now I won’t have to do that!” Everyone laughed but they had to admit that Debbie had a point.

Shortly after the fire, a wonderful friend of Margie’s and mine named Tom Crum told us about a sign in his home written by a Japanese poet. The message on the sign translates to “Now that my barn is burned to the ground I can see the moon.” It was yet another reminder—there’s always something to be thankful for.

Savor Some Solitude

In the age of information and round-the-clock news, many of us feel swamped by obligations that constantly require our attention. We can all relate to feeling bogged down by responsibilities. It’s only human to feel that balancing a job, a family, and flooded inbox makes taking time for yourself an impossible luxury.

It’s true that taking time for solitude in a busy world is challenging. In the rare moments where we have time to ourselves, relaxing can feel unsettling because we are used to doing, not being.

Despite our hang-ups, solitude is extremely valuable. Many CEOs, including Steve Jobs, use solitude as a tool to process information away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jobs believed that if you just sit and observe your mind, you will see how restless it is; but over time your mind calms down. When it does, you can see things more clearly and there’s room for your intuition to blossom. Jobs used the awareness he developed through reflection to build a groundbreaking company. His intuition gave him insight into the desires of customers. This became one of the defining qualities of Apple: giving customers what they didn’t know they needed.

Solitude helps us know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we’re able to make decisions that match who we are and what we value. If we don’t take the time to know ourselves, our decisions are often based on what’s popular, rather than what’s best.

My wife Margie and I believe in the importance of reflection so much that we spend a good chunk of our summer in Skaneateles, away from our business in San Diego. I find that this time I spend reflecting actually improves my business decisions when I return, because I come back relaxed, with a better sense of my values.

Take time to listen to yourself, in the same way you would listen to an employee’s concerns or a friend’s problem. Time is a precious resource, but setting some aside to just be will bring a great return on investment. Even if it’s only 10 minutes each day, this time will empower you to make decisions that are powered by your deepest self.