The hardest thing is spending the most time on the most important things. - Matt Mullenweg
Urgency creates an attention poverty. It deprives us of the present moment and encourages us to make rash decisions, to act before thinking and to commit before considering.
Urgency disregards priorities and blatantly ignores what's important. It demands nothing short of immediate, unmindful action.
Things that are urgent are fleeting. They lose their value and their sense of importance with every passing moment and they feel important because they're fleeting.
We buy something because it's on sale or jump into a conversation so that we're heard; we stay on top of what's trending or keep up with our favorite shows, authors, or magazines; we stay with our job because it's a great opportunity or we indulge in the luxuries of life because, hey, life is short.
We chase these things because they're fleeting, because the unstoppable and relentless marching of time ensures that they will be gone, possibly forever, if we don't act now.
But what's important, what's truly important, remains important. It doesn't fade into the background when we ignore it. It doesn't disappear after a few days, weeks, or years.
It doesn't matter if we're rich or poor, if we're ten years old or a hundred years old, if it's Monday or Friday or if it's the weekend with a full moon: the important things remain important.
The important things are here to stay. They remain with us, patiently waiting until we're ready to sit quietly, bring our mind home, and give them the attention they deserve.
Urgency will never wait; you'll never catch it. Chasing what's urgent is a fools game. But embracing what's important, that's something that has meaning. That's something that has real value.
The urgent stuff will always be running away from us, but the important stuff -- the stuff that gives our life meaning -- is waiting patiently with open arms.
"Where are you going next?"
"I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's something I've wanted to do my whole life and I've decided that I will do it for my 30th birthday this year."
"When are you starting that? How long will it take you?"
"The trail is over two-thousand miles long, so it will probably take 4-5 months. I'm starting on the first day of spring this year, March 20th."
She put her hand on her stomach and gave me 'the eye', as only my sister knows how. "You're coming back in April for the birth of your niece, right?"
I hesitated in my response, not knowing how to express my desire to hike the AT without interruption (known as a "thru-hike") while also expressing that I loved my sister and respected whatever she considered important.
I mumbled something to blur my response. "Maybe. We'll see."
Over the next few days I thought a lot about my response. There was something about it that really bothered me and I couldn't figure out what it was.
I tried to listen carefully to what my heart was telling me. Should I go? Should I stay? Should I go and then come back for a week, letting go of the perfectionist in me that wants to complete a thru-hike?
I've always wanted to hike the AT without stopping, to complete a true thru-hike on my first attempt. (Out of the 3,000+ people who start the trail each year, only about 200-300 actually finish; it's a challenge I've dreamed of facing.)
Towards the end of 2011 I decided that 2012 would be the year I finally hiked the AT. I verbally mentioned the intention to several people, further cementing it into reality (I rarely talk verbally about doing things unless I'm serious about doing them).
I've been thinking about this adventure for nearly six months and every day now I look forward to being fully immersed in nature, waking up each day on the trail knowing that I will spend the rest of the day outside.
I've even been going on daily walks in the local state forest for the past few weeks, spending several hours each day looking up at the trees and imagining myself hiking on the AT.
While I was letting these thoughts sit with me, I received an email from a friends' paid subscription letter.
In the letter, the author shared something that happened to her recently: While in India, she received an email from her dad telling her that grandma was ill and probably wouldn't be with them much longer; he wanted her to fly back to the United States to be with them.
She wrote, "What really got me was the fact that my first thought after reading the email was, should I go or should I stay?"
I immediately realized that's what had been bothering me so much: the fact that I wondered if I should stay or go when my sister asked me to be there for her.
What made her decision difficult was that she already made plans in India: Someone she cared about was going out of their way to meet her there and suddenly leaving would affect that relationship. She felt that India was the place she should be.
But she had to decide: Should she leave India, the place where she truly felt she should be, or should she go back to the United States to be there for the emotional support of her family?
As I read my friends letter, I couldn't help but relate her situation to my own and I found myself jumping ahead and thinking, "She's definitely going to choose to go back to the United States."
To my surprise, I arrived at the end of the letter to discover that she decided to stay in India.
Was her decision the wrong decision? That's not for me to say or decide. What's important was that she made the decision that felt true to her being. As she put it, "in the end, the love I have for my grandma does not decrease just because I am not by her side".
Reading my friends decision to stay in India immediately helped me realize what I needed to do.
I was going to stay for my sister and delay the AT hike.
While I may have felt unclear about what to do initially, my subconscious knew exactly what my heart wanted. It knew it so well that it was projecting itself into my friends situation: If I was in India and my sister asked me to be there for her, I would've come back.
(Again, this doesn't mean my friends decision to stay was wrong: her life is not my life and she did what she felt was true and right for her in her life; I fully support that. The right thing to do is always that which feels undeniably true to you.)
I intended to start hiking in March because the trail, which starts in Georgia and ends in Maine, has sections that are closed during the winter. (It takes nearly six months to hike the entire trail, so you must start hiking in the early spring if you want to finish before winter.)
However, since my niece is due to be born towards the end of April, I've decided to start hiking the AT around the beginning of May. If that means I don't complete a thru-hike, or even if that means I decide to attempt the hike another year, that's fine.
This is something that's important to my sister and I care about what's important to her, even if I may not fully understand it. She never asks me for anything and what feels true and right to me is being there for her because she asked me to be.
I've built my lifestyle around the concept of freedom and I've created a life that allows for following my heart. But what's the point of all that freedom if I'm jailed by my own wants and desires, too selfish to share the fruits of my own freedom with those I love?
The Appalachian Trail will always be there but my niece is only born once.
This series of events led me to make several other decisions, including something that affects the AT hike altogether. It also affects the USA road trip that I had planned for the two months prior to starting the AT. I will share both of those decisions in my next journal entry.
Now more than ever we need to stop listening to everyone else. We need to stop reading articles and books, watching videos, and listening to interviews where other people tell us what to do and what to think.
If you want to be a writer, stop reading about writing and start writing. If you want to build a business, stop looking for business advice and start failing. If you want to get in shape, stop saying you want to get in shape and start pushing your body beyond comfort.
If you want to change your life, stop reading about other life's and start taking the steps necessary to begin changing yours.
Do you think anyone could've changed themselves, or the world, if they had spent their lives snacking on social media, devouring stories of how other people changed the world, and thinking about all the things they could do?
We should all aspire to be great, not to imitate others but rather to discover what greatness exists within each of us. We should develop an insatiable appetite for empowering ourselves and exploring that vast source of untapped potential we all carry within us.
So consider this a plea from me to stop reading and start tinkering; stop talking and start being; stop dreaming and start doing; stop listening and start exploring. Yes, that includes not listening to me.
It includes ignoring people who constantly seek your attention. It includes disconnecting from being always-on and available. It includes prioritizing your life based on what is important instead of what is urgent.
Lots of stuff is urgent, but the important stuff is what makes us who we are. You must remember to do the important things first, because you are not what you read, or think, or say: you are what you do.
Why do we set out to do something only to dismiss it entirely? We forge ahead at the beginning (mentally and perhaps verbally) but then something happens just before the point where we take action.
The intention is there, but something is missing. We know exactly what needs to be done and we know how to do it, but something prevents it from ever becoming reality.
I believe everything we intend to do that doesn't get done is a direct result of this one thing: it wasn't important enough.
Or at least we didn't decide it was important enough. We had the motivation and the know-how, but we didn't put enough thought into the "why". At first glance the "why" seems obvious, a no-brainer that shouldn't need much explanation, to others or to ourselves. But it's actually crucial to maintaining momentum.
In analyzing why certain recurring intentions never become reality -- waking up early, doing daily yoga and meditation, writing in this journal, running regularly -- I've discovered one missing component that is common to all of them: I had not decided how important they were and why they were important.
It's easy to say to myself, "it's important, now let's do it", but that's not enough. I need to understand the why inside out. I need to come to terms with what will happen if I don't take care of these things.
I told you, and myself, that I'd do an experiment for the last 10 days of this year. I would write and publish at least one paragraph a day in this Journal. Well, here I am with 8 days to go and I haven't written in this Journal.
Why not? I have the time. I haven't run out of thoughts or words. I do still want to do it. So why haven't I done anything with it?
It's simple: I hadn't decided how important it was to me. If the intention was there and I had all the resources necessary to get it done, but I still didn't do it, then it must not have been important enough.
Luckily, making something important enough is easy: you simply decide it's important enough, understand why it's important, and then follow up with action. Repeat those three steps frequently enough and eventually a habit will form.
I decided today that writing here is important enough to put aside other things. I understood why it's important: I need to share, to grow. The last part, action, is taking place right now, as I write this entry. This is me repeating those three steps. This is important.