Tuesday, 13 August 2013

There’s no Time like the Present

A few weeks ago a friend Rob asked me to accompany him to see his cousin George, a 50 year old man who was suffering from lung cancer. Although they lived a short distance apart, the cousins had not seen each other for over 20 years.

Last week George had a barbecue and invited his friends and family and according to Rob he ate, drank and smoked all afternoon.  Today George died peacefully in his sleep. Apparently he was well aware of his diagnosis but concealed it from his family who had no idea he was so ill.  He didn’t want to worry anyone; he simply embraced his fate and decided to go out with a bang!    
What I want to focus on is not George’s acceptance and defiance of death but the fact that he and his cousin who apparently were buddies in their early years, lived in such close proximity of each other yet, although both able-bodied, they never made the effort to meet up and hardly communicated over the years.  It makes me wonder about the effect of time and space on human behaviour.  What kept them apart for so long – technology, stresses of life, family demands, economics, time pressures?  Rob has many regrets for now he has realised that he lost 20 years that could have been spent more meaningfully.  Indeed he will spend more time planning his cousin’s funeral than he spent with him over the last 20 years.
I have seen so many people who want to take action – start a business, write a book, pursue higher education...  So often they put off embarking on their aspirations, waiting for the perfect moment.  As far as I am concerned, today is as good as any other day; tomorrow I’ll be older, not necessarily wiser, perhaps weaker.  Haruki Murakami - renowned Japanese writer summed it up nicely when he said “Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”   We all know of people who die prematurely for one reason or another. Procrastination is a thief of our time and we need to recognise its agents – people, places and things that create a lot of noise around and cause us to lose sight of our goals.  I don’t want to leave this world regretting what could have been; I want to think I made the best of the time I had.
Many years ago at my first job I was secretary to a highly educated, skilled and experienced public servant - Mr D. Ever so often he would complain about the monotony of his job, the pittance which was his remuneration, and how unappreciated he felt.  I recall I was 19 years old when I suggested to him that he looked further afield and considered his options.  He responded that he had to wait for his pension, for he couldn’t just walk away after so many years of service.  Mr D retired on full pension some 20 years later, slightly early because of ill-health.  Shortly after his retirement he indicated to me that he was starting a business that would empower many disadvantaged people and he would pay me good money to manage the venture for him.  I assisted in fine-tuning the business plan but explained I was not available to manage the project.  He had identified/developed a great model and I could feel his enthusiasm – he had gotten his mojo back!  He subsequently paid me frequent home visits often unannounced and at times before 7:00 am to discuss the project – he was so excited! Two years after his retirement Mr D died.  Just as he had started to live, he died - dream unrealised.  He had stifled his aspirations for so long, awaiting a pension which was barely enough to cover his bills and remaining in a job that contributed to his illness and eventual demise. 
Apart from the effect of time-wasting agents we are faced with the issue of fear.  Too many of us are afraid of failing but if you think about it, you can fail your way to success - many people do.  There is no one who is truly successful who can say they have never experienced failure – it comes with the territory.  When that happens, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, let the nine day wonder pass and try again.  Success delayed is not success denied; sometimes we need more time to learn and prepare ourselves to handle success.  Some efforts seem to go in vain but often there are lessons to be learnt. 
Sometimes you have to be bold!  Don’t apologise for your dream and don’t let people make you cry.  If you feel you can do better, chances are – you can; don’t spend your life merely existing in silent agony, bitterness or frustration.  It’s great to be humble but excessive humility and submission will not earn respect for your dream. Understand that you cannot have it all at once; that sacrifice will need to be made but if you are determined enough nothing can stop your dream.  It’s better to die trying than to live wondering what might have been.
For those who have taken the step of setting up business, consider... what could you be doing today that you have kept postponing?  In my case it is market development – taking our services to a wider audience, including overseas markets.  As business leaders we often find ourselves chasing the pennies while the pounds are getting away.  There is a Jamaican proverb that says:  Fry the big fish first, the little ones after.  We have to prioritise so that we do not spend our time engaging in activities that add little value, while more significant opportunities slip away.  Are there activities that you could outsource or employ someone to do, even on a part-time basis?  Can you find a volunteer or a trainee to help?  Too often we run behind our business, allowing it to run us (aground) instead of us running it.  Don’t be like my former boss who allowed other people’s business to run him into the ground, leaving no time to pursue his own dreams.  
Yesterday is history - let’s learn from it; tomorrow is not guaranteed, today is the best we have; there is no time like the present!

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