Wake up call

Our struggle to put first things first can be characterized by the contrast between two powerful tools that direct us: The Clock and The Compass.

The Clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities-what we do with and how we manage our time… The Compass represents our vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, direction-what we feel is important and how we lead our lives.

The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass-when what we do doesn’t contribute to what is most important in our lives.

For some of us, the pain of the gap is intense. We can’t seem to walk or talk. We feel trapped, controlled by other people or situations. We are always responding to crises. We’re constantly caught up in ‘the thick of thin things’ -putting out fires and never making time to do what we know would make a difference. We feel as though our lives are being lived for us.

For some of us, the pain is a vague discomfort. We just can’t get what we feel we should do, what we want to do and what we actually do all together. We are caught in dilemmas. We feel so guilty over what we’re not doing; we can’t enjoy what we do.

Some of us feel empty. We’ve defined happiness solely in terms of professional or financial achievement, and we find that our `success` did not bring us the satisfaction we thought it would. We’ve painstakingly climbed the ‘ladder of success’ rung by rung-the diploma, the late nights, and the promotions-only to discover as we reached the top rung that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. Absorbed in the ascent, we’ve left a trail of shattered relationships or missed moments of deep, rich living in the wake of the intense, over focused effort. In our race up the rungs, we simply did not take time to do what really mattered most.

Others of us feel disoriented or confused. We have no real sense of what ‘fist things’ are. We move one activity to another on automatic. Life is mechanical. Once in a while, we wonder if there is any meaning in our doing.

Some of us know we’re out of balance, but we don’t have confidence in other alternatives. Or we feel the cost of change is too high. Or we’re afraid to try. It’s easier to just live with the imbalance.

We may be brought to an awareness of this gap in a dramatic way. A loved one dies. Suddenly she’s gone and we see the stark reality of what could have been, but wasn’t, because we were too busy climbing ‘the ladder of success’ to cherish and nurture a deeply satisfying relationship.

We may find out our teenage son is on drugs. Pictures flood our minds-times we could have spent through the years, doing things together, sharing, building the relationship…..but didn’t because we were too busy earning a living, making the right connections, or simply the newspaper.

The company is downsizing and our jobs on the line. Or our doctor tells us we have just a few months to live. Or our marriage is threatened by divorce. Some crisis brings us to an awareness that what we’re doing with our time and what we feel is deeply important don’t match.

In the absence of such ‘wake-up calls’, many of us never really confront critical issues of life. Instead of looking our deep chronic causes, we look for quick-fix Band-Aids and aspirin to treat the acute pain. Fortified by temporary relief, we get busier and busier doing ‘good’ things and never even stop to ask ourselves if what we are doing really matters most.

Khuzema Hassanali
Dar es Salaam

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