I met a man who grew up as the child of missionaries in Africa. This fellow lived and played with the natives and went to school with them. He recounted that each morning as soon as the sun was up, all the children in the village would run out to the makeshift soccer field and immerse themselves in their game. When it was time to go to school, they would take turns going into the classroom to study their lessons. As soon as school was out for lunch or the afternoon, they would dash back onto the field and play until they couldn’t see the ball anymore. In that village, soccer was the real deal and everything else fit around it. Those kids had their priority, and they were true to it.
The eternal soccer game reminds me of one of my favorite aphorisms:
The main thing is to keep
the main thing the main thing.
You have something that is most important to you. Perhaps it is creating a business success, or maintaining a loving relationship, or experiencing physical vitality and well-being, or simply living in a state of joy. But do you do what is important to you in proportion to how much you value it? Or do you let it recede to a back burner until you finish less-important things first? It seems that there is always something you have to do before you can do what you want to do. This is "the tyranny of the urgent." That is why Stephen Covey brilliantly suggests, "Do what is important, not what is urgent." Such advice may fly in the face of the fearful mind, but it makes perfect sense to everyone who has walked the way of greatness and contribution.
You will not conquer the tyranny of the urgent by engaging in meanwhile menial tasks in hope of one day clearing your plate. You will overthrow the tyrant only by doing what is important now. Instead of just wishing or waiting for the opportunity to do the main thing, you need to do the main thing.
Let’s say, for example, that you decide your main thing is inner peace. Author Hugh Prather likens the process of maintaining inner peace to holding an infant throughout a day. If you had an infant or were entrusted with one, you would give that child your first priority as you moved through your day. If you went into the city and you heard a loud horn honk, you would not drop the child. If someone insulted you, you would not put the baby aside to punch that person. If you saw a fantastically attractive man or woman, you would not abandon the infant to pursue the hottie. The child would come first, and everything else second. When achieving and enjoying your main thing is more important to you than all the other stuff attractions or distractions, your main thing is the prize you shall own.
I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that declared, "Baseball is life. All else is details." Like this fellow, each of us chooses something that brings us life, and all else becomes details. I encourage you to stay with what brings you life, and let the details be just that. Great artists, inventors and world change agents do not bear greater gifts than anyone else; they just live truer to the gifts they have. You, too, have powerful gifts and contributions to offer; you just have to let them be more important than trivial tasks or obligations that do not add to your joy, but diminish it.
I belong to Netflix, a service that mails me DVDs upon request. When I log onto my Netflix account, I see a list of movies I have ordered but have not yet been shipped. If I learn of a movie that I want to see before waiting for it to work its way up through the queue, I can click on a box entitled, "Move to top of queue." Then it becomes number one on the list, and all the other selections move down the list. So it is with your main thing. At any moment you can click on "Move to top of queue," and the universe will deliver that experience to you before the other ones you would like to do or believe you have to do.
As we move into the fall season, many of us are setting out on new projects and adventures. We go back to school, begin jobs or projects, and may change residence. The outset of a journey is the time to set your intention. If you are going an a thousand-mile trip, one degree of direction change at the outset can make a difference of a hundred miles where you end up.
Now would be the perfect time to decide to play in the big game rather than the little one. Is life a grand soccer game that you interrupt briefly for work, or is it a terrible onerous task that you interrupt occasionally for play? It will be whatever you make it. You could ask the kids in the village their opinion, but you may have to wait for your response. They are busy playing the big game.