A few weeks ago, one of my friends was in a serious car accident. When his car got taken in, they said whenever they see a wreckage that bad, the owner usually doesn't make it.
My friend was lucky. He was shaken up, but aside from some cuts and bruises, he was physically fine. I visited him the day after, and asked him how he felt. And he said, "I know it's cliché, but it's one of those things that reminds you of what's important in life".
It's the same thing that my Mum said to me when she found out that our neighbour had passed away in his early 60s. It's the same thing I told myself as I waited for my biopsy result after finding a lump in my breast (it was a cyst thank God).
But this got me thinking. Why is it a cliché?
Clichés are phrases used so often that they become meaningless. But you have expressions like "work hard" and "do your best" that are also overused. But they aren't considered cliches. We nod our heads, work hard and do the best we can. "What's important in life" is something we seem to find more difficult to take onboard. And maybe that's why it's considered a cliché - because it's said so often, but we still don't listen.
We know what's important in life. We know our time is limited. We know that anything could happen tomorrow and that we're lucky for today. We even know what people regret on their deathbeds. Yet our work-life balance is still skewed towards work. We still stress about things that won't matter in a year's time. And we still "need" car accidents, poor health, and sad news to internalise what's important to us.
I've been trying to figure out why this is, and I think this is what it comes down to:
- We're too driven by a sense of achievement. That feeling of personal progress is addictive, but a lot of the things that are important in life (family, friends, health) aren't "achieved'. Generally speaking when you have these things, you also don't feel the need to have more.
- We don't slow down enough. Society is so fast-paced and we get swept up in it, making it harder for us to see what's already around us.
- We focus more on goals than values. We're a goal-driven society with dream boards, to do lists and New Years resolutions. Often our goals focus on very specific areas of our lives rather than considering the life we want to live.
- We don't like thinking about mortality. It's easier to live in ignorance, not having to think too deeply about what we could potentially lose. This might be the simplest reason of them all.
I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what advice I can offer to help you focus on what's important everyday. Maybe it's practising daily gratitude, meditation, or looking at your values everyday.
But even if you don't remember what's important to you everyday, maybe it can still take the pressure off you. We spend so much thinking and working towards other things. But for us to need reminding of what's important in life, it means we already have what's important in life. And that's bringing me so much comfort.