Pay Attention or Pay the Price
It has been difficult to get back into writing to complete an article to publish. I took a break over the holidays with a plan to slow down from weekly articles to bi-weekly. Well, that hasn't worked out as planned as this site is really a low priority passion project.
At the end of December, I hired a someone for my project at work, which means I have been hyper-focused on his training and work to ensure he is successful and happy with his choice. That has gone remarkably well, even when we had to change to tele-work for two weeks. My focus on his success distracted me from other priorities.
At home, we have remodeled a bathroom and a game-room. The bathroom was mostly just tiling the floor which was just a long process. The game-room is an area of the basement, which had become a dumping ground for stuff we'll put away later. We cleaned that up and decided to utilize the space mostly for the kids to have a dedicated Lego space, but also to give us space for games next to the 300+ board game cabinet with a flat screen and game consoles as well. We mounted the Lego table to a pulley system to pull up to the ceiling to keep their creations intact while other gaming takes place.
In addition, we have taken up some new hobbies with my youngest daughter playing basketball and myself learning pottery to help out my wife. My wife tells me she struggles to throw clay for her pottery projects. I don't think I'm any good at it either, but I do have more patience to work and rework the clay until I have what I want.
On top of all that, there is a lot going on in the world with the COVID-19 Omicron virus variant making record setting waves, then the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which had been brewing for a while before finally striking last week. Trying to stay informed of these things and ensure my sources are accurate can be quite time and energy consuming.
All these things draw my focus and affect my other priorities. This blog has received most of my neglect. If we don't pay attention where it is needed, then we will pay the price. With that, I thought this would be a great topic to get back to this project.
Back in 2014, my back and neck pain was at an all time high. The pain caused me to distracted, easily annoyed, and unproductive. By unproductive, I mean I just physically could not do all the things I would normally do around the house. Sundays, I typically fold and put away all the laundry from the week. I couldn't stand long enough to do the job. Dishes would pile up, because I couldn't stand at the sink long enough to get through a full sink. By easily annoyed, I mean that anything extra beyond what I could do would cause me to be short with my family and angry at them for causing me additional pain. Lastly, the pain and anger distracted me from my priorities. I would forget important things. My wife would talk and I thought I was listening but that conversation would not hit the memory parts of my brain like they used to. I paid the price repeatedly for my loss of attention and focus. It took a few years to get the right treatment and alleviate the pain, but those years seem like a lifetime ago as I have my focus back. When I have a painful setback, I am better equipped to recover and more knowledgeable about how that pain effects me and those around me.
Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, drops this very lesson on Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace when he said, "Always remember, your focus determines your reality."
Delving further into the past, I went on travel for work to Lakehurst, New Jersey in 2012. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the hotels were either booked with displaced people or FEMA workers. Lucky for me, I have a friend in the area unaffected by the storm and with his beer fridge fully stocked! It’s not the Government per diem hotel I’m used to with a king-sized bed, HD TV, and access to a gym and pool. Instead, I sleep on a pull-out couch sharing the room with a crated dog. Later in the night, I find I also share the bed with a cat, who decided to make me head a nice pillow. Since the cat woke me up, I decide to roll over to check the time: 2:13. Facing the kitchen doorway now, I see a light coming from an open refrigerator. There is nobody there, but its contents are distributed all over the floor. Then, a pair of bare feet inch out of the fridge followed by the rest of a young boy, my friend’s youngest son Harry.
The boy freezes upon seeing me. We stare at each other with me trying to figure out why the boy has emptied the fridge on the floor, while the boy appears to be trying to figure out an explanation.
“What are you doing?”
“You should see this.”
“The back of the fridge… come over here.” Being careful not to step on any of the precariously stacked food, I move toward the fridge. There appears to be an open door inside. Not a butter door or freezer door… more like a closet door. I get closer and lean to see inside.
“There is a zoo inside your fridge!”
“Shhh! You’ll wake everyone.”
“Why is there a zoo inside your fridge?” Harry shrugs his shoulders at the question and crawls inside. I shrug my shoulders and follow. The first zoo animal we see is a purple gorilla.
“Whatever you do… do not touch the purple gorilla.”
“DON’T TOUCH THE PURPLE GORILLA!”
“Alright, alright. I got it.”
“Ok. I’m going to bed. Can you clean up for me?”
“Whatever, kid, I’m going in.” And with that, I go into the zoo and Harry goes into the kitchen on his way to bed.
I look over the animals, which seem pretty normal except for exceptional colors. The purple gorilla appears docile and friendly. I briefly ponder Harry’s warning as I continue down a path leading to the rest of the zoo. Losing track of time as I view all the animals, I eventually find my way back to the gorilla, which is now asleep.
While looking at the pleasant, sleeping gorilla, I remember how docile and friendly it was. I wonder, “What could Harry possibly be worried about?” I reach through the bars, hesitate for a moment, and pet the gorilla’s fluffy purple fur. Not a twitch or a tremble from the animal. I pull my hand away and head for the door. Not two steps into my stride, that I hear an earsplitting roar from behind me. I turn to see an angry, fierce gorilla roaring while showing his long, sharp teeth. I stumble backwards a little bit before I realize that the beast is in a cage, but not for long. The animal displays incredible strength bending the iron bars apart like they were clay.
I scream an expletive and run for the door, diving through and landing face first in a leftover apple pie. Standing up quickly, I turn to run to the living room tripping over a jar of pickles, then regaining my balance by stepping into a half-eaten cake, but my next step is on top of a carton of milk which just explodes spilling milk and me all over floor. Not waiting to see if the gorilla will follow me through the door, I clamor to my feet, stumble into the living room, and climb under the pull-out bed. I hear the purple gorilla stomp into the living room in a huff followed by the sound of furniture being tossed around. Then silence. I listen intently. The convertible couch lifts off the floor and flies across the room revealing the huge, monstrous gorilla. I lock eyes with the purple beast as I lie on floor, quivering and crying as I await my death. The gorilla roars like thunder pounding its chest. Then it reaches for me with one large open hand… and pats me on the head.
“Tag, you’re it.”
Remember, your focus determines your reality.
Your focus doesn't just distract you from other priorities. It can make you miss the bigger picture. Our minds establish routines and habits based on what we experience. Human instinct is to believe what we see, but we will also interpret what we think we see and what we expect to see. Reality isn’t always what we think it is or expect it to be. People used to think that the world was flat, the Earth was at the center of the universe, and the moon was made out of cheese. Scientific breakthroughs are found by changing a perception through a very controlled experiment to test a hypothesis.
There is a story about six blind men who were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. One feels a leg says it’s is like a pillar; one feels the tail says it’s like a rope; one feels the trunk it’s like a tree branch; one feels the ear says it’s like a hand fan; one feels the belly it’s like a wall; and one feels the tusk says it’s like a solid pipe. Each is only experiencing a piece of the puzzle. Together, they can complete the puzzle.
We get a "follow-up" lesson from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi:
Luke: [approaching R2-D2] I can't do it, R2. I can't go on alone. Obi-Wan: [from out of sight] Yoda and I will always be with you. Luke: Obi-Wan. [Obi-Wan's spirit approaches Luke] Luke: Ben! Why didn't you tell me? You told me that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered my father. Obi-Wan: Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and "became" Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view. Luke: A certain point of view? Obi-Wan: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
In this part of the conversation, Obi-Wan is explaining how perception frames how you think and what you think. The things we believe are true have a foundation built from our perception or view. It is difficult for us to believe in anything without an experience to back it up whether it is first, second, or third hand. These beliefs give us a background for comparison, a springboard for decision making, and a basis for logic. If something appears true from one perceptive, but false from another, then one can encounter difficulty whether someone is hiding your family's past from you or whether you are counting squares in an IQ test puzzle. The difficulty is from seeing only a portion instead of the entire thing. I’ll let 1932 Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg summarize my thoughts here: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” To understand any new concept or situation, search for the other perceptions or points of view. If you ask the same questions and use the same methods, then you should expect the same answers. Try something different, or even unusual, to get a better view on reality. There is a saying about not understanding until you've been in someone else's shoes. When you are confronted with an idea you do not understand or a problem which you cannot solve, try changing your shoes, because your perception determines your reality and reality is more than meets the eye.
When it comes down to what really matters, my reality is my family. They will always come first. Every time I spend my attention on something not involving them, I am paying a price. I miss out on moments of my kids lives or quality time I could be spending with my wife. I miss out on conversations I could be having with my parents. I like to say I live with no regrets, but my tune will change when one of my loved ones is no longer here. I'll instantly regret not spending more time with them. I'm trying to give more time now, to not have those regrets later.
What are you doing with your reality? Are you paying attention to everything around you? Do you have the energy and bandwidth to handle all that you have prioritized in life? Are there things that you are missing out on or distracted from, which should receive more of your time? Are you paying the price?
Your time is one of the most valuable things you own. It is limited. You can't earn more or hit the jackpot. And you never know when you'll be bankrupt. Spend your time wisely.