|Typical Saturday with Jack F. Babey at Creason Pond circa 1997|
Back in the early 90s, Jack got some bad news at the doctor's office--he learned he had a very serious heart condition. His prognosis was devastating. According to his doctor, if he was very lucky, he might have six months to live. He promptly began getting his affairs in order. But Jack wasn't like most people, which is probably why we were such close friends--he thought for himself. After he had his affairs in order, he began working on how he was going to spend his few remaining days. One thing he made clear was he wasn't spending what little time he had left sitting around waiting to die.
Jack followed his doctor's orders. He followed a strict diet, he lost weight, he got more exercise after he was sick than he ever got when he was well. He and I fished every Saturday, and in the beginning, I was a little nervous about that--as ill as he was I was worried he'd have a medical emergency while we were out on a lake somewhere. Six months passed. Then a year. Then 18-months. And Jack was still alive . . . and feeling better than he had in years. He was living the life he'd always wanted to live, but his prognosis remained grim.
It was at least four years after his six month death sentence I finally asked him while we were fishing one morning what his secret was. We talked about it nearly all day. It was so simple. "You don't recover from an illness by focusing on the disease--you get better better by focusing on your health."
It's about focus.
We spend so much time distracted these days. We can't go three seconds without glancing at our phone, or checking our email. We've got earbuds in all the time listening to music while we work, and we seem to always be working on ten things at the same time. And we're teaching our kids those same habits. Our kids are in ten different activities, and don't get much time to become really good at any of them. Kids these days get very little time to just play and enjoy being a kid.
And when we do finally focus on something, it usually takes the form of worry. We think focusing on unpaid bills is going to create the money to pay them. We think obsessing about the nasty things a coworker says and does to you is going to improve that relationship. We think worrying about that weird noise the car is making is somehow going to repair it.
What I learned from Jack was that focusing on your problems is useless. What works is focusing on the desired outcome--that much broader vision of what you want in life. When you focus further down the road on the big things and know where you want to go, those problems suddenly go from being walls you can't get over, to just potholes in the road. And Jack knew what he was talking about. He lived with a heart condition that kills most patients within six months . . . for nearly fifteen years. And as you can see from the picture, he didn't spend those years in bed.
So spend a little time today thinking about the things you're focused on--are they getting you anywhere closer to where you want to be? Think about the things that matter to you--what are you doing to towards those items? Notice those thoughts that keep nagging at you, and instead of obsessing about them, figure out how to resolve them.
Sometimes we spend a lot of time and effort in rowing, while failing to realize the boat is still tied up to the dock.
Todd E. Creason is an author and novelist whose work includes the award-winning non-fiction historical series Famous American Freemasons and the novels One Last Shot (2011) and A Shot After Midnight (2012). He's currently working on the third novel Shot to Hell which will be released in Spring 2014.