Prioritizing Life: On being a dad, doctor, and writer. Oh yeah, and a fisherman.

The New Year is all about resolutions, so try this. The lesson is at the end. It’s only 7 minutes.

I’ve been a dad almost as long as the others, so it seems natural for me to compare them. All of them competed for time, that illusory wisp of the disappearing present, so how can you do any of them well?

Of course being a doctor must be first. It’s special, a calling, on a higher plain than any other job. More important than children or wife, right? Sure. Ask any surgeon, or interview at any surgery residency program. They pride themselves in destroying families for the sake of almighty medicine. Patients are priority. That’s what most patients want—a doctor who will stay up all night with them when they’re sick, read every book, every current article about their malady, and be there when they need them on Christmas Eve. “It’s wonderful that you have a family and all, Doc, but if I am having belly pain in the middle of your daughter’s
birthday party, you better come see me. How else are you going to save my life?”

And writing? Well, you must write every day to get better, and not for a few minutes, at least twenty hours a week. The more hours, the quicker you improve. You have to take all the latest courses on how to hook your reader, how to market your writing, who the best agents are for your genre. Family is important, sure. Maybe you can write about that, if you have a family after becoming a doctor. Or maybe you can sell a book about losing your family to medicine? You never know, one of them might be the All American Breakout Novel.

Fly fishing can relieve stress, keep you healthy, get you outdoors. If you want to actually catch some fish you must learn how to cast a fly line, practice twenty minutes every day, at least. You have to learn the river, fish at least once a week, three days to figure things out well. It’s a big river, and there are so many others, too. And the flies you buy fall apart and are too expensive, so you must learn to tie your own. Oh, yeah. They catch fish so much better. Why not teach what you know and help others to get the addiction? You can be a guide. You could teach your kids how to fish, if you can wait for them to learn to cast, to mend, to set. Then again, how will you ever get to excellence if you wait for them? You’ll never catch that record.

Okay, time for a reality check. The son and daughter are only six-years-old once. Their birthdays will be no more than photos and memories in hours. Them learning to ride a bike with you holding onto the seat will pass in maybe even one peddle down the street. It does take a few moments to sit with your wife at breakfast discussing her latest creation, or crisis, or watching her laugh at your grandson eating an ice cream cone.

If you’re not there at that special moment, time will piss on you leaving. The only memory you will have is wishful thinking.

You figure it out yet? Save patients, write the breakout novel, catch the world record fish, or enjoy your family. It’s your choice, not mine. I made mine and I have to live
in the present every day with them. You’ll have to live with yours, too.

But here’s a method to ferret it out: It takes 7 minutes. Do you have the time?

1) Write down the top 10 goals you really want to accomplish in the next 10 years, but do it in two minutes. You’ll have to write fast, and you MUST do it in under two minutes.
Make them specific, or general. Whatever. We are working with your unconscious mind here. Don’t give the conscious one a chance to interfere too much.

2) Write down the top 10 goals if you only had five years to live. Same method. Two minutes.

3) Write down the top 5 goals if you only had 1 year to live. Only 1 Minute this time.

4) Now you only have 6 months to live. Write down the top 5, one minute.

5) Now you have been given 1 month until you die. What are the top 5 goals. One minute, if you need that long. You’re wasting time if you take longer.

I hope you came up with the real priorities in your life and live with them. If you are a list maker, make sure you include the top 5 in everything you do every day. You can always change them, redo them if something comes up. But, pretty soon you won’t need to make a list. It will be as natural as sharing a mountain stream, flyfishing with your kids.

We have no control over time, only what we do within it. Take 7 minutes to make a better New Year. It would be a shame if it took a war, like for Dan, to wake you up.


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