I spent last two evenings, a couple of hours each day, in the Emergency Room of a hospital. I had to take injections through slow IV as part of a preventive treatment, I was not a patient in true sense: I was not in pain or any physical discomfort.
As the medicine slowly flowed into my body, I wanted to keep my mind busy. I tried reading on my kindle, keen to use every waking hour in a fruitful manner. To my surprise, I could not even focus on the interesting stories of Miss Marple. My surroundings were riveting and forced me to think. Few patients close by caught my attention.
There was a very old lady opposite to me. She was in pain; she kept groaning. She was going through blood transfusion. Her deeply wrinkled face showed the several years that she spent in this world. What were her dreams as a young girl, a young women? What did she want out of life? Did she get it? Lying in the cold hospital room, what does she feel? Or the pain is so severe that it is obscuring all other thoughts?
Few meters away, a young mother was lying on the bed, with an IV drip and her hand in a sling. Despite her physical discomfort, which showed on her face, she was concerned about her infant daughter who was wailing in the patient waiting area.
The last patient disturbed me the most. A young man was hit by a car as he was riding a motor cycle, he had occipital injuries. His sobbing mother and wife tagged behind the stretcher as the nurses brought him into the ER. He obviously belonged to the lower middle income group. I could overhear the doctors talking about a CT scan, a surgery – none of which he could afford in a corporate hospital. He would probably be soon moved to a government hospital. How would he know while stepping out in the evening that he would end up with a life threatening injury?
How quickly we forget, especially when defining priorities for ourselves, that life is ephemeral? We keep reading nice quotes by famous people on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter: about purpose of life, doing what matters, setting right priorities etc etc. We read them, appreciate them, like the post, retweet them, even add a comment and then move on! I have done it, I am not an exception.
My experience in the Emergency Room forced me to reflect on my own priorities. I inadvertently moved into the journey of introspection. After spending some time, I was left more confused than clear. Despite wanting to set priorities for my life, I am struggling with three challenges:
Too many priorities, some conflicting – Reach top levels in corporate world (which incidentally is a moving target), earn money and power, spend quality time with family, travel and see the world, do social work, complete my doctoral, write a book, and probably few more things. Some of these priorities are clearly conflicting with one another. So, how do I prioritize as to which one really matters, it’s not an easy job.
Social pressure: Do I really want to reach the top echelons of corporate world, or am I coming under social pressure. My roommate in college has become President in a MNC organization, where am I? How can I stay where I am? My neighbor wrote a book and became famous. I can also write, so why not write? It’s not easy to tame the beast called competitive spirit – it’s a boon as well as a curse.
Unknown number of productive years left on this earth: This is our dear God’s trick, his way of letting us know who is pulling the strings! I recently read an article by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a 36 year old neurosurgeon from Stanford medical school who succumbed to lung cancer. He talks about his journey through his terminal illness, uncertainty and says – tell me I have one year, I will just spend time with my family. Tell me I have three years, I will write the book I always wanted to write. If I have ten years, I will go back treating my patients.
As late Dr. Kalanithi said, it would have been simpler to set priorities for life if we know how much time we have. But, sadly, we don’t and it would remain a mystery to one and all. So, we continue to question – what should we really focus on!