What Matters Most

I met my new doctor this Wednesday at MD Anderson and we had a great meeting. He is a top doctor in the field of myeloma and it is always enlightening to learn more about the latest and greatest in research and clinical trials.

At the airport later in the day, the impact of what he actually said hit me. I realized that his message was in no way comforting, just a reminder of reality. I burst into tears. He said that even if I get into remission, myeloma is not one of those cancers that if you don’t have signs of it after two years, you are clear. Myeloma always comes back eventually. And there is no cure. He is a doctor, researcher and scientist. Given the statistics and his experience, they were realistic comments. My Utah doctor phrases things differently. He says, “One-third of our patients can get into remission for up to 8-10 years.” Still realistic, but said in a glass-a-third-full sort of way.

I moved out of the Bentleys after living there for 7 months, came to Mexico, went back to Utah for more test, came back to Mexico again and have now gone to Houston to start the new year’s worth of treatments. I will be spending significant time in Houston getting the treatments, flying back and forth between Mexico and Texas. Is it any wonder that I am in a state of emotional flux?

When I am home, I am struggling to find my place again. I have free time, but as the doctor reminded me, my time is potentially limited. So with all that to think about, what should I be doing? What do I want to be doing? What matters the most? I am watching while Paul is working furiously to close his Mexico venture fund, writing a book about the entrepreneurial process, and fundraising for his Mexico City private equity fund. He is going 100 miles an hour while I am contemplating my life’s purpose on earth. It seems unnatural to be just laying there, sharing in the emotional stress of a startup, but not being in a position to help out too much.

Actually, I find that the cyclone of the startup and the stillness of my cancer have surprisingly a lot in common. They both ask the question, “What is worth my time and energy?”

I just read Paul and Nathan’s Nail It Then Scale It book again before it went to print. The main idea for entrepreneurs is to cycle through business ideas quickly without spending years and millions building a business that won’t ever make it. The idea is to fail fast and fail early, saving time, money, reputation (and may I add relationships). The process takes humility and discipline, but the reward is worth the effort.

Life is like that. We accept or reject ideas about how to spend our time, trying to avoid the crash-and-burn ending. The process takes humility and discipline, but the eternal reward is definitely worth the effort.

My brother-in-law who interviewed for a new job is contemplating the same question with two different approaches: Is there something I should be doing – a sort of pre-ordained destiny that I was meant to fulfill and a work that only I can do? Or should I simply decide on what that good thing is and then set about achieving it?

The scriptures are full of people who were called to do a specific work – Samuel was chosen to be a prophet when he was just a boy and Moses was called to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The disciples were chosen by Christ and “left their nets straight away.” Most of them said, ‘Who, me? Really? But I am just an ordinary man.” They were all asked to do unbelievably hard things, but at least they knew they had God’s endorsement and power to accomplish anything He asked them to do.

I guess the key point is that they were called by their Creator to do a specific work that He qualified them to do. Most of us aren’t commanded to appear before a burning bush, only invited to do His work, counseled to obey the commandments and then are left to our own judgments about how we spend our time.  I do think that I came to earth at a specific time in history and that I have a place to be and a work to do. I also believe that I will have to account for the work I did here. But if we were all told exactly what to do every minute we were here, it would be too easy. We would not have to sift and sort, prioritize, choose or reject the many offerings in front of us. We would also not have to assess our own talents, strengths, weaknesses, willingness to take risks, or decide on the best venue for our talents. We could blame God for our predicaments, (“Well you told me to go do this!”) even if the work was done with less-than-perfect execution or seriously flawed judgment.

(And maybe this is why those rarely chosen were uniquely qualified with a special blend of timing, opportunity, character, faith, obedience, and confidence in God)

I guess these thoughts just bring me back to the question, “What matters most?” Whether I have 3 years left or more than 30, cancer has forced me to prioritize. I keep coming back to the same 3 things: Doing God’s work and living righteously so I can stand before Him at the end of my life with confidence and joy, caring for my family and those eternal relationships, and gaining knowledge – all three being things that matter now and forever.

On the flight to Texas, I sat next to a man who was a testicular cancer survivor. He had been cancer-free for 16 years. I asked him what he learned by having cancer. His answer was, “Today. Live for today. Love the people in your life today. You never know how many tomorrows you will have. Most people live in their future – when I do this or when that happens, then I’ll have really done something. They completely forget about enjoying today.”

I guess what matters most is finding a way to make faith, family and learning part of our todays. That way we will have lived enough, loved enough and learned enough, regardless of when we are called to go.