letting go of non-essentials

Posted on March 27, 2008


“Several years ago in one of our leadership workshops, a Jamaican man from the World Bank named Fred told a story that moved people very deeply. A few years earlier he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. After consulting a number of doctors, who all confirmed the diagnosis, he went through what everyone does in that situation. For weeks he denied it. But gradually, with the help of friends, he came to grips with the fact that he was only going to live a few more months. ‘Then something amazing happened,’ he said. ‘I simply stopped doing everything that wasn’t essential, that didn’t matter. I started working on projects with kids that I’d always wanted to do. I stopped arguing with my mother. When someone cut me off in traffic or something happened that would have upset me in the past, I didn’t get upset. I just didn’t have the time to waste on any of that.’

“Near the end of this period, Fred began a wonderful new relationship with a woman who thought that he should get more opinions about his condition. He consulted some doctors in the States and soon after got a phone call saying, ‘We have a different diagnosis.’ The doctor told him he had a rare form of a very curable disease. And then came the part of the story I’ll never forget. Fred said, ‘When I heard this over the telephone, I cried like a baby—because I was afraid my life would go back to the way it used to be.’