Recently, my wife, Mary, and I returned from a two-week vacation in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We had just completed a 7+ hour flight from Dublin to DC, rushed to make our connecting flight back to Denver and settled into our new seats moments before departure. I was dead tired and all I wanted to do was try and catch some sleep.

As I settled into my space in the middle seat (Mary by the window), I felt the presence of a rather large man sitting down beside me on the aisle. It wasn’t my first time to be sandwiched into my airplane seat, held in check by the overflowing physical nature of the person next to me – it’s just one of the natural hazards of modern travel. This certainly wasn’t going to disturb my sleep!

Soon my seatmate was chatting me up – asking me where I was going, where I had just come from and so on. I politely answered his questions and inquired about his travel. The conversation continued along even though I’m sure my drowsiness was quite evident to him.

He went on to share that he was from Maine, tell me about the job he was currently working, how he had previously built up a multimillion dollar business and then lost it, how he had recently gone through a divorce and “she had gotten the large house”, that he was currently living in a small rental and how he was just now beginning to date again. I began to wonder why I was in this conversation when all I wanted to do was sleep. I also wondered why he was sharing all of these details with me even though I was sharing little.

Finally, in summing up what appeared to be on the surface a tale of woe, my new acquaintance stated, “you know, all of these changes have really improved my life. I used to be so focused on only making money, acquiring possessions and so on. Now I’ve come to realize they’re not that important. I have come to learn that what’s really important are the relationships in your life and what you make of them.  I would have never realized that if I hadn’t gone through all of this.  I am really blessed.”

I mumbled some type of agreement with his assessment and then drifted off into a state of semi-sleep. Then it hit me exactly why life sat this talkative man next to me at this exact moment – he was putting an exclamation mark on what was truly important about my time in Ireland and the lesson that I was to take away from the two weeks – keep your relationships as the most important thing in your life.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our “everyday lives” doing all of the things on our “to do” list, keeping our calendar commitments, making progress on our mission and vision such that we frequently reduce the amount of time we devote to our relationships with those important people in our life. Similarly, our habits and daily patterns can serve to block us from developing new friends.

In the concluding days of our vacation, Mary and I had agreed that there were two key parts of our trip that we had enjoyed the most. First, it was taking the time to meet new people and find out about them. Although we “saw the sites” like most tourists, it was the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland and their openness and friendliness which we had enjoyed the most. It was in discovering the ways they were like us — and the ways they were different.

Secondly, the vacation allowed Mary and I to share common experiences and reflect upon them to a degree that we frequently don’t get in our normal lives back home. We were immersed “together” in these experiences and it was serving to grow our personal bond. We realized that in spite of the distractions of our work and home life, somehow we must maintain the best we can this feeling we were having.

There’s an old cliché that no one ever went to their graves wishing they had spent more time at the office. Most people in their senior years express the realization that the most important thing in their life are their relationships with friends and family. It may seem obvious but we don’t have to grow old – or die – to learn this lesson.

What are you putting first in your life?

Is it your job or career? Are you chasing after money and material possessions? Are you seeking fame or social status? Are you locked in on accomplishing all your commitments?

Are you spending a lot of time online? Are hours of each day devoted to entertaining yourself? Are you devoted to some kind of hobby which takes a lot of time?

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong per se with any of these things – in moderation! It’s only when we devote the majority of our time and energy into chasing these other things that we limit the time spent on what is truly important.

And what is that? Uh, see the title up at the top there….(with apologies to James Carville)

Have you met anyone new lately?  Have you spent time with your friends? Who are the most important people in your life — and are you connecting with them enough?

Reach out and connect with someone today.

Mark Gilbert

ps.  Recently I was interviewed for the online radio program Cosmic Thoughts.  It was a quite fun conversation….here’s the link to the podcast which I think you might enjoy!

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Photo credit: MattHurst / Foter / CC BY-SA