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What Really Matters

A reality-check on what's truly important in life
Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 4:06 PM

Here at PeakProsperity.com, we devote a lot of focus to building wealth and other forms of "capital". This website has hosted thousands of discussions over the years on how to preserve and increase wealth.

But what's it all for?

Every so often, it's useful to pull waay back to look at the big picture. To re-examine the Why? underlying our plans and aspirations.

Most of us don't do this very often. We usually only do so after life throws us a curve ball -- often some form of tragedy or crisis -- that suddenly forces us to re-evaluate everything we may have taken for granted beforehand.

I've certainly been guilty of some of this complacency. I think Chris would admit to a little, as well. But sadly, we've both recently experienced traumatic events that have forced a renewed appreciation of what truly matters in life.

For me, my (very personal and highly subjective) conclusion is that "what matters" pretty much boils down to just two things:

  1. living with meaning, and
  2. valued relationships

Everything else -- money, knowledge, possessions, skills, experiences...even our beliefs and actions -- are means to achieve those two goals.

Living with meaning is a huge topic. One we've addressed in parts occasionally here at PP.com and which I expect we'll tackle more ambitiously in the future. But for now, I just want to point out that it's rooted within the individual. Each of us has to identify what "meaning" is for ourselves, and then determine how best to pursue it in our lives. (Much easier said than done, of course).

Valued relationships, on the other hand, are by definition interpersonal. As our podcast with Pulitzer prize-winning author Sebastian Junger explored, humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to co-exist in community with others. Deriving self-worth from our relationships is simply a fundamental feature of the human species. And the theme of the remainder of this article.

Some Learnings From The Big Picture View

A sad reality is that we often don't actively appreciate the value of our relationships until they're in jeopardy or lost for good. As mentioned earlier, Chris and I have both had recent reminders of this.

Chris lost a nephew a few weeks ago. 18 years old and died in his sleep of an undiagnosed congenital heart condition. A promising, accomplished, athletic young man who simply went to bed and never woke up. Pretty much any parent's worst nightmare.

In my case, my older daughter was at the beach a few days ago with some friends. One of them ran into the surf, dove into an incoming wave...and didn't resurface. His friends managed to drag him out of the water alive, but his neck was broken. He's currently in the hospital without use of his hands or legs.

Morbid stuff, I realize. But I'm not trying to depress you; there are a few worthwhile points to make here.

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Hearing from Chris about his nephew's death, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a few folks at our annual seminar back in April. In it, I was reflecting on a memorial service I had recently attended.

The gentleman who died was older and not in good health, so his death wasn't a complete shock. He was also a little socially odd -- a well-meaning guy, but with an overbearing approach that could be a little too much to handle for very long.

However, the memorial service was amazing. The sentiments shared about him by his friends and family were so wonderful, so loving, and so successful at capturing the best parts of his character to remember and honor. It wasn't false praise -- it was all accurate material. Just the good stuff.

I left feeling lucky to have known him and sadder than I'd realized at losing him in my life. I mean this in all sincerity: if folks talk only half as nicely about me when I'm gone, I'd call that a big win.

But the tragedy here is that I'm fairly confident the deceased gentleman heard little to none of this praise while he was alive. He very likely died ignorant of the positive influence he had made in the lives of many, instead thinking of himself as the guy others tried to avoid at parties. How sad is that?

That thought got me wondering: Why do we wait until after someone dies to honor them? To express the appreciation we leave unspoken during daily life due to familiarity, cultural norms, busy routine, distance, etc.

Wouldn't it be more enjoyable and effective for everyone involved if our culture had a custom in which we celebrate the full measure of someone's life -- and they actually get to participate in that celebration, and reflect their gratitude back?

When I raised this at the seminar, there was pretty much universal agreement that such a custom would be welcomed. And interestingly, there were a few folks who had actually experienced something like it. One had enjoyed a surprise 50th birthday party where his family and best friends from each stage of life had been flown in, each of whom spoke from the heart about how they valued him. He said it was a top life moment for him -- every bit as meaningful as I was imagining it would be.

I love this idea of an "appreciation ceremony" and I *definitely* plan to do it for the most important folks in my life (wife, family members, close friends). And I'll hope, perhaps, some of them may do the same for me one day.

But more generally, I take from all this -- underscored by the stinging loss of Chris' nephew -- a motivation to be more vocal, more frequently, with my appreciation for others.

Being honest, this won't come easily to me. Having grown up in an emotionally-restricted New England WASP household, the muscle history just isn't there for direct expression of high-intensity sentiment. But it will be healthy to work on. Those I care about will know that I care, why I care, and to the degree that I care. And I'll have the piece of mind of knowing that should a runaway bus take them -- or me -- tomorrow, the important stuff will not have been left unsaid.

Tragedy Can Bring Out Our Best Selves

I've spent much of the past 72-hours going back and forth from the hospital where my daughter's paralyzed friend is recovering. It's been very tough emotionally -- especially watching his parents sit vigil.

The situation is exactly like something out of a TV movie. This young man is a star scholar-athlete at the local high school and co-captain of the varsity football team. He's good-looking, charismatic and universally liked around town. His family has lived here for generations and are heavily involved in the community (his father was a local firefighter for 45 years). This tragedy could literally not happen to a nicer family.

As you can imagine, the outpouring of support from the community has been immense. Folks offering hugs, food, rides, child care, laundry services, fund raising, medical connections -- you name it, it's being extended.

While sometimes overwhelming for the family, it is clear to see that the community support has been a crucial factor in keeping them from crumpling under the fear and stress resulting from the accident. I feel like I've had a front-row seat to witness the communal bonding process that Sebastian Junger describes in the podcast mentioned above.

Junger points out that humans evolved while living in tribes that needed to band together for survival against a hostile world (e.g., predators, other tribes, weather, famine). Humans have lived like this until very, very recently -- historically speaking.

Thus, his conclusion is that we are wired to live in connection with our community (our tribe), especially in ways that protect that community from adversity. So you can make the argument that community + adversity = authentic living. In other words, when we pull together with those around us in times of crisis, we are truly living as nature intended us to.

I am certainly seeing this in my present experience. The grace, the generosity, the selflessness, the love, the sense that we are all part of something larger than ourselves -- it's astonishing to witness. Especially when compared to the radically more superficial way we all interacted beforehand. This crisis is giving people the permission and inspiration to "be" more real, more authentic, with each other. To be a tribe.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few days reflecting on Junger's tribal theory, and have decided to add the following addendum to it: While never desirable, adversity/tragedy gives us the opportunity to step into our best selves.

Not everyone will. But we all have the chance to. And it's how we're designed to be.

We just saw people step into their best selves in Texas and Florida, saving lives and helping afflicted neighbors in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We are seeing folks do the same right now in Puerto Rico and Mexico City. As mentioned, I'm watching it happen in real-time in my own hometown.

I share all this partly as a little writing therapy to help me cope with the stress of the past few days, but more importantly, to give you some perspective that I hope will be useful in the years to come.

Those familiar with The Three E's understand what I mean when I say there are some very sizable disasters headed our way. They are mathematically unavoidable at this point. But while we can't control *what* will happen, we each can control *how* we will meet and react to it.

Advance preparation is essential. But no plan is foolproof. Having the ability to deal with unexpected setbacks is also key -- which a tribe helps immensely with.

Find your tribe. Celebrate it in the moment. And bring out your best self in support of it.

~ Adam Taggart

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10 Comments

Ris75's picture
Ris75
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 29 2017
Posts: 1
Perspective

Thanks, Adam.

This topic is one I think about probably more than most, and possibly too much. I have several tribes; small and quite different to one another.

One very small group consists of my close friends and family who, to varying degrees understand and share our concerns for preparedness and inevitable collapse. We are taking small steps in physical preparedness and trying to position our family to ride out the coming storms.

My other tribe, is one we didn't choose - because no one ever would - parents to a child with a profound disability - Angelman Syndrome. Our son's disability defines our lives in many ways. Managing his health (seizures, among other things) and managing our mental and physical health (and that of his twin, who is along for this ride, whether he likes it or not) is our daily routine. Over the last winter our son caught a cold, which became an upper respiratory infection and he refused to open his mouth - no seizure or fever control medicines. This situation rapidly escalated into an ambulance trip to hospital - pneumonia/collapsed lungs/nasal gastric tube/oxygen support/IV antiobiotics. From a cold. In a non-verbal child who needed to be restrained from pulling all of these supports off his face and out of his arms - constantly, 24/7. For 2 weeks. My husband and I took shifts, with help from nursing staff. The exhaustion and internal screams of "I don't think I can do this anymore..." were debilitating. That was just an example of a recent health event. I'm not trying to be dramatic - I'd love a life free of 'drama'. But his physical vulnerability is a daily reminder of not only how fragile the balance in our life is - but also how illusory our ability to maintain his health (and ours) may be, should economic/social/political situations deteriorate.

My disability community of friends, with whom we have bonded over the shared experiences are often emotionally fragile, while being fiercely strong, determined machines who keep going for our kids. This community often hears bad news. I'm not really sure how many of them 'prep'. For some, I imagine ignorance is bliss. If everything goes pear shaped - our ability to maintain our sons health will be limited. If manufacturing generally declines, essential medicines will be prioritised - medications that treat miniscule sectors of the community will be cut first. We accept that - survival will become utilitarian. To suggest to parents of disabled kids that the government/health services might leave them high and dry is too much to contemplate.

But I think about, and try to keep some powder dry. Look at alternative medicines (i.e. cannabinoids) not all of which are legal or accessible here. I think one edge my husband and I have is living through 'carer syndrome' a PTSD-like effect on your nervous system - and we are still functional and we make the best of things. Learning to cope with really shitty situations beyond your control is not something you can simulate or prep for. We are poised to have location/food/water/defence/currency preps in place. Other than siphoning off seizure meds & storing them - I can't prep too much. So my family and I appreciate each other as often as we can.

A great topic Adam - one that everyone needs to get their head around now - stuff, emotional stuff will happen. All the preps in the world won't save you if you can't get past crippling grief. You can't prep for it, but you can manage not to be blind-sided by it.

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 337
Timely post

Adam,

Thank you for the timely post. Last week, I was thinking about what I would say to people if I had a short amount of time left. I don't, as far as I know, but my wife and I are still adjusting to life without her father. None of us know how much time we have.

I thought about making a list of all the people that mean something to me--people that have had a positive influence or helped me in some way, or simply people that I admire for helping others. Then I'll take the list and write what I want to say to each person on the list and contact them.

Your post has given me the impetus to do just that. I'll let you know how it goes.

Phil

poaec's picture
poaec
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 24 2014
Posts: 6
Excellent

Thank you Adam for for candid and thoughtful insights.

 

"Find your tribe. Celebrate it in the moment. And bring out your best self in support of it."

 

I need a T-shirt with that on...smiley

Sterling Cornaby's picture
Sterling Cornaby
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 6 2012
Posts: 152
Great Message

I haven't posted for a great while.   Amen to your message.  We all need to be celebrated.  

Phaedrus the younger's picture
Phaedrus the younger
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 21 2013
Posts: 61
"Don't wait until it's too late"

Excellent post Adam and your quote above represent true words to live by.   We pulled the trigger this summer on a full transition to homesteading, market gardening and community involvement.   Goodbye corporate life, hello giving back and living to our full potential!  

We've met some very cool people who drop into our road-side veggie stand. 

I will say that we were extremely fortunate to have had 10 years to plan and to execute on that plan.  At the time we started planning it felt like the fuse was extremely short to get it all done.  The systemic risks are so much higher now that I can't believe there's much fuse left!  

blackeagle's picture
blackeagle
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 16 2013
Posts: 206
Still a long way to go

Adam,

Great article.

There is still a long, very long way to go for our modern society to reconnect to things that matter. People worship money; they have been raised in its worship. Just look at the number of comments/posts that follow an article/podcast. If it is about finances, then the number of comments is high. If the subject is about spirituality and living with meaning, then comments are not as many. Resistance to this change is huge. Similar to when the Romans were giving Christians to lions.

Where we live, building a community is the challenge that still  bugs us. Some days we think that things improve, and the next day something happen and pouf!, everyone is two steps back. We are thinking moving to another place (This time preparing an exhaustive checklist to select where we will be landing - we have learned a lot from this experience) and redo our preparations from zero (or close to). Big waste of time but always hoping for the better.

JM

Snydeman's picture
Snydeman
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2013
Posts: 356
Great article

Adam,

Excellent article. It is my belief that the fundamental flaw of capitalism and its associated systems is that, for all its strengths and advantages, it goes against our very grain and destroys that which makes life meaningful and fulfilling to our core being; not to mention the web of life we rely upon. I teach many children of the very well-to-do, and they have a multitude of advantages and resources at their disposal, yet they are among the most unhappy and stressed-out. We've gone far off the path of what it means to be homo-sapiens, and lost much in the process.

 

Anyways, articles like these are good "reset" buttons. Thanks for posting it.

 

-S

New_Life's picture
New_Life
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 18 2011
Posts: 108
Thanks for sharing

Great post Adam, thanks for sharing, always great to be able to tell those you love that you are grateful for them being in your life.  Hugs to you, Chris & your loved ones.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2771
The Evolutionary Wiring For Community

After writing this piece I re-listened to our podcast with Sebastian Junger. It's powerful, and provides a convincing rationale for why we humans require community in our lives.

If you haven't yet heard it, or it's been a while since you have, it's worth taking a listen:

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2771
Hospital Interview

Folks have been asking me about the status of the boy I wrote about in the above piece. Here's an interview he recently gave from his bed in the ICU:

He's a pretty remarkable young man.

Anyone moved to donate to his rehab costs can learn more via this link.

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