On October 30, 2002, David Letterman hosted the last appearance of Warren Zevon, an American rock singer-songwriter and musician. You may remember a couple of his most notable hits – Werewolves of London and Lawyers, Guns & Money. Zevon had appeared numerous times on Letterman’s show and the two had become fast friends. Recently, Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and Letterman spent an entire hour talking openly and frankly with Zevon about his plight. I watched the YouTube video of the show and was amazed at the humor and grace that Zevon displayed. One of the most simple of things he said was so profound, “You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.” Of course he went on to talk about enjoying every minute of playing in his band and playing with his kids. But the notion of enjoying something so mundane as a sandwich struck a chord with me. Tragically Zevon died on September 7, 2003 at the age of 56.
We entrepreneurs are in a constant state of hyper-drive. We all know that we should stop and smell the roses. We also know that we need to maintain work-life balance. And yet we can often find it difficult to carve time out of a packed schedule to do these things . . . or so we think. Part of the problem is the fact that we are so passionate about what we do. We’re obsessed with building our business. And I know for a fact that any entrepreneur who doesn’t have this obsession will either fail or be only marginally successful. But the passion and obsession does not mean that we can’t “savor the sandwich.”
What if we treated every interaction we have with others as though it would be the last time we would see them? What if every activity – professional or personal – was treated in similar fashion? The thought of this may seem somewhat morbid and maybe even hard to comprehend. But, what if . . . ? We all have a terminal diagnosis. We just don’t know whether it’s far into the future or right around the corner.
While this has been a difficult subject for me to get my head around, I’ve thought about it quite a bit the older I’ve become. I find that I prioritize differently. I want to make absolutely certain that the most important things on my to-do list are always finished. And at the same time, I have become more and more thankful for the little things in life. I revel in the warm sunshine and find moments of wonder gazing at a full moon. An early morning walk is no longer just exercise, but now a time for inspiration. Dinner at a favorite restaurant with my bride has become less about checking e-mail and social media, and more about the pinch-me feeling that is the result of nearly five decades together. No longer do I quickly scan through photos of my grandkids, but instead take in the twinkle in their eyes and the look of pure joy on their faces. During a meeting, I look around the room and think about how proud I am of the team we have assembled and what they are accomplishing. Of course there are obstacles that are faced every single day – but the endorphins are going full blast with the anticipation of how we will creatively overcome them together.
Savoring the sandwich means being present in every moment of every day. It means eliminating the “taking things for granted” syndrome that plagues each one of us to some degree. I have worked hard to develop the ability to compartmentalize the challenges we face in our enterprise. In so doing, I’m able to have greater appreciation for the little things that are happening around me. I am more obsessed than ever with scaling our various business initiatives. But I’m equally obsessed with seeing all of life in color. There’s no question that both can be done at the same time. Lending a helping hand to others, and expressing appreciation and gratitude to them is also part of the equation.
We have the ability to savor each sandwich as though it will be our last. And it doesn’t have to take the diagnosis of a terminal illness to unlock this ability.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.