The title looks like clickbait, but it’s not. Seriously. These three questions will change your life (if you let them):
- What is the most important time?
- Who is the most important person?
- What is the most important thing to do?
Those questions, and how you answer them, will go a significant way towards determining the nature of your life.
Of course, I can’t claim credit for them – that belongs to this guy:
In fact, you should stop reading this post and go read Tolstoy’s short story, “Three Questions.”
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
*unconsciously hums the Jeopardy Theme*
Ok, you’re back.
Or maybe you never left. Maybe you’re a rebel and don’t do what every random blog post tells you to. Or maybe you’ve already read it.
Whatever the case, I don’t want you to miss the significance of those questions. Let’s look at them one at a time:
1. What is the most important time?
Most people would answer this one correctly: the most important time is right now. Pop psychology, YOLO, living in the moment, etc. etc. have taught most of us that much at least.
But verbalizing the right answer is not going to change your life.
In order for that to happen, you’ve got to live like you mean it.
We can all say that now is the most important time, but few of us live that way.
Some live in the past.
Some live in the future.
But you can’t control either of those.
The only time you can control is right now. So plan accordingly: is NOW really best spent binging another forgettable series on Netflix? Do you honestly believe that NOW is best given to mindlessly scrolling Facebook?
Instead of wasting it, do work NOW.
Instead of consuming it, start creating NOW.
The most important time is NOW, so changing your life starts with rethinking how you use NOW.
2. Who is the most important person?
Me. Myself. I.
Be honest, that’s how you’d really answer.
How do I know? Because that’s how I’d answer. That’s how every single human being on the face of Planet Earth would answer if they could be forced into a single moment of brutal honesty.
Tolstoy understood that because he saw it played out around him. A member of the Russian aristocracy who joined the army, he saw both the excesses of wealth and the depravity of war. These are both glaring symptoms of humanity’s self-obsession.
Practically, that means forgetting about yourself and focusing on someone else.
The most important person is not you, it’s the person you are with right now.
Why? Because in a world of self-seekers, someone looking out for someone else is a major disruptor of the status quo. You don’t change your life by doing what everyone else is: you change it by doing what no one is.
That requires putting your little, self-curated, instant, digital, egocentric universe (your smartphone) down, maybe for more than five minutes (gasp). There’s lots of data on the impact of smartphones on real relationships: read some of it.
It takes intentional questions and actual listening. Most of what we call conversation is simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can start. That won’t fly in this new paradigm you’re establishing.
Deciding that the person you are with is the most important person in the world takes effort. It requires sacrifice. But it’s worth it.
Strangely enough, when you shift from a me-centered focus to an others-centered focus, you’ll find happiness, purpose, and meaning that you never had before.
But don’t take my word for it: try it.
It will change your life.
3. What is the most important thing to do?
(See, I told you that you should have gone and read the story.)
This question brings it all together.
Now is the most important time.
The person you are with right now is the most important person.
And the most important thing you can do is…(drumroll please)…
Do good for that person.
Obviously, that will look different depending on the moment and the person.
You don’t engage a gunshot victim in philosophical conversation.
You don’t bandage the mouth of a verbal sparring partner.
But you do in the moment for the person you are with what is going to be best for them. Sometimes that means being nice, sometimes that means being harsh, but it always means that your action is focused on benefiting them.