Commentary: The things that matter most

by Master Sgt. Erik Larson
USAF, 776 EABS/GGR

“The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.”  – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is so much to do in the military; like any career, if you are not careful, the job can take your whole life away. With that said, I would like to share an experience that made me realize time is our most valuable resource, and we should spend it on what matters most.

One day at work, I started experiencing chest pain and pounding pressure. The pressure grew progressively worse, and I realized I needed to have myself checked out by a doctor. I messaged my wife (who worked nearby), and she drove me to the emergency room. The medical technicians hooked me up to machines. The doctor told me to lie down, breathe, and relax, so I laid back to honor the doctor’s orders. At that moment, the experiences of my career in the United States Air Force were foremost in my thoughts.

I remembered a master sergeant I worked with when I was a young airman. Before his retirement, he died from cancer. At his funeral, the commander said the last time they met, the master sergeant asked him why this was happening. The master sergeant said he had given everything to his profession, and it had cost him time he could have spent with his family. His plan was to spend time after his retirement to reconnect with his family, work on his personal hobbies, and explore the interests he never had time to try.  I realized I had put myself in a similar position.

Thankfully, the doctor told me I was not having a heart attack. I took the rest of the day off and relaxed at home. I have not felt any similar effects since.

Although this was a scary experience, I am grateful it gave me the wakeup call I needed.  I realized we have no guarantee of tomorrow; we only have the present time, so what matters most?  As I laid there in the hospital, I asked myself this question, and I believe we can all benefit from some reflection. There are trivial things we spend most of our time on when we could be filling our lives with what matters most. As an exercise, write down a list of the things that matter most to you and the amount of time you spend on them each day. If you are honest with your answers, I bet you will surprise yourself.

I was able to realize one of the things that matters to me is personal development. I have been able to develop the healthy habit of filling my mind with the rich mental protein found in a myriad of personal development books. I have noticed that I progress and grow through reading personal development books and taking notes to internalize the things I am reading.

I have been able to put what I have learned from these development books into practice and have gained confidence by improving my communication skills.  I now do my best to be straightforward and express my intent to those that can help me reach my goals. What matters most is not the same for everyone, so I challenge you to find out what matters most for you and spend time doing it.

About the writer: Master Sgt. Erik Larson is stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, but is currently on a 7-month deployment to Djibouti. He writes so he can “give perspective on my military/personal life to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”

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