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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Making the Most of Your Limited Engagement

Sean Fine/HBO/AP

Over the weekend, I came across a video and an article that reminded me to be present and make the most of now because my time here on earth is what you might call a “limited engagement.” It’s sort of like a Broadway show with a limited run.

Of course, that’s true for all of us. Seventy, 80 or even 90 years of life sounds like a long time until you consider it in the greater scheme of things. Someone once described to me where any of us fit into the span of time with a compelling visual metaphor. Imagine that you’re in a large room that has a thick metal cable extending from end to end. The cable is so long that it actually enters the room through a hole in one wall and exits the room though a hole in the wall on the other end of the room. When you step outside the room to take a look at the cable, you lose sight of either end of it on the opposite horizons. You step back inside the room and make a nick on the cable with a screwdriver. That nick represents your life on earth. The cable represents time since the universe began.

Like I said, the time any of us have here is a limited engagement only. The question is “What do you want to do with it?” For Sam Berns, who recently passed away at age 17 from a rare condition called progeria, the answer was, among other things, realizing the dream of playing snare drum in his high school’s marching band. Paul Kalanthini, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon who wrote in the New York Times about dealing with his unexpected diagnosis of lung cancer, is grappling with the question every day.

None of us really have any idea on just how long our limited engagement is going to play. Here’s some advice from Sam and Paul on making the most of it:

In a TEDx talk that he gave just two months before he passed away, Sam offered his three-point philosophy for living a happy life:

  1. I’m OK with what I ultimately can’t do, because there’s so much I can do
  2. Surround yourself with people you want to be around
  3. Keep moving forward

Sam also offered a bonus fourth point about living a happy life but you’ll have to watch his TEDx talk if you want to know what it is.

In Paul’s column, he talked about living with the uncertainty of exactly when his cancer will end his life. After several months of reflection, he is inspired each day by this quote from Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

What’s your philosophy on making the most of this limited engagement? What’s one thing you’ll do this week to make the most of it?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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