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20,000 DAYS AND COUNTINGThe CRASH COURSE for MASTERING LIFE RIGHT NOW
By ROBERT D. SMITH
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Robert D. Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter One20,000 DAYS AND COUNTING
IN 2009, MIDWAY THROUGH MY FIFTY-FOURTH YEAR LIVING on this planet, I came to a realization that changed my life forever: I had been alive for nearly 20,000 days!
That's 480,000 hours.
Yet even with all those days, all those hours, all those minutes and seconds that had already passed, I had this overwhelming feeling that I still had so much more to do. I am aware of the fragility of life, yet somehow I continue to be shocked at how rapidly the days fly by. To this point, my life has slipped past so quickly I can hardly comprehend it.
I am blessed beyond belief with parents who have loved me, have encouraged me, and are proud of who I am still in the process of becoming. I have three sisters, all of whom have incredible families. I look forward to every moment with them.
I knew what I wanted to study years before I went to college. I attended Samford University in Birmingham, majoring in psychology while minoring in speech and drama and acquiring a secondary teaching certificate.
During the three years after graduation, I held a variety of jobs. Those included being a youth director for a church, selling cars, and acting as sales manager for a company that produced surgical stainless steel. At the age of twenty-five, I was asked to go into artist management. My only client was to be a friend I had met seven years earlier when he was in the ninth grade. That friend's name was Andy Andrews.
For the last three decades, I have been privileged to manage this one act. He started as a comedian on cruise ships, then headlined the college circuit for years before performing in arenas and major showrooms in Las Vegas with Kenny Rogers, Joan Rivers, Randy Travis, Cher, and many others.
Eventually, Andy transitioned from comedian to author of what most would call "inspirational" books. We self-published a series of books called Storms of Perfection that sold over 600,000 copies ... before Amazon existed. As far as publishing is concerned, Andy's tipping point happened when Thomas Nelson Publishers published his first novel, The Traveler's Gift. More about that later.
Bottom line: I am a behind-the-scenes guy. I have never had any desire to be onstage or even write a book. So yes, I am just as surprised as anyone that you are reading this. In fact, what you are about to read has always been for my eyes only. These are my personal notes about life and business and God, from journals that no one has ever seen.
But enough about the past; let's talk about the future.
What can you and I do right now in order to make the most out of the years in front of us? What can we do to accomplish more, to celebrate more, to touch more lives in our remaining years than we have to this point?
How can we live our next days to the fullest?
I am definitely one to plan things out. Planning is natural for me to do; however, on my 20,000th day, I did something entirely out of character. I packed a few things, hopped in the car, and drove. When the time seemed right, I stopped and checked into one of The Leading Hotels of the World with a single objective in mind for the next forty-eight hours: to celebrate my first 20,000 days by putting myself through a crash course in planning my next 20,000 days.
Consider this book your personal crash course. Following are the specific breakthroughs I took away from my 20,000-day planning period. Here are the thoughts and actions I have pledged to implement daily for the rest of my life in order that I live with intense purpose, constant joy, and lasting influence.
Anything that is wasted effort represents wasted time. The best management of our time thus becomes linked inseparably with the best utilization of our efforts.
Ted W. Engstrom American religious and social leader b. March 1, 1916, d. July 14, 2006 (He lived exactly 33,007 days)
MY BIRTH DATE, MAY 5, 1955, CAUSES SOME PEOPLE TO speculate that the date must mean something. If so, I don't know what. Some think all those fives are auspicious and should be considered my lucky number. Others have suggested that I play it in the lottery. But I don't gamble.
I was honored and privileged when Andy Andrews and his wife, Polly, threw me a surprise fiftieth birthday party. How nearly ninety people could possibly show up at one location without me ever having a hint of what was going on from any family, friends, or associates is still beyond me. If you've ever experienced a truly happy surprise, then you can understand what I mean. It was simply amazing—a memory created for eternity!
Out of gratitude, I called Andy late that night because I wanted to share something I had never told anyone.
In my ninth-grade PE class, a good friend of mine, Paul Kartlick, tripped while playing basketball, hit his head hard on the outdoor concrete court, and died. Gone at fourteen years old. I was stunned. Shocked to my core.
I had been raised in the church and was very aware of God and spiritual things, but this hit me hard. It was my first realization that I am always, very literally, only one step away from dying, from meeting my Creator face to face. Any moment. Any day. Anywhere.
If you've ever experienced a tragedy, you probably have a good idea of how I was feeling. It was a pivotal point—a transition of some kind. Almost immediately, I began to reassess everything I thought I knew about life. We've all heard that life can change in an instant, but when that change results in the loss of life itself, it can become a huge and incredibly defining moment.
Since that day, I have lived with the odd sense that I, too, might die young. This experience and the feeling it fostered in me created a unique sense of urgency. Even at a young age, I began to seek out ways to fulfill my purpose. There had to be a purpose to life, right? There just had to be something to being divinely guided. But guided to do what? Every day became a major mission to find out why I was here and what I was supposed to do with my life.
I may not have fully realized my life's purpose as a freshman in high school, but I reasoned that it had to be a ton of little things adding up to something big. I had no idea what "big" looked like, but I understood little things. Consequently, I felt a pressing desire to accomplish these little things—make a phone call, write a letter, research an idea—as soon as they occurred to me. I constantly asked myself, What is important now? What is next? I could never escape those two questions as they spun around in my mind.
To this day, those same two questions keep me up late, get me up early, and create a never-ending quest of enormous possibilities and accomplishments. In truth, I never really want to be finished, though I am aware that one day, it will all end. But not yet.
I know I will die, but I do not know how long I will live.
To some, the very idea stated above may seem like a burden, but to me it's been a tremendous gift. Actually, it has been my motivating force.
With this thought weighing heavily on my mind, and added to the somewhat shocking revelation that I had been alive for 20,000 days, the first thing I did upon arriving at the hotel was to write and send forty-eight individual e-mails to the closest people in my life.
Every single one of them responded, many with an intense reaction. Some called. Some still talk about this e-mail to this day.
The following concept, if applied—will change your life immediately and forever.
From: Robert D. Smith
Subject: 20,000 Days & Counting
Date: February 6, 2010 6:11:50 PM CST
To: (48 undisclosed individual recipients)
A couple of years ago, I found a widget called a Countdown Calendar that told me how many more days were left until New Year's Day, or whatever future date you put. I wondered if it worked on days past. It did. I put in my birth date and was WOWed by how many days I had been alive.
I decided then that I would do something to celebrate when I reached the next big number.
Friday, February 5, 2010, was that day. I have been alive 20,000 days as of that day. I am grateful for each day, and for where they have brought me.
I decided to celebrate by taking a 48-hour crash course on planning the next 20,000 days, all while staying in a beautiful suite at one of The Leading Hotels of the World—at an undisclosed location.
I would like to share a verse that has influenced my life. "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12; Bible, Sacred Scriptures of Christians and Judaism).
Life is short.
Our days are numbered.
Our lives are limited.
Life can pass extremely fast.
The Bible says that a person's life is like a breath or vapor (Psalm 39:4–6).
The Bible also says that life is like a shadow that only temporarily appears (Ecclesiastes 6:12). And like a flower that flourishes then quickly withers and fades away (Job 14:2).
FIVE BENEFITS OF REMEMBERING THAT MY LIFE IS SHORT
1. I WILL GAIN CRITICAL WISDOM.
Counting my days has created a sense of intense urgency, causing me to choose how I am going to live and know what I am living for now.
I must desire wisdom with all my might. "Exalt her, and she will promote you; she will bring you honor, when you embrace her" (Proverbs 4:8). Wisdom is not only critical but also valuable for me to make important daily decisions.
2. I WILL BE PUSHED TO MAXIMIZE MY RELATIONSHIPS.
It is so easy to take my relationships for granted. Counting my days reminds me of how precious they are. This causes me to be more loving, more forgiving, and more unselfish. Time is merely the measure of passing events. Time is inflexible. You cannot manage it. It cannot be compressed or expanded. Bottom line: don't focus on time, but on events themselves. When you control the event, you control your life. Fill these events with people you love. Relationships will be enhanced and memories created.
3. I WILL DEDICATE 100% OF MY LIFE TO GOD DAILY.
Counting my days compels me to want to spend my remaining days and years in serving my Creator. I must stay watchful, alert, and committed.
I am grateful for every moment. Every possibility. Every person I meet throughout the day. I am fully open to god. I am an empty vessel to fill, a building with no doors. I seek what to do and where to go, living on the edge of great expectations.
The sum of what I do today is more expansive and far reaching than I can comprehend. This gives me certainty to continue with tons of massive action all day.
4. I WILL POSSESS A CRYSTAL-CLEAR VISION FOR MY LIFE.
The Bible says that without a vision the people will perish (Proverbs 29:18). A vision or dream has given me direction, something to aim at, to work toward. It keeps me marching forward.
I do not want to close my eyes and fail to see the vision. I face today with my eyes wide open, actively looking for the next action to take. Today I will practice love in all my actions, taking calculated risks and living more adventurously.
I know I am creating a life book. Today is but a chapter—maybe even just a few paragraphs. Each sentence I write with on-purpose intention. We all dream. But not equally. To make your dreams possible, act on them with open eyes.
5. I WILL REALIZE LIFE'S TRUE VALUE.
Counting my days makes things of eternal value feel much more important. I am more aware than ever that my life is preparation for eternity. One day my heart will stop, and that will be the end of this body. But not the end of me.
Knowing that the quality of my life will never exceed the quality of my questions, I must ask outstanding questions. What am I doing that will count two hundred years from now? For eternity?
Present success or failure does not measure the true value of your life's work. You still have now.
Six words continue to motivate me: No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets.
I am eternally grateful that YOU are in my life. The impact you have on me daily is beyond measure. What I do, what I think, who I am, and what I am becoming has been hugely influenced by you. For this I deeply and gratefully thank YOU!! I am so very proud of YOU and that god brought us together.
I look forward to counting more time with you and creating more memories that will truly last for all eternity.
Love you!! TheRobertD
No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
William Borden Christian missionary, heir to the Borden, Inc. fortune b. November 1, 1887, d. April 9, 1913 (He lived exactly 9,290 days)
Chapter ThreeTHE LITTLE-KNOWN STORY OF WILLIAM BORDEN
THOSE SIX WORDS—NO RESERVES. NO RETREATS. NO regrets—made a huge impression on me. But wait until you've heard the story behind them.
William Borden was already wealthy when he graduated from a Chicago high school in 1904; he was the heir to his family's massive fortune. For his graduation present, William's parents gave him a trip that would take him around the world, to countries whose suffering he never could have imagined within the confines of his comfortable life.
At some point, as he traveled through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, a simple burden began to grow heavy in his heart. He wanted to help these people who were far less fortunate than he had ever been.
At that moment, William decided to become a missionary once he finished college. He wrote home, explaining his decision to family and friends.
When he finished his travels, he attended Yale, where he quickly distinguished himself from his typical peers. He started a small morning prayer group, and by his senior year, a thousand students were meeting in similar prayer groups inspired by his.
William's actions even reached beyond the campus. He founded the Yale Hope Mission in order to rehabilitate drunks forgotten on the streets of New Haven. A friend wrote that William "went down to the meetings a great deal, and might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night—on the street, in a cheap lodging-house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him—seeking to lead men to Christ."
Given his family's position, he received numerous high-paying job offers after he finished his studies at Yale, but he turned them all down. After completing graduate work at Princeton Seminary, William sailed for Egypt, where he planned to learn Arabic before beginning his missions work in China. But while in Egypt, he was infected with spinal meningitis. The same month, William Borden died at the age of twenty-five.
The story of his life and death quickly made its way around American newspapers, capturing the attention of the entire country. His biographer Mary Taylor wrote, "A wave of sorrow went round the world.... Borden not only gave his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it was manifestly a privilege rather than a sacrifice."
William's all-out dedication to making his life matter is reflected in a story that circulated after his death. According to the story, William had jotted down resolutions in the back of his Bible each time he faced key decisions in his life. The first, when he decided to become a missionary: "No reserves." The second, when he rejected the high-paying job offers: "No retreats." And the last, before his death: "No regrets."
No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
William Borden made every day count. In the process of following his dream to become a missionary to the far corners of the world, he had a remarkable effect on those in his own community. He remained focused on his goal without losing sight of the here and now.
Did he reach his goal? No. But he fulfilled his purpose.
Before we can move forward and discuss how you, too, can truly live every day with purpose, we have to talk about a topic that is uncomfortable. Scary. Depressing. Taboo, even. We have to talk about death. Why? Because facing death, acknowledging it, and coming to terms with it is the best way to really live.
The next few chapters will explore the amazing, freeing perspective that comes from acknowledging our mortality. It's simple, attainable, and life changing, and you can work it into your daily mind-set in positive, uplifting ways.
Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.
James Dean American film actor b. February 8, 1931, d. September 30, 1955 (He lived exactly 9,000 days)
Excerpted from 20,000 DAYS AND COUNTING by ROBERT D. SMITH Copyright © 2012 by Robert D. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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