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How To Fly On The Graph Of Life

My United States Army unit was stationed in Iraq for a while. Live combat and heavy firefights were the norm. Even so, I never truly experienced fear until one day a suspected vehicle-born IED –a car bomb –came rushing at us. When my life flashed before my eyes, I understood how quickly it can all end. Though terrifying, we handled it like trained soldiers, but the fear produced a life-changing paradigm shift in my mentality.

My favorite line from my favorite movie, Fight Club, finally made sense to me. The main character, Tyler Durden, says,“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.” The idea that life is an hour glass and that we have no idea when our final grain of sand will drop became clear. Then the question hit me: “Duztin, where on the graph of life do you want to end up? The blank line soaring to the top or on the free-falling red line?” I wanted to be the black line, but I needed to develop an effective decision-making matrix.

How does the matrix work? The vertical axis tracks the value of all of our decisions while the horizontal axis represents the span of our life. Each good decision bumps us up and the bad ones bump us down. I’ll use an example to illustrate. Tom finds out a co-worker makes more money than him. He could scream at his colleague, quit without talking to his boss, then cuss at him on the way out the door. Three bumps down. Instead, Tom could gather information, calmly tell his boss he feels underappreciated, and request a raise. Three bumps up. One set of decisions leaves Tom with no job and a bad reputation, the other puts a dinner on his table.

The big difference between the two? The ego. Ego is a thief that deceives and disrupts rational thinking. We can counter this crook by taking tactical pauses. A tactical pause is the internal process of pumping our emotional breaks to consult with ourselves (and maybe even others) to consider potential outcomes and consequences. Let’s check back in with Tom. He did a spot check and found his pride was ready to wreak havoc. Taking a breath, he looked into the future and saw the impulse of telling people off wasn’t worth it. Instead, he asked for a raise. A simple pause has Tom trending upward on the graph.

Will we always make the best decisions? No. However, by employing tactical pauses we can ensure the lifetime average of our personal, professional, and spiritual lives have us riding high on the graph of life. In other words, we’re all dying, so live the best life you can.

I think Tyler Durden would agree.