My Coworker Got Shot in The Head and Still Made Our Meeting
What is the most important thing in your life?
For the record — I know one of you will wonder this — he was alive in the meeting. It wasn’t a Meetings at Bernie’s sort of thing where they had his limbs on strings.
Jeff took a left in Baltimore when he should have gone right. His hotel wasn’t where he remembered. Using GPS never occurred to him, since the city had been his home in a past life.
A wrong turn. A dark street. A series of loud pops. And then…
He learned from first responders that his SUV skidded off the road, slamming into a pole. If the attack had been aimed at Jeff, the shooter likely would have come to finish the job. Instead, the crossfire from a gang fight faded away as the emergency vehicles flashed into view. Paramedics cut Jeffout of the vehicle.
He remembers none of this.
His memories jump from steering wheel to hospital ceiling.
The email came to us a few days later.
“Hey team, please excuse me, but I might be a little late for today’s meting. I was shot in the head a couple days ago, and I have to change these bandages before I get on the call.”
The email was breezy, as if his Comcast service ran late. The replies were predictable.
- “OH MY GOD are you serious?”
- “Wishing you all the best! What a sad and crazy thing.”
- “Please understand you don’t have to be on this call.”
He was on the call.
That email was the first I’d received from Jeff. I almost didn’t believe it. People don’t type “I was shot in the head” into the body of a work message very much. My brain refused to process what he’d written until the others reacted.
We all joined the online meeting and there he was, a mummy from the eyebrows up. He listened, spoke slowly and barely moved his head.
Almost like, you know, he’d suffered a sort of blunt trauma.
Pretend it is the day of your grandfather’s funeral.
The ceremony starts at 3:00. You have to work, but it would mean a lot to your mother if you were there. Shutting down your computer early, you peel out and head for the graveyard. You’ll be on time, barely.
On the way, you smell something. It’s your favorite sandwich shop.
A gurgle under your ribs reminds you that your working lunch wasn’t a lunch at all. The phantom scent sneaks into your nose. You can feel the warm hoagie between your fingers. However, stopping would mean you will definitely be late to the funeral.
What do you do?
Easy, right? You choose a 6-foot hole over a 1-foot sub. You do this because your choices are based on an order of importance.
That can be difficult to remember in times like these. Monday, you read that Sandra the fitness model pulled in $200K last year. Tuesday, you discover that an old friend started a dropshipping business. Wednesday, you learn that one dude from Tiger King who got his hand bitten off is building his kids’ college funds just by saying “Hi” to people. Friday, you watch Free Solo.
When you have no order of importance set in your life, you want all these glamorous things. That makes it impossible to choose — Should you be the model, the mogul, or the mountain climber?
It is easy to want all these victories. It is easier to want them immediately.
But if you try to choose everything, you lose everything.
The painful implication of this logic is that you must sacrifice potential gains in other areas. That’s hard. Potential is intoxicating. It’s not easy to give up the idea that you “could be” something. Unlimited dreams are useful as a child. They are less so as an adult.
Most people don’t say this because it’s not inspiring, but I will say it because I love you: you can’t do anything you want. And in fact, you shouldn’t. Choose what is most important, and then abandon the rest.
That’s why Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant showed up to the gym every day before the rest of the team. That’s why Picasso painted 300 canvases per year.
That’s why I sit here writing this at 9:40 p.m. — with a glass of Rosé to my left and a half-eaten strawberry Pop Tart to my right — tweaking these words in hopes that I shine a light to someone, somewhere. There are crumbs on the keyboard and alcohol on my lips and the glow of the screen is still present in my office even though I know I should be in bed because writing is at the top of my order of importance. It’s what I do.
As for Jeff, he showed up to work 48 hours after a bullet ripped through the flesh 2 inches from his brain. Being shot in the head was not the most important thing to happen that week.
I imagine he thought something like this:
“As long as I’m standing, I will do what must be done.”
It’s a good thought.