Paul Batura: The biggest mistake everybody makes

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It was the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope who first coined the phrase, “To err is human” - but it’s safe to say that humanity has been making errors since the beginning of time.

In fact, according to a recent story out of the United Kingdom, the average person makes 773, 618 decisions in a lifetime – and regrets 143, 262 of them.

Setting aside the incredulity of such specificity, it’s an incontrovertible fact that human error is part of life. If you ask me, a lack of failure probably means you’re not trying hard enough. Playing it safe may initially seem attractive – but in the end, it generally leads to a pretty boring and bland existence.

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But if everyone inevitably blows it from time to time, surely not all of our faux pas are equal in either size or consequence. So, assuming that’s the case, what’s the biggest error that everybody makes?

I think the biggest mistake people regularly make is assuming that tomorrow will simply be an extension of today.

I suppose such a tendency is understandable. After all, routine and predictability often lull all of us into a sense of complacency.

Think about it. We all have our morning and evening routines. Many of us sit in the same seat near the same people on the train or pew in church. We like what we like.

I think the biggest mistake people regularly make is assuming that tomorrow will simply be an extension of today.

The late ABC radio newsman Paul Harvey once told me, with great pride, that he had eaten a bowl of oatmeal every morning of his life since he was old enough to remember.

Yet, the obvious problem with assuming everything will be the same tomorrow is that nothing ever really stays the same. Scientists can confirm that we live in an “ocean of motion” and that everything is constantly changing, not the least of which is us.

Assuming tomorrow will be an extension of today handicaps us for the work that is ahead. We’re either growing or declining. Staying the same is a mirage.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was once talking about man’s tendency to assign present-day circumstances to the future in the context of the highly contentious confirmation hearings that surround every judicial appointment.

Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that senators inevitably ask nominees about the day’s hot button issues, like abortion, gun rights, etc. Instead, he contended, they should be asking them about their judicial philosophy concerning issues we’re going to be facing in the future – like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.  Those are the subjects that new justices to the high court will be primarily ruling on in the coming years.

We make this same mistake in our personal lives all the time. In fact, it’s a habit that leads to the one of the most painful of all human emotions – regret.

Rather than pursuing a romantic relationship with someone who can be the best of friends, how many seek beauty and fortune, both of which are often fleeting?

Instead of cross training in a job or furthering our education in the event our careers become outdated, we just keep doing what we’ve always done. We wait – rather than anticipating the inevitability of change.

Maybe we’re tired after a long day and decide that we can stop by the hospital to see our friend tomorrow – only to learn that he passed away overnight.

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It’s a common refrain – if only.

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We’ll slow down when things quiet down at the office and then take that long-awaited family vacation. But then our parents get sick and our free time and resources are devoted to caring for them.

So, what’s the solution?

My friend Doug Birnie was once a top salesman for Procter & Gamble. He’s gone to countless sales conferences and heard hundreds of motivational speeches. But he said the one that made the biggest impression on him came when he was in graduate school at USC. He attended a positive thinking seminar with a dozen top-flight speakers.

“The only speaker I remember from that day was the last one. People were leaving, trying to beat the traffic. She was an unknown woman – but her message packed a punch. She encouraged everyone to join the ‘DIN-DIN Club’ – Do it now. Do it now.”

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That “unknown woman” turned out to be a rising star in the cosmetics industry -  Mary Kay Ash.

Life has always been unpredictable, and maybe never more so than today. Don’t take tomorrow for granted, expecting more of the same from today. But make the most of what you have and there’s a very good chance tomorrow will be better than you could have ever hoped it would be.

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