Carl Mays: It all comes down to, what’s important now?

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 11:44 PM

Ann Landers was THE syndicated advice and help newspaper columnist when I was in high school. It seems everybody was familiar with her name.

I frequently heard my mother and her friends talking about Landers. Mother also referred to her at the family dining table. Her interest in the column even influenced me to read some letters written to Landers and her responses.

I clipped a column one time and used it in a school writing project, focusing on her words, “A good laugh is the best lubricant for oiling the machinery of human relations.”

My interest in her statement followed a basketball game experience. As a freshman, I was the starting point guard on a basketball team whose other starters were upperclassmen. That in itself presented anxiety.

However, one early-season game brought an extra dose of anxiety because of the opponent’s tenacious defense. Their main weapon was to attack, trap and annihilate the point guard. In this case, me!

We studied and practiced counter-attacking the opponent’s plan all week. The big night arrived. And even though I was jittery, I felt well prepared. The teams took the court in front of a packed house.

We went through our drills and took our practice shots. Coach DeShazo then told the starters to remove our warm-up pants. With the other four, I went to the bench and sat down to unzip the legs and remove the pants. I didn’t get very far.

Can you imagine the feeling when I discovered I had forgotten to put on my game pants? I mean, this was not the place for a jock strap commercial! Red-faced, I explained my situation to the coach. He enjoyed it. Too much, I thought. The other guys enjoyed it also. Again, too much, I thought.

But it did something for us. It cut through some excessive tension for everyone and helped transform our “tight” enthusiasm into “loose” enthusiasm.

I went to my locker, located my pants and returned to the floor. We won the game by 12 points. I scored 18, had 10 assists and only two turnovers. It was a game I will remember forever – for more reasons than one!

I’ve been under more pressure and endured more stress since then, but that evening taught me the importance of having a good sense of humor. While you need to take what you do very seriously, you need to learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. And through it all, you need to keep the main thing the main thing.

Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Brinkley, when Command Chief of the 19th Airlift Wing, said, “We are all challenged daily with multiple concerns that compete for our attention and action. The key to keeping down stress while leading a productive professional and personal life is how you determine where to place your focus and energy.” He went on to say you need to ask yourself what is the most important task at hand, and then continue to list your activities based on level of importance, a list that will serve to keep you focused as you function daily. With that priority list in hand, you need to stick to the plan. 

He said if you don’t have the discipline to follow your list of priorities to completion, you stand the risk of limiting your success. He said to ask yourself, “Am I sticking to the plan or am I going with the direction the wind blows?”

Champion football coach and TV analyst Lou Holtz, who wrote the foreword to my A Strategy For Winning book, put it this way: “WIN means ‘What’s Important Now?’”

— © 2013 by Carl Mays, speaker and author whose mentoring site,, is based on his book and program, “A Strategy For Winning.” E-mail to, call 436-7478 or visit