In Those Five Minutes


“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you can help them to become what they are capable of becoming.” ~ J. W. von Goethe

The firefighter at your door sternly states you have five minutes to gather whatever you choose and evacuate your residence. A physician summons you with news that you probably have no more than five minutes with a dying loved one. You’re entering emergency surgery and asked to consider an organ donor consent. You’re on a flight when the captain instructs passengers to brace for impact.

In times of uncertainty, danger, or impending loss we are forced to transcend the thinking that usually dominates our everyday awareness. Without notice, you have to make lightening-quick decisions to which you haven’t given much prior thought. Shifting from the trivial to the critical usually exceeds your brain’s speed limit. And you’re likely unfocused and unsure about what to do. In those precious moments are these important…

  • your degree(s)
  • your age
  • technological conveniences
  • what you control
  • social media
  • what’s on the news
  • your investments
  • what you look like
  • global politics
  • how you’re acting
  • material possessions?


I suspect not. You’re dealing with a racing mind, feeling physically exhausted and depleted, and scrambling to make sense of the seemingly unfathomable. What can you say, think, do? Is this a space in which you anticipated being?

When standing at such an edge, uncertain about the future, one can hope to draw strength from knowing what really matters — for those five minutes… what to grab, what to say, how to react and how to decide, with compassion.


There’s a purpose here. It’s to encourage thought about what you value and to invite aligning your life with same. Because possessing clarity about what matters, matters!

In anticipation of having only five minutes, would confirmation ofΒ any of these help?

  1. Be yourself. When living as a passionate, inspired being, the only challenge greater than learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is to walk a lifetime comfortably in your own. Let your heart lead and take your brain along. When you’re clear and comfortable about what matters to you, making tough decisions can come more easily.
  2. Be a front-runner. Associate with others who share your values and aspirations. Don’t find yourself in a position where social gravity draws you into an unenlightened world and obscures who you are, what you know to be important and how you embrace, confidently, being at choice.
  3. Don’t stop remembering why. Many of us have tendencies to lose touch with what we loved as a child. The social pressures of adolescence and later professional pressures squeeze the passion out of people. Remember what you enjoy doing, with whom and why. You only need to be good at being and valuing you, and being there for others.


97 thoughts on “In Those Five Minutes

  1. If my apartment was on fire and I had minutes, the only thing I’d really strive to grab are my cats. The rest can burn if that is the case. Even my passport can be replaced.

  2. Fire has not happened – My dog would be what I grab along with my ever present emergency back pack (see next answer).

    Wife’s Cancer – Learned to have a back pack ready to go to survive in emergency rooms. How I was thanked by my wife for caring for her and fighting the battles during six years: filed for divorce Christmas 2013.

    Organ Doner – Check
    Bone Marrow Registry – Check
    Blood Doner – Check

    Two spine surgeries – First question they told me they would ask after is if I could still wiggle my toes? Yep.

    What’s Important? Nothing on the list. Each day is a gift. Death is always five minutes away…we just don’t know it. Don’t do or say anything you will regret. Be in the moment and choose to be happy each and every day. Be kind to everyone. Life is too short.

    Great thought provoking post!

  3. What an amazing testament to what truly matters! I hope to never be in a situation with only five minutes to spare, but this is a great reminder of how we should be investing our energies each and every day…

  4. To be fair, they gave me ten minutes. It doesn’t matter..every thing we think we worry about goes out the window at that point. Only the focus of the moment exists, there are no ‘what ifs’ any more.

    • In some sense/situation(s), it might matter… if we have given thought and (even cursory) prepared. It could help to alleviate panic or a sense of being in a cavernous void. I would agree, Sue, that when such a moment present, ‘what ifs’ are secondary to ‘what now.’ If I’m ever is such a position, I know I would derive some solace from knowing I had at least reflected on (and perhaps taken some action toward) what really matters. But that’s simply me.

  5. Hi Eric,
    Though this is a hypothetical question but those five minutes can acquaint us with our real thoughts, capacities and ideals. I have experienced that human mind goes blank at such a time and we can realize it only when we face one such situation. Yes, being yourself is the only possibility at such times.

    • Thanks, Balroop. While it is hypothetical, given what matters focused thought and attention when the hypothetical is just that, can help to ground one when dealing with a matter(s) that disrupts our otherwise, fairly routine life. Your thoughts?

  6. Such a simple question gave me shivers. Ten mins into it, and I have no idea what will I grab. However, inspired by my grandfather I am planning to donate my body. So, there is one thing I am sure of. Not too bad… Right?

    • Not too bad at all. Sometimes it’s a matter of conscious, prior planning that might give a bit of breathing room (or comfort) when seriously challenged. Donating one’s body to science is a noble and humanitarian contribution!

  7. Interesting one, Eric. I think we need to be constantly aware that these 5 minute situations can arise for any of us at any time. Having personal fire drills on a regular basis is no bad thing. All too easy to lob along imagining we are on safe ground.

    • That’s just it, Jean, we too often figure we’re on safe ground, indefinitely, and we don’t think to give these matters thought – or action, if appropriate. I like your reference to “constant awareness.”

  8. There’s an old adage that if you throw a coin up in the air and ask yourself the most serious of questions, you will have the answer by the time the coin lands. What’s important is really never that far away..

    • I have heard that adage, Mimi, and find it ideal for this topic/focus. Appreciate your thinking of and sharing it. What remains, in my mind, worthy of thought is how many people toss said coin in the air… with the intent of gaining clarity about what’s really important?

  9. I would think the heart wins every time – it pulls instinct into action – never been in any such situation and hope I never am but just in case I am prepared for at least one: have been a registered organ donor for decades

    • As shared in another reply, Ina, I commend people who have given thought to and chosen to donate their organs or bodies. Life and learning comes from/through such action. And I’m with you on the heart winning every time. πŸ™‚

  10. Thank you for this opportunity to reflect on what is real. Number 3 on your list really resonates. Knowing Who We Are can make those five minutes far less stressful. Having had a 911 operator direct me to leave my home immediately, while fire and rescue were enroute, I can assure you five minutes wasn’t an option! We may not always have those extra moments.

    • We may not have those extra moments, Carrie. When we do, possessing clarity can help us know and be at peace with what really matters. Glad to know that you are safely here to share your appreciated thoughts.

  11. Stellar Eric! I really like the thought of feeling comfortable walking a lifetime in your own shoes. We too often attempt to mold ourselves into what everyone else (society included) thinks we should be instead of following the path we know we are meant to travel upon. The first paragraph of this post is an eye-opener. We take for granted the luxury of time in our daily lives, the ability to use that time to clarify what is truly important to us so that when those moments of decision arrive, we are well prepared to choose wisely with confidence. Thanks for sharing and wonderful quote by Goethe to accompany this great post!

  12. A crisis puts everything in perspective. Being held up at gun point many years ago, what was important at that moment…life, mine and what would happen to the lives of those I loved most, the hubby and children. So, what would matter to me in such a crisis…those nearby (human or furry); material items can be replaced.

    • Appreciate your echoing what others deem most important, Suzi. I am glad you survived such a frightening experience and are present to remind us of what matters to you, then and now. It’s not about the material items, at all, even ones with sentimental value. It’s about life and loved ones. Thank you!

  13. Very thought provoking post Eric, likely one we should re-read once a week to keep our actions aligned with our values. In 2013 we were out of town when the flood hit Calgary. Our home is near the river and our adult children asked what they should get out of the house in case it flooded. We were so fortunate that it didn’t flood and fortunate to have the opportunity to give serious thought to this.

    • Most, if not all of us are works in progress, aren’t we? “Crisis is an excellent clarifying agent.” Indeed it is and to your point, what we do with that experience after-the-fact is telling. I like your thinking here. Thank you.

  14. Your advice is spot on for becoming a centered person. I believe being centered in our core makes it somewhat easier to make the calls we need to make in crisis situations. I have faced a real flight emergency situation once, in 1998. When most people were panicking, screaming or crying, I suddenly knew nothing bad would happen, and was able to calm others. How this happened, I still don’t know. But we made a successful emergency landing after lots of agony for 30 minutes in that 747 jumbo.

    • Heavies don’t land lightly, even under normal circumstances. I like your reference to being centered in our core. Those who can do this or are will find, as did you, calm, strength and knowledge to navigate through the event. Thank you for sharing your personal, relevant experience. It matters!

  15. Imagining that you are dying can be a tremendous silent, seated meditation. It really is very powerful, as it releases all petty concerns.

    An excellent article Eric, for which, many thanks.


    • Thank you, Hariod. Unless people have actually had a genuine crisis or serious event, what’s proffered in this post may be more difficult to grasp, appreciate, and act upon. Still, awareness of what can be done beforehand and the value in doing so is, partly, why I ‘put it out there.’

  16. We know from 9/11 that the people who were directly affected tried desperately to reach their loved ones in their last moments. It’s a haunting reminder of what is really important. I could not agree more with associating with others who share your values and aspirations. Including bloggers!

  17. Eric, great thought-provoking post. Depending on the crisis, I’d think of different important things. 9/11, I was in Washington DC and thought of family. If it was a natural disaster it would be a survival pack, cell phone and money. Most situations would include thoughts of family & pets first though. Christine

    • You’re of a similar, meaningful mind to Mimi (above), Allen. The difference between needing and wanting. Knowing the answer, truthfully, weeds a lot out. Appreciate the simultaneous simplicity and depth to your comment.

  18. I had this ‘five minutes’, as we watched from the front door as an ambulance brought young Daniel home to die, aged 13. In that ‘five minutes’ I saw his family sit together, lie all six of them on the bed, and gently converse with him, as they said the saddest of goodbyes. For two days the world stopped and all that mattered was in that room, until he eventually moved on to his next adventure, encouraged by the bravest of parents and siblings.
    I will never forget those ‘five minutes’, but I do know that I value every day hugely, and I know how lucky I am, and how precious time is. Many do not, and will only appreciate it when it is too late.

    • Your closing sentence sums the matter well, Tric. Why do many people wait until it’s too late when they can create time now to process and prioritize what matters to them? The question is rhetorical yet when sidestepped, can often find people in a very vulnerable space.

  19. Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Eric. It’s good to put one’s priorities in order from time to time. Life sometimes sets us up for that — with reminders of what is important.

  20. It reminds of the quote from the great words of Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, “It is only after you lose everything that you are free to do anything.” It may not make sense, but if you think about it well, it is very well true. In case of fire, I’d probably just get out and take nothing. πŸ˜‰

    • The Durden quote is apt here, Rommel! In some cases though, we may not need lose everything if we’ve given advance thought to what matters most to us. It’s good that you value yourself enough (most?) to get out first. Ever given any thought to what matters most, after your well being? πŸ™‚

  21. Eric excellent as usual.. and It seems we are on the very same page this week.. You said “In times of uncertainty, danger, or impending loss we are forced to transcend the thinking that usually dominates our everyday awareness.”,,, I feel many are learning to alter this perception and transcend their thinking Eric.. I also feel that more will be learning to transcend throughout 2015 as we move forward within the flow of changes..

    Wonderful post..

  22. Thank you very much for sharing your insight, again. Sincerity, grounding, and motivation. You just touched my life values with clarity. It is very interesting. It seems that once people get awareness, they see the same things. Great post!

  23. Great thoughts as usual, Eric. I love number three on that list and have always lived that way and not just remembering my childhood loves and passions, but to never lose that child like wonder and awe in the wonders of life. πŸ™‚

    • We ought never stop, Elizabeth. Rekindling and cherishing our loves and passions is truly important. And… it helps to ground us in/with our values — the things that matter most. Thanks for your kind comment.

    • I often encourage people to be front-runners, Kim. It’s a visual that helps to remind us about what’s personally important as well as how to embrace and value who they are. Thanks for stopping by and kindly commenting.

  24. This is so perfect for the start of a new year Eric. “the only challenge greater than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is to walk a lifetime comfortably in your own”…yes! Have moved to a new blog name…happy if you decide to follow me here too. Aveline πŸ™‚

    • Not only “happy to” I already have, Aveline. πŸ™‚ Getting comfortable walking in our own shoes can be challenging. Here’s to all who willingly step into those shoes! Glad you liked the post.

  25. Excellent post, Eric. Bring the best of oneself forth, especially in times of crisis, and all shall fall into place – hopefully a good one. Being oneself is vital in any kind of enterprise — be it life or business. Well said.

    • And while you kindly acknowledge the post, Sylvia, your words are equally poignant! Thank you for sharing them. Knowing who we are does, indeed, contribute to managing matters more clearly in a crisis.

    • Well, I’m unsure debate was/is what I sought, but if the post helps some people to think and/or act with greater clarity and align more closely with what matters to them, then there exists a contribution of value — in my eyes. πŸ™‚

  26. Awesome post, Eric! I started thinking about a class I taught one quarter. The students in this class were first-generation students who were really struggling with motivation to stay in school what with all of the ever-present real-life challenges distracting them and tugging at them: finances, childcare, transportation, work, sleep, rent, food, medical expenses . . . So many of them were ready to quit school and go back to their former lives.

    I asked each student to make a list of 3 things that no one can ever take away from you. The individual students then got together in small groups and the new groups made a list of 3 things. It sparked a lot of discussion about what is important in life. The groups then joined another group. That larger group came to consensus on 3 things. The groups then came up to the board and listed their 3 things in a Venn diagram. There were so many things that were in the common area of the diagram: integrity, family, love, sense of self. There was one thing that I wasn’t seeing on the board. . . your education. It was a big Aha! moment when I asked them if anyone could ever take your education away from you. The moral of the class: no one can take from you that which you hold dear. Many students loved the idea that they were gaining something — learning — that they could internalize and grow with.

    I would be hard pressed to instantly decide what I would grab in 5 minutes. One’s presence of mind would be racing. It is good to think on this question, as it puts things in perspective of priorities. My solid-back fiddle? My journals? Still, no matter which things are in our physical world, we carry within us those things that are immutable once we invite them into our lives: love, integrity, creativity, education . . . the list is pretty long when I pause to think on these things.

    Great post!! Very thought provoking. And inspiring for my writing today! You are right: aligning with these things that we hold and cherish is an awesome way to live life.

    • What a cool story, Celia! I have always found group interactive exercises to be validating. How neat that these kids got to create their own awareness and then appreciate their collaborative thoughts/findings. You must have been beaming, if not overtly, then warmly inside.

      And yes to the immutable. The tangible and the material rarely hold a candle to the qualities and possessions you cite. Thanks for adding richly to this thread. I value your thoughtful and substantive comment(s).

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