I have written about this topic more than once, and I have every intention of continuing that trend. I can think of only a few things that I would consider in the same ballpark in terms of importance for your life.
Most of us live our lives oblivious to the fact that it will end at some point. As a kid, you have to learn about death through things like the loss of a pet; it seems we are not born with general knowledge about death. As life goes on, we learn about this through the loss of family members and friends, hopefully following the natural order of grandparents, then parents. Things get dicey when this order is misaligned, and many have not developed the capacity to deal with something this heavy this early in life.
Only when we get older do we start to have an inkling about the end of the road, and in most cases one could say this realization comes to late. By this, I mean that we need to be cognizant of this much sooner, so we can do a better job. And by that I mean, well… I guess that is open to interpretation.
So often I speak with people my age (50 at the moment) that are just now realizing that they “missed their calling” in life, or they are starting to learn what makes them happy. As in most cases, I am writing about things I am personally familiar with, and this topic is no exception. It took me surviving a near death experience of a head on collision with a drunk driver to finally start the process of pursuing a public speaking platform. You can read that story here. Since I already shared that story, I had planned on going a different direction.
One of my younger friends recently had his own experience with a serious car accident. It is a month later and he is still nursing a few injuries from this experience. Another is battling an eating disorder, a third had a stint with COVID19. Each of these is a situation is a wake up call, if it is viewed in that manner. The problem with being young and less “seasoned” in life is that things like this can easily get glossed over. Something happens, you get passed it one way or another, and you move on, rarely if ever thinking about it again. You would think a brush with death would rattle you to the core, but at a young age most of us think we are indestructible. Also, when bad things happen to us, we usually want to block it out and forget it happened. Not the healthy way of dealing with it, and certainly not the approach that is going to allow you to learn and grow from it. What happens becomes just another experience in the rear view mirror. We continue to live life like there is no expiration date on it.
If you were handed a piece of paper with a message on it that clearly read: You are going to die on this date ________, how much impact would that have on the way you live your life right now? What if you had a year to live? Would you bother going to work every day? Would you sell everything you own and travel to New Zealand? Buy the car of your dreams and drive from coast to coast? Teach your kids how to do things like play baseball or ride a horse before it was too late? In my opinion, you SHOULD do this exercise for yourself, even though none of us know our expiration date.
I am finally getting around to doing things I have thought about and wanted to do for a long time. I scrounged up $3,000 to attend a seminar on How to be a Keynote Speaker back in my early 30’s, and yet never did anything with that knowledge. I didn’t really have three grand at that time in my life to spend on a weekend boot camp like that, and yet I did. It meant enough to me to find the money to do it, but I didn’t follow through. How different might my life be right now if I had pursued this sooner? Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with my life, but what if…?
Now with the sudden shift to Work From Home, I am realizing that my job has much more flexibility than I was aware. Apparently I had a lot of “fluff” built into my job that is not necessary, and being in the traditional office environment perpetuated this problem. Now that I am separated from everyone else, it became clear to me that much of my day was filler material. I had a lot more freedom and flexibility than I ever realized or exercised. What I want to attain is a Work From Anywhere lifestyle, not just work from home. My wife has a different kind of flexibility; as a nurse, she can have up to six days in a row off of work. This gives us a LOT of flexibility to do things we want to do, like go to California for a long weekend, or head to Denver for a couple of days of hiking and outdoor activities. I can schedule my work duties into clumps of time, and give myself the freedom of the lifestyle I always envisioned. Again…why did it take a pandemic to “show” me this opportunity that has been there all along?
I’ll tell you why… I go through the motions of life, just like lots of others do. It is so easy to get into a groove of just doing what everyone else does. We go to school, maybe college, get a job, start a family and quickly wake up a 50 year old without having done most of the things we wanted to do with our lives. Now, I did do things differently than most people have, as the blueprint that I just shared was not for me. I pursued my dream of being a Pro Racquetball player until age 30. This was something I knew I needed to do, otherwise my life would had echoes of “What if” throughout all my days. But after this time of my life, I fell into the pattern of drifting, waiting for life to happen to me.
You need to learn from this experience of mine, and the sooner the better:
Don’t allow yourself to drift aimlessly.
You know what makes you happy, what you want to do. If you don’t get to work figuring that out quickly. It doesn’t matter what it is, world travel, climb a mountain, have kids, ride a motorcycle across Europe. Whatever it is, start planning for it and take action to make it happen. This isn’t an excuse to be reckless or not plan for a long life, but it is a warning about being complacent. As I mentioned earlier, the expiration date on your life is a mystery to us all, so live like you know it is within the next five years. It could easily be sooner, but I think a five year window is a good operating system. You need to use Death as a motivator. In the end, it gets us all, so be aware of this and start living accordingly. If you are lucky, you’ll be sitting in a retirement home thinking back on your life, and the regrets you have are going to largely be tied to the things you didn’t do, the chances you didn’t take. Regret is a terrible thing…short circuit it ASAP. No one gets out of life alive. Construct the life you want to live NOW, otherwise it will be too late.