There's this question I've been thinking a lot about.
When you look back on your life, will you wish you had done more with it?
The topic is on my mind because I'm spending the last few days with my dad as his life winds to a close. In our home outside of Seattle, which used to be filled with the voices of all of my teenage friends, we're taking some quiet time to reflect.
Dad spent over 30 years in the same job, not because it was what he should do but because it was what he loved. And now he feels fully content with a life well lived and ready to cross over to the next stage.
And that sense of satisfaction is, in a nutshell, what we should strive for – not tomorrow, but today – because life is so fleeting and so precious.
Not many of us have the fortune of knowing what we want to do early in life or finding a way to make a living with it. But too many of us let that stop us in our tracks.
We settle for something that pays the bills but leaves us feeling empty, and tell ourselves one of three stories to justify the decision:
I don't know what I'm passionate about: I told myself this for years. It turns out that I did know, but I couldn't articulate it, I couldn't envision how to make money from it, and there were several other stories in my head that were blocking me from declaring it.
If you're in this position, run, don't walk, to get some help. Seek out somebody that focuses on clarity, somebody that understands how important it is for you now, rather than later. That's what I did, and it made all the difference. I just wish I had done it decades sooner.
(Regardless of whom you choose, make sure you've put some serious thought into these questions.)
I can't make big changes right now. I've got bills to pay / I'm tired / I'm too busy.
The problem with saying, "I'll get to it tomorrow" is that tomorrow gets here really damn quickly. Big changes start with small baby steps, so you can still take daily consistent action towards a fulfilling vocation without burning the candle at both ends. (I've got a free guide on this subject if you'd like more detail.)*
To paraphrase the great Stephen Covey, you might have more urgent things to do, but nothing is more important.
Life is about being, not doing. Ohhh, this one really gets to me. I admire Eastern philosophy as much as the next person, but it's too often distorted by New Agey pop culture.
I've heard people claim that the true measure of a life is in the capacity for love, or how happy you felt, or how well you came to know yourself or God, or how kind you were…
Because I want more.
Each of those things is valuable and important, but they're just facets of what should be a complex existence. If I focus on just one, I won't be preparing myself to be content on my deathbed.
Because I'll also be asking myself:
What did I do with my life?
What did I contribute?
What did I stand for?
What did I fight for?
Who did I help?
Where did I gain mastery?
What did I create?
Because I want it all. I want what Dad had.
He showed me that it's possible, and because of him I never gave up trying to find it for myself.
If there's any one tribute that I can think to pay him in his death, it's to sing the praises of his fun loving, country boy, find-what-you-love-and-do-it way of living. I hope it inspires you like it inspired me.
Here's to finding what's meaningful and doing it,
*Obviously there are times when you purposefully take a pause – hospital stays, grief, and natural disasters come to mind – but these should be temporary and atypical. Also, there are some people that are content with their day jobs and save their passion for hobbies, but something tells me that's not you.