If I Had a Year to Live

I’ve been pondering a lot about life and death lately.

Whenever I call home, I get updates from my parents about what’s going on. At times, I’ll get an update about how auntie so and so or uncle so and so has cancer or died of a heart attack or something. It’s definitely sad, but then I think that perhaps they are older, and that’s part of the circle of life.

Recently, though, I’ve been coming across posts and stories of young people who are dying. When I say young, I’m referring to people around my age, in their 20s, starting and changing and growing in this stage of life. I have been lucky enough to not have any friends who have yet passed away, but I’ve had enough friends’s friends who have passed through the veil to the other side that has really got me thinking about my purpose on this earth, and how I can truly fulfill the “measure of [my] creation. I won’t go into the details — that’s a bit morbid. But, what I’ve seen — people go fast, a skiing accident. Sometimes it’s a bit more drawn out, cancer eating away at a person. I have a congenital heart issues, so it’s especially poignant to me.

Whether religious or not, I think there’s one thing in life that we all want to be — happy. More than happy though, I believe we want to find meaning in living. And that’s where my questioning comes to a head — passion or security?

I enjoy my current job, don’t get me wrong. I work with some great people, we’re energetic and motivated, and I’m learning a lot everyday. But that whole death thing has got me thinking a lot. What is my purpose here? What will bring me a lasting happiness?

In pondering, the question I inevitably ask myself most days is this: “If I found had a year to live, what would I be doing with my life?”

To be a hundred percent honest, I wouldn’t be working in an operations role, and that’s ok. It’s ok because I’m being honest with myself. At the end of the day, it’s just a job. Goodness, it’s a great job at an amazing company, and I’m learning and growing each day — not just about swaps and risk management and corporate actions, but I’m also learning more about who I am as a person, what makes me tick.

Back to it though, if I wasn’t in operations, what would I be doing? If I had a year to live, what would I do?

Therein lies the conundrum. I don’t know if I’m going to live for one more day, one more week, year, month, 50 years. Unfortunately, the crystal ball can’t tell us that. I have to be responsible, I have to plan like I’m living for another few decades, but also balance it out by living as though I have a year to live. I want to have a family one day, I need to be able to provide for them. At the end of the day, there needs to be stability.

The title of this site is Eats&Travels because I love to, well, eat and travel.

To be able to eat and travel well, I need money, and said job provides me those means. But what, am I going to work 347 days out of the year so that I can enjoy what I love 18 days in a year? NO WAY.

Figuring out a career that I’m passionate truly about and not just find interesting, while also providing the means to support my lifestyle will take time.

Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore who sadly passed away a few weeks ago, went to Cambridge to study law, where he graduated with highest honors, but he found another calling in life as a result of personal experiences, leading Singapore to independence and success. He gave up what would have been a lucrative career and steered his life into uncharted waters, having faith that it would all work out. Lee was known for some controversial methods he used in ruling the country that people considered authoritarian. Towards the end of his life, he was asked in an interview if he regretted any of the choices he made. His answer was simple yet profound.

“I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that’s all. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”

I agree with him. Pragmatically, there are choices that we all have to make in our lives that will be hard and sharp, but will be at the end of the day right, right for you, and right for me. Honesty is the best policy, and that includes being honest with myself. There are a lot of things I think I want to do, many roads to choose from. I can take “the one less traveled by“, but it better be well-thought through, or it won’t make a difference, probably not not a positive one.

So, here’s my solution.

1. Once a quarter, I’m going to plan/do something spontaneous that I would do if I had only a year to live, so whether that’s traveling to a new place or blowing a couple hundred dollars at a restaurant I really want to try or telling the girl at the coffee shop just how beautiful she is, I’m going to do it.

2. I will commit a half hour each night narrowing down what I really enjoy and am really passionate about, and when I get to it, spend that same time (and more) figuring out how to accomplish it. That could be opening a restaurant, being a travel or food writer, doing equity sales or working in marketing for Pinterest. We’ll see.

I was talking to a friend’s dad one day who was very successful. He was retired, and I asked him how he enjoyed his career. His answer surprised me, because he said that he hasn’t particularly enjoyed it. Sure, he liked the people he worked with, but the job was there mostly so he could provide a good life for himself and his family. I can’t settle for that, I just can’t.

At the end of it all, I don’t want to be remembered and compartmentalized in people minds as the Goldman guy, or even the restaurant guy or funny Asian.

I want to be remembered by people as the guy who lived a meaningful and happy life, who was at peace with himself and the choices he made.

As Dumbledore put it, “it is our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

I can only hope I make the right choices.

Originally published at www.eatsandtravels.com on April 6, 2015.