The Danger of Living Reactively + 4 Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself Daily

A few months ago, my wife and I moved into a condo about three miles from the beach. Ever since we’ve moved to Southern California, I’ve been taking advantage of the beach and have taken up surfing…er…tried to take up surfing.

The water is a painful teacher. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is the importance of paddling hard into oncoming waves. If you don’t paddle hard, the wave will quickly overtake you, pitch you over the top of it’s peak and then (as I’ve learned) crash on top of you. Then you contemplate never getting in the ocean again, because you’re positive you almost died. The only way to avoid the mayhem is by putting forth the effort to match the speed of the wave you’re hoping to ride.

And here’s the thing: life works the same way.

Every day, we have a choice. We can choose to be swayed by life’s currents and swept out by the tide of mediocrity. Or, we can bravely fight to get out in front of the impending wave and choose to harness its’ power, jumping to our feet for a beautiful ride. We can choose to move or be moved. We can choose to live life proactively or reactively.

I was inspired to this point after reading 99U’s book, Managing Your Day to Day. In the first chapter, Scott Belsky describes how we’ve become people who wake up every morning on the defensive, spending our time and energy just trying to stay afloat and survive the busyness of life, when we should be pursuing the things that matter most to us. We get out of bed and are automatically on the defensive, and we end up walking through the day in a blur, seemingly never able to fully engage. This absorption with the mundane dulls our propensity to move forward consistently and creatively. We become perpetually busy with doing nothing.

When living reactively, life moves quickly. If we aren’t careful, it will overtake us. It will eat us up with emails and apathy, Netflix marathons and mediocrity, and exhaustedly eating fast food alone in our kitchen every night before we collapse into bed to do it all again the next day. This sort of life begs us to forget that there might be another way. A better way.

A proactive life looks much different. Clumsy yet emboldened, we march forward; setting goals, making lists, takings risks, and putting stress to death with a fierce work ethic. The first fruits of our time and energy are poured into creation and innovation, into making ideas happen. Living proactively is simply the understanding that there’s more ahead- that the future is open and wildly hopeful, and that it’s worth planning for.

Make no mistake, living proactively takes guts. You’ll get tired, and discouraged and there will be days that making plans and plugging along that rocky road doesn’t seem worth it. But our world has too many bored and uninspired souls who sit on their hands because they are too scared to take a risk. They refuse to swim because they think they are going with the flow when really, life is drowning them.

So swim, friend. Swim.

Below are a few questions that I hope can help you approach this subject with purpose. Think through them, and ask yourself how you can begin the slow, painful, beautiful process of living proactively.

  1. What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Check email? Rush to put out fires at work? Or do you take time to set up your day to accomplish your goals and pursue your own ambitions? How you set up your mornings sets the tone for the rest of the day.
  2. What’s on your to- do list? Of course, some items will be mundane tasks that simply must get done. Nothing wrong with that. The important thing: is there anything on the list that purposefully pushes you forward?
  3. What in your life excites you? Can you even answer this question? I hope there’s at least one thing in your life that answers this question.
  4. Why are you still _______ (at your job, doing activity X, waiting for X) Out of fear? Because it’s too hard to leave/stop? Be careful, being frozen out of fear or laziness is dangerous.

As Brenda Ueland so poetically said, “Men spend their lives adding and subtracting and dictating letters when secretly they long to write sonnets and play the violin and burst into tears at the sunset.”

Onward, to writing sonnets and swimming hard!