I turned 28 in the middle of July, an age where people seem to be doing a wealth of different things. Some of my friends are married with children and some are still living in a manner not dissimilar to that of a student. Some are earning tonnes of money in illustrious jobs and some are working in cafes. Some are starting to go grey. Last year, some of them died.
I spend a lot of time thinking about living well. Psalm 90:12 is a bible verse that frequently rings around my head:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!
I’m no stranger to death. The last of my grandparents died a couple of years ago and while it was sad, it was expected and a natural part of life: you’re born, you live, you die. But there’s something tragic about people dying before they’ve reached an age that seems appropriate for death to happen. It’s cruel, pointless — and the younger the person, the more unfair it seems.
A friend of mine died last summer. I didn’t know him well but his death profoundly affected me, probably more than any other death in my life so far. He was a musician (we met at a festival we both played), he was young (just a few years older than me) and he had a wife and family. We’d been on tour together just six months before and were talking about making a record together. We didn’t get the chance.
Would I be happy to die today? Well, I don’t want to. But I try to live with a sense of adventure and risk, seizing opportunities so if my life is taken away sooner than I’d like, I don’t leave behind a list of missed opportunities and regrets.
Last spring, I spent some time creating a life plan. Parts of it were irrelevant but there was a section where I plotted the major events of my life and had to decide how positive or negative they were. Once I’d done it, I could see a trend where all the major periods of growth in my life were tied to big risks:
- 1998: going to a secondary school far away from my friends in order to get a better education.
- 2006: dropping out of university for a year to play for a band.
- 2012: moving to Berlin for two and a half years.
- 2013: taking a month-long trip to Canada for a relationship that didn’t work out.
- 2015: moving to Azerbaijan for a job after only recently returning to London.
Nothing has gone perfectly to plan but pretty much everything that has shaped my life has happened as a result of taking risks. And the best thing is I don’t have to live with regret — because I’ve taken every opportunity that’s come my way.
- Going to a different school made me a completely different person — smarter, more resilient. It also brought out my Gloucester accent.
- Taking a year out of university to play for a band went wrong when the band let me go after a few months. It was too late to go back to uni that year. I had no job, no plan, nothing to do. So I recorded an album in my drummer’s living room, hustled on MySpace to patch a tour together out of house shows and grotty pubs in some of the weirdest parts of the UK, and spent the next year constantly on tour (in that first year I played about 250 shows). My life was shaped by that decision. It gave me innumerable friendships, took me to four continents, inspired me to move to another country, and made me the person I am today.
- Moving to Berlin toughened me up and taught me about forging a life for myself in a city where I didn’t know anyone. It made me self-reliant, comfortable in new places and knowledgeable about ice cream.
- Flying to Canada to pursue what was essentially an internet romance was foolhardy, ill-judged and (quite literally) heartbreaking. It was also brave, romantic and adventurous. Although it caused a lot of tears, it gave me new friends, the chance to see one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to and a pop hit. It also taught me valuable lessons about love.
- Taking a job in Azerbaijan was completely wild. I became friends with a Eurovision contestant, lived in Azerbaijan (seriously, how many people can say that?) and it’s a ~stormer~ of a topic in job interviews.
Living with the regret of not making any of those decisions would be far more traumatic than living with the pain that some of those decisions have caused me. Those decisions are made. What happened, happened. I’m still alive. I have no regrets.
And that’s how I want to live the next 28 years of my life (and hopefully the 28 after that): bravely, adventurously, conscious of the fact that each day on this earth might be my last and that life is too short to live with regrets.
Ask that person on a date. Apply for that job. Move to that country.
If you enjoyed this, you might like my weekly newsletter, Ten Things.