Countless thoughts and memories came to mind as I recently took one of my many solo-trips and navigated my way around Chiang Mai located in northern Thailand — an area of Southeast Asia that I have always wanted to visit.
I had spent most of my years being 100 percent career-driven which for me meant always staying on top of my game and rarely-if-ever taking vacations. I seldom made time for fun, friends or family. Then a few years ago, I lost my dad to a simple fall in his home. It was three months before his 68th birthday. My father’s untimely and unexpected death bolstered me to rethink my values and my entire way of life.
My dad was a healthy, vigorous 67-year-old man who for all his years followed a fitness routine that most 35-year-olds could not. Every morning at 5 a.m. dad walked or ran three to four miles. He would follow up his run with several sets of sit-ups and pushups. My dad was so good at taking care of his health, that he had never had a cavity — something he was often very proud to mention. And since research has shown that consuming a glass of red wine each day can among other health benefits increase your good cholesterol, dad always made a habit of drinking a single glass of red wine with his dinner.
He was also one of the most disciplined people most people knew. He believed in always being well-groomed and in always being the best at your work. Dad would work on Saturdays, go to church on Sundays, and work long hours during the week.
In most ways, I had been following my father’s footsteps by copying his work ethic. But there was one distinct difference. My dad always made time for travel, and this was something I never did. Dad traveled, but I skipped the trips in pursuit of career advancements.
My choices had led to a significant career and financial gain, but there was also a considerable loss that I had failed to measure because I wasn’t living a full or balanced life. Instead, I was waiting to live. I felt I had to achieve all that I dreamed of and all that was expected of me before I could make time for the things that appeared not to be essential to my survival.
When dad died, he hadn’t yet retired. This is something he could have done a decade before. He had been financially secure for years and often spoke of being overstressed from his job, but he could not bring himself to leave.
Yet, while my dad was alive, I hadn’t made the connection between my dad’s workaholic tendencies and my own. And I was often called a workaholic by my colleagues. But dad’s death was, to use a phrase coined by Oprah Winfrey, “an aha moment.” It was one of my greatest aha moments, and it immediately prompted me to change the trajectory of my life forever.
My dad’s passing taught me several crucial life lessons. But the one lesson that has felt like the most important has been learning the importance of making time for fun.
When I reflect on my father’s life, I recognize that even in the midst of his immensely disciplined life and his amazing work habits, he always made time for fun. It was a vital part of the equation that I had entirely missed.
Fun is essential to experiencing optimal physical and emotional well-being. Fun reenergizes our spirit. Fun gives us a reason to be alive. And the anticipation of fun gives us just cause for looking forward to opening our eyes each morning.
It took a devastating experience to help me learn this lesson, but I’ve learned to make fun a priority. And I’ve now made it a habit of saying yes to new (even scary) experiences. This is now my unvarying way of life, and it has led to a beautiful life.
I now embrace fun and am always seeking new adventures. For example, in recent years, I’ve parasailed over the Pacific and scuba-dived in Jamaica. I’ve jet skied in Hawaii and climbed the Catalina mountains of Arizona. I’ve ridden elephants bareback in the foothills of the Himalayas and rode saddled horses on the beaches of The Bahamas. In the past, I wouldn’t have dared consider much of this because of my fear of height and of drowning and because of my workaholic habits.
Last year I turned 50, and I don’t know how many more years I’ll be gifted with on this earth, but I’m committed to adding new adventures to my list of experiences every single year.
I now understand that our moments are precious and fleeting. We drown ourselves in our work, and then one day we awake to find that we no longer have the youth, stamina or motivation to do the things we might have done.
So, here’s my advice to you — whatever you do, don’t spend your life living to work. Instead, do work you love but do it to support the type of life you want to live. Always make time for living. Always make time for the trip. Go now and live your best life.