Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last
Every once and a while something deeply profound happens that causes you to rethink everything — the loss of a job, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, etc. The timing is often unpredictable, but the more we go through these events, the more we realize that life will never be the same once experienced. For me, the passing of my dear friend, Nick Wolber, was something that forever changed the trajectory of my life. We were both invincible 20-somethings when he learned that he had cancer — stupid, unfair, ruthless…cancer.
None of us were ready for it and although he fought like hell, he lost his battle exactly 6 years ago today on March 12th, 2011. It’s hard to wrap your head around the harsh reality of someone you love having their time taken away from them, but even as Nick’s situation worsened, he began to undergo a radical transformation. As someone whose tomorrow was far from guaranteed, we could see that he was alive in a way that those of us assuming we will make it to old age take for granted. During the rough time towards the end, I remember one particular conversation where he made a point to tell me to “live every day like it’s your last.” I didn’t make that much of it at the time — he was in rough shape, but I figured we would both have many more decades of life ahead of us. It wasn’t until after he was gone that those very simple words began to reveal a profound, life-altering meaning — tomorrow is never guaranteed, so stop making excuses for not living fully today. Sounds easy, but in reality, it’s anything but.
The phrase itself has been around a really long time — Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in 161 AD:
“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.”
Although it’s not new, I think it can be a really powerful tool to help us make the most out of the time we have. Instead of interpreting the phrase to be all about making bucket lists and stressing to over-engineer life, I believe the power of the phrase “live every day like it’s your last” is one of quiet awareness, focus, and joy. It’s not about the stuff you do in life, but rather how you go about doing the stuff. From the mundane to the miraculous, the energy we bring to every moment defines our existence.
Our minds are constantly drifting backward into the past and forward into the future, so it’s a challenge to just focus on the 24 hours in front of us. I found that there was definitely no “how-to” guide for “living every day like it’s your last,” so I decided to develop my own approach. I started by turning the phrase into an acronym to make it feel more like a verb, printed a few t-shirts and began to experiment with different ways to “LEDLIYL.” After lots of experimenting, here are a few things I’ve learned:
Love the Little Things:
Our average day is filled with an insane amount of stuff and it sometimes feels like we are just zooming along the highway at 70mph, barely noticing the beautiful scenery all around us. In between all the activities of the day are thousands of little moments that we tend to forget even exist — the co-worker that held the elevator door for you, the awesome feeling of being able to send a message to your friend overseas in 2 seconds, the fleeting moment right after you tuck your kids in and have the first quiet exchange with your partner. These moments are all around us and cultivating an appreciation of them and the simple joy they bring can make a dramatic difference in each day.
This one is really hard. The default setting in our mind is to store information on the hard drive and make sure that we carry it with us all the time. This can obviously be a good thing (I would hate to have to reset my google password every time I check my email), but most of us end up carrying a ton of negative baggage into each new day. Rather than starting each day with the headlines of yesterday on the front page, make a decision to delete the headline and write something new. You see, the past has this way of feeling real, but deep down, we all know it’s not — it exists only as a concept in our mind and we get to decide if it has a life. Try and imagine each day to be its own story that you get to write and set out each morning with a rough idea of what you want it to be — what will you accomplish, who are the characters and how will you feel while you are creating it.
We all crave a level of certainty in our lives, but we also require a certain amount of uncertainty in order to keep things fresh and interesting. Make the decision to introduce some bit of uncertainty into each day. I’m not preaching a diet of skydiving, but rather simple things that break up the routine and make you feel a little uncomfortable or nervous. It could be as simple as finally introducing yourself to the barista that makes your coffee each day, deciding to take a new class at the gym or eating Thai food for the first time. All that matters is that you push yourself out of your comfort zone — doing so breaks down the walls of monotony, forces you to be fully present and helps us realize that each day can be unique and special.
Take a First and Last Breath:
Every day we wake up and have a finite amount of time until we inevitably fall back to sleep. In order to take full advantage of the time in between sleep, I started to become mindful of my first and last breaths each day. These are not the literal first and last breaths, but two conscious breaths that you do at the beginning and end of your day. The practice is simple — just take one deep breath in the morning and one right after you lay down to go to sleep. After each of the breaths, just take a few seconds to appreciate how lucky you are to be witness to the miracle that we call life each day. If this sounds weird, consider that there was a 1 in 102,685,000 (that’s a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes) chance of you being born. (http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6). Those of us lucky enough to be alive have literally won the biggest Power Ball jackpot in the universe and we should celebrate the amazing hand we’ve been dealt every day.
It’s been 2,192 days since Nick passed away and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I was to have him in my life. I hope that his story and some of the ideas in this article inspire you to look at each day as a gift and make it absolutely amazing. If you want to learn more about Nick and the incredible organization he and his family started to help kids battling cancer, please go to www.supportthekid.com.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave some comments below.