We don’t live our lives with a finish line in mind. We might say we do, that are living life to the fullest, but mostly it’s not true. We live trying to reconcile the actions of our past. We attempt to live in the moment. We constantly think about the future.
We are complex beings. We all have triumphs and regrets. We walk around with our histories and pre-conceptions and see what sticks. We make impulsive and planned decisions interchangeably throughout our lives. One day ends and then we go to sleep to wake up and do it all again the next day.
We are not defined by our work. I know for some people that can be hard to hear. But it’s the truth. We are defined by our actions, our empathy, our ability to love and be loved and our ability to discover the things that excite us.
In short, eulogies are not resumes.
A lot of people are talking about the eulogy-resume apparition. Arianna Huffington discussed it with Paulo Coelho while on her book tour for Thrive, David Brooks writes about it in his weekly column this week adapted from his recent book, “The Road To Character.” Eulogies are what you are remembered for, resumes are what you accomplished. Both are important, but don’t confuse one for the other. They are fundamentally different and should be treated with the deference they deserve.
While this can be — and is — a powerful “aha moment” for some people, it’s also something we intuitively know. Life has a distinct finish line. It calls for perfection. One moment you’re alive and the next you’re not. Black and white. The great mystery is when. Some might have an inkling or an idea of when it’s coming if they are terminally ill or elderly, some might see the white light as they leave this world (though we’ll never know) but for most of us it’s a great mystery.
I have big dreams for my life. I used to think those dreams had to focus around professional accomplishments — and many of them still do. But more and more as I take charge of my awakened self I have come to embrace that many of my dreams are around how I treat other people, how I love and how I’m loved in return. My dreams are about experiences I want to have, things I want to make, places I want to go.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned that make me a much calmer yet invigorated person. I know that is a dichotomy but it’s how I feel. It’s things I can do every day versus something I’m aspiring to do one day, never knowing if I’ll have the time.
Lesson #1: We are more than where we spend our 40–80 hours a week.
When death does come knocking at your door, what do you want to be remembered for? When friends, family and co-workers gather to celebrate your life they aren’t going to say things like, “He was an amazing manager.” or, “She really knew how to drive the bottom line.” Instead, people talk about how kind you were, how much you were loved, what you loved, how you lived.
So what do you want to be remembered for? Be passionate about your work and what you do, nothing is wrong with that, but don’t put it so far to the front of your path that everything else falls to the side. Create and find a balance that works for you.
I used to work so much that I would get flat burnt out. I was rushing so fast trying to do everything, that parts of my life suffered because I was unable to slow down. I had to force myself to slow down in order to see this habit and break it. Now, I go offline during meals, spend most if not all of the weekend away from my computer and seek out activities and experiences that fit into my passion areas.
Lesson #2: No one is going to give you permission to live the life you want to live.
If you’re looking for a green light to live the life you’ve secretly always wanted to live, you’re going to be waiting a long time.
If you’re not living the life you want to live right now, what’s stopping you? The wake up call doesn’t have to be one big moment. It can be anything. It could be this essay. Why not? The entry point to being awake and an active player in your own life has been incubating inside of you for a long time, why not start today?
For me, I wanted to be the kind of person who wasn’t defined by work. I wanted to write more, read more, have more fun, travel more, cook and bake more. I wanted to have a life-partner and a dog and go on great big hiking adventures with them. I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn to farm. I couldn’t do any of these things until I gave myself permission to do them and created a path to walk through. It wasn’t always easy, everyone doesn’t always get it. I ran out of fucks and did it all anyway.
Lesson #3: Put aside your bucket list and create a list of every-days.
I still have a bucket list. It’s a list of the big things I want to do in life like visiting 100 countries, publishing a book and learning to play the harmonica. It’s not as much about my every day and it’s certainly not action steps to reach my bucket list goals.
That honor goes to a new list I made that includes what I can achieve now. I created it by thinking about what I was missing in my life, something I wanted to overcome or what goal I wanted to achieve and then I created an action item to match it.
- The problem: I realized the length of time I was able to focus on one task was decreasing.
- The solution: Read more books. Books are an endeavor that require elongated periods of concentration. In order to do this, I decided to give up 90% of the magazines I read and start tracking the books I read. I set an aspirational goal of 52 books in 52 weeks.
I wanted to disconnect from being online more so I started baking multiple times a week. I wanted to spend time with the people I care about more so I started organizing and hosting drinks and dinner parties.
The list goes on…I love this list because it’s fun little things I can do that make me feel alive and like I have ownership of my life.
Lesson #4: You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with.
Look around you. Who do you spend the most time with? These are the people that shape who you are. If you are passionate about politics and no one in your immediate circle wants to talk about politics but you really want to have those conversations, it’s on you to find people to connect with. If you don’t care about celebrity gossip (please tell me if you’ve read this far you’re with me on this one) then don’t engage in those conversations. The flipside is if you have people you really enjoy but rarely see, make an effort to spend more time with them.
Three years ago, a girl I knew somewhat sent me a note saying she wanted us to be real friends not just networking and run-into-each-other friends. Game changer. I took a page from her playbook and I do that with 3 new people each year. To be intentional about who you spend time with sometimes you have to say it.
Lesson #5: Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
Anyone who tells you they have it together can suck it. Tell them Shonda Rhimes said so. Just because you’re having an adventure doesn’t mean you won’t get crushed.
You know the truth. You can’t be anyone else. You have to be you the same way I have to be me. To be the best me I can be, I have to like me, I have to constantly be working on me, I have to surround myself with the right people and do the kinds of activities that excite me and make me feel alive. I can’t make comparisons about other people.
This is a tall order. It’s true for every age and every stage of life. Someone else will always look like they have it more together than you. Guess what? It’s probably not true.
We can’t solve other people’s problems. We can’t see inside their hearts and minds. We can only do what we need to do for ourselves.
If you liked what you read, please RECOMMEND this post.
Last year I wrote an essay every week and sent them to a dedicated list of subscribers. One particularly memorable one was called “Death Provides Context” and the above is adapted from that essay.
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