“If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”Eminem
Life Can Change At Any Moment
Remember when you were sixteen? If you were like me, you believed you were invincible with a long-life ahead of you. You had big dreams for your future–career, relationships, and all the places and things you would experience. At that age you had bold goals that you knew you would accomplish, even though there were many details left unplanned.
I was certainly no different when I was sixteen. Big plans and a bright future were on my mind until life threw me one of its many curve balls. One morning I woke up with a sudden, sharp pain in my leg. It came out of nowhere and wouldn’t go away. I remember being annoyed because it kept me from doing the things I enjoyed. After nearly six months I went to the doctor to see what was up, thinking it was something benign. I never expected to hear I had Bone Cancer. How could that happen? I’m sixteen freaking years old! I immediately began aggressive treatments, and I would be told that I would only have 20% odds of seeing my next birthday. In that moment, all my future dreams and plans were at risk. My reality immediately changed.
After the initial shock, I quickly affirmed I wasn’t going down without a fight. I also realized that I would tackle this one day at a time and I vowed to never take tomorrow for granted. Now getting such news as a 16-year-old might seem tragic, yet in an ironic twist, it provided me with one of the most important lessons – life isn’t guaranteed and you must enjoy every moment as though it may be your last.
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”Unknown
One of Life’s Biggest Fallacies
We’ve all been touched by the movies or songs where someone is given only weeks or months to live. Faced with a near tragic end, they suddenly realize there is so much more they wanted to accomplish. They start making every moment count, ironically feeling more alive and connected to those around them. They begin to fulfill their bucket-list and live to experience many of the things they’ve always wanted to do. While this makes for emotion-grabbing entertainment, why must it be this way? Why should we only begin to live our lives with purpose and joy when faced with limited time left?
One of life’s biggest fallacies is that we can dream of the things we’d like to experience some day with the hope that we will be given the time and opportunity to complete them. We must recognize that life moves fast and there are no guarantees. However, rather than dwelling on the end of our lives, I’d suggest each of us reframe this to savoring all that life has to offer while living in the present. Increase the quality of life that you control now versus pushing it off to a “someday” period that might never happen.
“I did it all; I owned every second that this world could give; I saw so many places and things that I did; there with every broken bone I swear I lived.”One Republic
Hope isn’t a strategy—But It’s A Good Place to Start
What if you could “live like there wasn’t a tomorrow” without being given a serious illness? Here’s some tips to enjoying more moments and adding life to your years.
Identify What Brings You Joy
Grab a pen and notebook and spend time reflecting on the relationships, activities or experiences that make you happy. Think of times you were the most inspired and full of life. Document these dreams or “someday-maybe” fantasies you want to spend time on before it’s over. If money or time were not an issue, what would you be doing? With whom? If you are stuck, consider what you would do if you were in your final moments on earth? Document all ideas and resist censoring any thoughts. You can refine and consolidate ideas after getting them down on paper. Recognize that our hopes and dreams are continually changing, so you will add to and refine this content over time. While it’s natural to think about experiences or material objects, don’t overlook a focus on relationships, such as telling someone how you feel or developing a deeper connection with friends or family.
Organize Your Dreams For Action
Once you have the list (and I hope it’s a long one!), you can begin to group items to prioritize them. While the categories can vary, some I find helpful are to organize by time and needed resources (e.g., financial, physical/health). For example, you can cluster the list by time using near-term (<2 years), mid-term (2-7 years), and long-term (7+ years) for starters. This can also be useful as you are brainstorming to think of near- and mid-term goals along with the longer ones. For those with a time further out, you might identify related near-term goals that bring joy while working toward those in the future. For example, when planning for a trip that might be several years away, you might have near-term items on your list such as learning a new language, sampling certain food or studying about the culture where you’ll visit while saving for that big trip. When organizing around resources such as physical health, you might want to prioritize “Hiking the Inca Trail” when you are younger and in physical shape and move “Dining in a Parisian Café” to when mobility may not be as important. You get the idea.
Once you know what can bring you joy, it’s important to remind yourself of the benefits involved and why you should prioritize these items alongside the other activities that occupy your time. Make a list showing what would be lost if you never got around to experiencing the things on your list. Think about the opportunity costs involved and give yourself a compelling reason to overcome inertia or other obstacles (fear, doubt, guilt) that might be stopping you. It’s often said that nobody looks back on their deathbed and wishes they had spent more time at the office, but do we really live this advice? There must be a compelling payoff that would come from spending more time pursuing your dreams versus being busy focused purely on status quo activities.
Silence Your Inner-Voice that Says “But You Can’t…”
Once you know what makes you happy and have a clear idea of the benefits, it’s good to spend time breaking down the reasons you aren’t presently focusing more energy on these dreams. When you reflect on what’s getting in the way (e.g., money, kids, other responsibilities), it’s good to unpack each barrier to better understand it and explore what emotions and probabilities are attached to each. For example, we might dream of someday taking a European River Cruise, but we tell ourselves we can’t spend the money now or take time away with children living at home. Each of these might be valid thoughts, yet I’m sure if we found we only had months to live we could find a way around them. Perhaps you can’t take that cruise immediately, but you can set a goal of doing it in the future and finding the ways to make conscious choices to make it happen.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Change will not happen overnight, and it certainly won’t happen if you don’t schedule regular intervals to review, update and check items off your list. Plan to set regular time (quarterly, annually, etc.) and make this a priority. I typically use New Year’s Day as a time when I look back on the year and add to or refine my goals. It is also important to be kind to yourself as you might not check off every item you intended at the start of the year. Life happens. You can simply adjust and revise your goals as things change. This can also be a fun activity to do as a couple, first individually, and then to consolidate lists as you help each other check off items over time.
Ultimately, you will run out of time in this life to complete everything that’s on your list. This is OK as the point isn’t to get so focused on the activity that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way. However, I hope you will have been able to intentionally move things forward and gain joy from experiences that otherwise might never have happened…and that’s the point of living like there is no tomorrow.
Let me know how this works for you and what other ideas you have in the comments. And if you’d like to further discuss this concept or are interested in personal or professional coaching to get the most out of your life or career, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my services for more information.