Don’t wait for a brush with death to pursue what matters

December 20, 2010

One of my new favorite blogs is Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. Partly because I loved his book. Chris writes a lot about travel, but his main theme is living an unconventional life.

Chris had a post a week or two ago that really resonated with me — so I’m figuring it will resonate with you, too. He called it Some Thoughts on Mortality, but, as we say in journalism, he buried the lead. The post is actually about living your life the way you want to live it, about not waiting for a traumatic event to make life changes that will make you happy.

Here’s the snippet that got me thinking. Chris writes:

Most of the time these days, I wake up excited and go to sleep excited. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all the projects I want to work on. So many countries left! New adventures, new friends, trips, writing projects, business ventures, etc.

[snip]

From refugees to survivors of all kinds, I've met a lot of people whose lives have been altered through trauma and near-death experiences. In my own life, I can pinpoint a few experiences that shook me up and caused me to rethink my priorities, especially a major change that came about after 9/11 when I was depressed and trying to find a way to engage with the world. The problem is that these events don't come along very often (for good reason), and when they do come along, you don't always have a choice in how to respond.

Instead of responding to trauma, therefore, it's better if you can avoid a wake-up call like that to create change in your life. You don't have to wait for a 9/11, a car crash, another near brush with death to think about what really matters. You can do so right now, today, no matter what else is happening in your life.

I love how he says he wakes up in the middle of the night, excited about his projects. I thought I was the only geek who did that! But really, I think that’s a good measure of whether you’re living your life the way you should. Do you wake up in the middle of the night, excited about what’s ahead? Don’t tell me you feel satisfied — that’s not enough. You should feel excited.

Ever since taking my career break, I’ve made it a habit to check in with myself regularly, to think consciously about whether I’m living the life I want to live. This is partly because my travel experiences have made me more thankful for opportunity, and partly because leaving my job to travel in Africa showed me that I can make my life whatever I want it to be.

And that’s the key — I have to make it happen. Each of us has the power to live the life we want, if we’re willing to take the steps to make it happen. The first step is realizing that being satisfied isn’t enough. Instead, we have to work to find that life path that makes us wake up excited in the middle of the night.

I say “life path” because “things” don’t usually spark that reaction in most of us. When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night because you were so excited about your new smartphone or a just-released Wii game? As an adult, I mean. If you’re like most of us, you probably can’t think of the last time. That’s because the stuff that gets us really excited revolves around experiences — a new baby, a big trip, a new job, a book deal. Those are the “things” that keep us up at night.

So take a moment right now to reflect on whether you’re working toward your own priorities. Maybe you’re already living the life you want to live. But more likely, you’re not. If you’re like many of us, you’re holding out for one reason or another, waiting for something to happen, a time period to pass, some piece to fall into place. But the truth is, those pieces are not going to fall into place. We have to put them in place. We have to make our own luck.

So rather than waiting, ask yourself: What can I do today that will help me move toward that goal? What can I do tomorrow? In the next month or year? How can I get myself to where I want to be?

Like Chris suggests, don’t wait for a brush with death to think about what really matters. Figure out what’s going to wake you up excited in the middle of the night, and go get it.

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    8 Replies to “Don’t wait for a brush with death to pursue what matters”

    • Andrea James says:

      A wonderful and important post!

      This line made me laugh: “As an adult, I mean.”

      I remember learning, as a kid, that I would be getting The Simpsons video game for my Nintendo entertainment system. In the nights before Christmas, I lay awake imagining how fun it would be to hop through Springfield as Bart. Controlling him myself, going into Moe’s, going wherever I wanted! The world of digitized Springfield would be my oyster!

      As for the sentiment that satisfied is not enough — this is what what Penelope Trunk would call a maximizer!

      http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2010/02/16/test-is-your-life-happy-or-interesting/

    • Andi says:

      Great post just in time for new years resolutions. 🙂

    • This is an excellent post, Alexis, and especially meaningful to us who are older. Even so, none of us know when our time will run out and those things we postponed or procrastinated about will no longer be options…just missed opportunities. Do it now.

    • Carrie says:

      I really like this post. Life is short. Our days are numbered. We should make the most of each day and not hold ourselves back. Very thought provoking!

    • Kim Kircher says:

      Thanks for this reminder. Even those of us that have been through a brush with death need to remember why we fought so hard. It is true that things don’t excite us. I wake up in the middle of the night excited about the experiences in my midst. Great post.

    • Ami says:

      Great reminder as we reflect on our accomplishments for 2010 and finalize our goals for 2011. I’ve learned a lot in 2010, and one of those lessons is not to wait for things to be perfect, or right, or in order before setting out to make my dreams happen. Taking steps toward my goals (however small they need to be) will get me there much faster than waiting for everything to fall in place.

    • This is an excellent post, Alexis, and especially meaningful to us who are older. Even so, none of us know when our time will run out and those things we postponed or procrastinated about will no longer be options…just missed opportunities. Do it now.

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