At the moment of your birth, you were given a life. You didn’t ask for one, nor were you aware of your rights or your obligations. Nevertheless, air entered your lungs, you started breathing on your own, and right away you registered your discomfort with a plaintive cry.
Despite that discomfort, no one provided Baby You with a prospectus, let alone an infallible guide to making the most of your single, finite, non-renewable life. The end is inevitable, and so far as anyone can tell, there’s no second change: no court can grant you a do-over, even if you don’t think you got a fair shake at your one opportunity.
The good news is that while you are here, you get as many chances as you want to live the life you want: the one that provides you with meaning, purpose, and happiness. You can start over on the cusp of age eleven, in the rush of twenty-two, or even in the last two weeks of your forty-seventh trip around the sun.
How to Ruin Your Life
One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, the world’s best marketer: “Why join the Navy when you can be a pirate?” I’ll do my best to unpack what he meant.
Throughout your life, there is tremendous pressure to conform. You are surrounded by people who have certain expectations of you, and you are penalized for not knowing or understanding those norms, so much so that you find it easier to get in line than to stand out. Over time, you learn to repress your desire to be something, do something, have something, or contribute something that you really want, instead conforming to what you see around you. You find out that you’ve joined the Navy, even though you would prefer to wear an eye patch and walk around with a parrot perched on your shoulder, glowering while he bobs his head and spits curse words at passersby.
You ruin your life when you allow yourself to conform, repressing who you are, foregoing the things that you want to be or do, and depriving yourself of what you want. You might have noticed how fast time passes by—and how fast your regrets pile up around you, caging you in.
Your life is the only thing that truly belongs to you. As Helen Keller put it, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.” Nothing else you think you own will belong to you when you are gone; you are just holding it for a little while. No one ever tells you that your first obligation is to yourself, that you have to decide for yourself what you want from your time here. Your obligation to yourself is what allows you to obligate yourself to others. Becoming the person that comes after the person you are now will enable you to make the contribution you are here to make—and more still, you create a glitch in the Matrix by providing an example for other would-be pirates.
Facing Your Fear
We humans tend to fear the wrong dangers. We fear having a difficult conversation when we should fear not having it. We fear being active when we should fear staying passive, allowing things to continue towards a bad outcome.
Many fears come with owning your one and only life, starting with the fear of being judged by those who have conformed and expect you to do the same. Judgment may make you fear setting off on an adventure to find yourself or doing the thing you want to do. These are real fears, the kind that can be debilitating—until you realize that they’re impotent compared to what should really scare you.
You should be afraid of not living the one life you have on your terms and to the best of your ability. You should be afraid of getting to the end, regretting the fact that you didn’t even try. You should be afraid of realizing that all you’ve done is take on obligations without your consent, conforming to the comfortable and settling for armchairs over adventure.
The First Couple of Steps
The first step here isn’t to tell your boss to go to hell. The first step is deciding what you want for yourself. Only you can do the work of being introspective, identifying your goals, and understanding why you want what you want and what it means to you.
The second step is to become the person you need to become to live the life that you imagine for yourself. Your opportunity for doing more, having more, and contributing more all begins with “being more,” transforming yourself into a person who isn’t afraid to own their one life completely, without apology, and without regret.
Almost nothing vying for your attention is worth your time. None of it should take precedence over what you want from your life: not a pandemic, not partisan politics, not social media, not the fact that the world is on fire (it was always burning since the world’s been turning).
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
What will you do with the time you have been given?
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Filed under: Mindset