A week and a day after Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed in Southern California, it may already seem like a cliché to say that we should appreciate what we have while we can. That sentiment has appeared in countless Instagram posts, headlines, and sound bites, and friends and family members are all reminding each other of that bittersweet truth. Trite or not, life really is too short to take it for granted. The problem, of course, is that it takes us forever to realize it. Even following a tragic accident like Kobe Bryant’s, our deep appreciation of what we have and the lives we live often wanes in the face of our day-to-day responsibilities.
If I find myself not living the life I want to live, I lose my chance, and that’s on me.
What we don’t know when we are young—even in our 40s and 50s—is that the limited time left in our lives will eventually become one of our primary motivators. At least that’s true for me. I squandered so much time over the years that it feels like I threw money into an abyss—only worse. Now, not even two years from 70, my mind is keenly aware of the short path ahead of me, but my daily habits seem to ignore the truth. I spend hours and days worrying about pointless situations or fearing “what might happen if…” And, although I’m much better about it than I used to be, I spend way more time in my life doing things I would probably rather not be doing.
It’s not that I think every moment must be meaningful and important. Much of life is just what it is—a small event here, a conversation there. But I feel more than ever that if I don’t live and do and think and say and be everything that I want to, the chances to do those things will be gone. And, unlike when I was younger, doing what I want to do depends almost entirely on me remaining healthy and strong and lucky. It means doing less and appreciating it more. It also means living as intentionally as possible.
When I think of what I truly value, the answer involves doing something creative, being outside, moving my body, connecting with people I love, reading a good book, going for a walk, planning a project, organizing a trip, being in the water, watching a great movie or enjoying a museum, cooking and eating something good and fresh, and playing with my dogs. Obviously I wouldn’t do all of this in one day, but I'd like to have these elements in my life on a fairly regular basis. When I fill the limited hours with activities or efforts that aren’t these things, I’m losing out.
We all get going on certain paths in our lives and forget to think much about what we want or how we want to live. If we do think of it, it's probably, “When I reach a certain age, I’m going to retire and do all of the things I wish I were doing now.” Having experienced that myself, I realize that how we structure our lives has to be as much as part of our thought process when we’re working as when we’re retired. Even given an 8-hour day at work, many of us probably aren’t living those hours, or the other 16, as purposefully as we could.
My revelation these days is that waiting for anything to happen is a waste of time—especially if we’re talking about things over which we have little control. Whether we’re young and unfocused, or older and eager to grab all the gusto, we need to be mindful and purposeful. It’s true whether we like our jobs or hate them, whether we’re single or married, or bored, scared, and anxious. The time will pass regardless—way more quickly than we want it to. I want to like what I do each day, at least to some extent. And if I don’t, it really is up to me to figure out a better plan. If I find myself not living the life I want to live, I lose my chance, and that’s on me.