“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75,” said Ben Franklin, who then went out, all zesty for life, and became a founding father of the country (and found himself firmly emblazoned on the $100 bill). Nietzsche likely wasn’t thinking of him when he said, “Man is the only animal that has to be encouraged to live.” And Anatole France jumped on the Big L Life bandwagon with his prickly quote: “The average man does not know what to do with his life, yet wants another one which will last forever”. Ouch, ouch, and ouch. Rough stuff.
The truth can hurt, right? Living our lives on autopilot can be remarkably and pseudo-satisfyingly efficient, but also flatteningly empty. Hollow. Unfulfilled. Godforsaken. Deflated. All sorts of words we don’t want to use to describe our lives.
We get caught up in routines that in many ways make our lives easier (driving the same route to work each day, completing the same TPS reports, showing up for the same variation of date night, doing the grocery shopping on Saturday mornings like well-oiled robots), but these routines don’t make us feel really alive, do they? They might not make us feel like we’re dead… but they’re decidedly mediocre experiences.
Sometimes the spaces in between the routines are meant to be the enriching ones where we suck the marrow out of the bones of life, but those moments either get squeezed out in favor of those insidious routines, or we inexplicably let our dreams drift away. 52% of Americans have unused vacation time… only 6% of people work in the occupations they aspired to in childhood… 68.5% of us are disengaged at work but only 51% are actively looking for new jobs so that math means a lot of settling for mediocrity.
I dare you to answer these questions honestly:
When was the last time you felt maximally alive,** living life to its fullest? When was the last period of your life that you felt maximally alive, not just a moment in time at Six Flags? (If you’re maximally alive right now, way to go.)
Where would you describe your life as mediocre? Where are you on autopilot?
Can you pinpoint the time when you threw in the proverbial towel of life? How old would you say you were when you died, even in one category of your life (love, friendships, career, fun, spirituality, health, etc.)?
I know I’m a shit-disturber with these questions. But if me disturbing a little bit of your shit helps bring you back to life even a little bit – like finally scheduling that vacation, or putting your phone down and eating a Chipwich* with your kid (I checked the internet and learned that these things of glory are coming back; there’s hope out there after all, folks!), or starting that business you’ve dreamed of, or simply sitting in the park you drive by every day – then we’ve scored one for Life. (The Grim Reaper hates it when that happens.)
I don’t take this life thing lightly (surprise!), because I’ve lived a long time in the Land of Good Ideas that don’t get executed. It’s no fun – call me to talk about it if you’d like to share war stories. I decided that I need to get really deliberate with my desire to live a life that I’ll be proud of when the plug gets pulled on me (assuming I’ve lived a ridiculously long life that gently ends with a slip into a coma at the same exact time as The Husband).
So, I have a spreadsheet that lists the things I know make me feel alive – both big (specific travel locations) and small (browsing in bookstores) – and I track my progress (also because I’m nerdy that way). I get prescriptive with this happiness thing. I schedule things in – like time off for the entire year ahead, date nights, creative time (with goals to actually make things), time by myself, plans for the longest day of the year, time for friends, time to call specific people, exercise that’s fun (surprisingly not an oxymoron) and because I’m an introvert, EVEN MORE TIME BY MYSELF.
I get off track with my Like My Life a Little Bit More plan all the time. But I have a blueprint for what I know matters, and I so get back on track more often than I fall off track. I look back on times when I was resting in peace, so to speak. Times I was dead, on autopilot, not taking action on anything I wanted deep down but was too stuck to do anything about. And having come back to life, I can say with confidence, I’d so much rather be alive (at least until 86).
And because I love quotes almost as much as I love buying books on Amazon, here’s one from George Eliot with a perfectly positive spin to thwart your possibly premature “death”: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” What might that be?
** Gregg Levoy wrote about maximum aliveness and highly functioning zombies: two concepts I fell in literary love with in his weighty tome called “Vital Signs." I recommend the book – not just to buy and have on your shelf, but to read.