Last week, I watched a short video that was making the rounds on social media called “Everybody Dies, But Not Everybody Lives”. If you haven’t watched it yet, take 6 minutes and do so now. You won’t regret it.
It resonated with me in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time, and I found myself practically shouting “YES!” as the author describes how our enemies, Fear and Doubt, can cripple us and prevent us from ever stepping outside “the box” and truly living. Have you ever felt that you were your own worst enemy? That the doubts and fears that lurk in the dark recesses of your mind have stopped you from making bold choices that you know could set you free, if only you were willing to accept risking failure in order to pursue what your heart tells you matters most?
I would also add a third enemy to this list: Complacency. Complacency is something that our society is far too good at. We start out with lofty dreams, ambitions, and ideas of where our place in this world will be and what indelible mark we’ll leave as our legacy, but then shrink in the face of adversity and obstacles and end up settling for “good enough”.
I’ve been guilty of it for most of my adult life. Because of some major health problems that I dealt with while in university, I instead ended up having to take a full medical withdrawal from school because I was too sick to carry on – something that crushed me and my “teacher’s pet, straight A student” soul. I had never had to accept failure before, especially when it was because of something outside my control, and I didn’t know how to handle it. When I was well again, I ended up taking on what I considered to be a temporary job at the time, working in the public sector in a union and making decent money for shuffling paper around. Good for paying off student loans and bills – bad for my soul.
Fast forward 7.5 years, and I’m still working for the same company. Different job, which has admittedly given me a huge range of skills and experience that I am entirely grateful for, but at the end of the day it still isn’t where I ever intended to be. Over these last, long years, I’ve slowly lost the part of me that challenged the norms and wanted more from life than simply status quo, and instead I settled for something that was comfortably “square”. It happened so subtly that I barely noticed, and I did a good enough job of filling my non-working hours with things that I loved so as to make it palatable, but eventually I’ve arrived at a point so far from where I started, that I’ve been forced to stop and confront the passage of time and what I’ve done with it.
Circumstances in my life over the last few months have caused me to take a good, hard look at where I’m spending my precious, valuable time. We don’t really think about how much of it we fritter away until we are confronted with the reality that it is not infinite – that while we may not all get told exactly how much time we’ve got to spend on this earth, it doesn’t mean it’s not ticking by just the same.
It hit me that living my life as I am, counting down each Monday to Friday just to get to Saturday and Sunday, isn’t nearly good enough. Sure, I spend every moment outside of my 9 – 5 job cramming in as much activity as I possibly can, but the reality is that I still spend the majority of my waking hours wishing them away in order to savour a precious few. I’m not saying we all have to quit our day-jobs to travel the world (and indeed, speaking with friends who do that for a living, it’s not nearly as easy a path as it sounds), but what I’m saying is that whatever it is we do with our time, we should make sure that we are doing it for the right reasons. There are many great reasons to stay in a job that isn’t the “Dream Job” if it serves other important purposes in our lives, but “fear”, “doubt”, or “complacency” are just not good enough.
Becoming an ultra-runner has taught me many life lessons, some of which I’m just starting to work through now. I’ve spent countless hours over the last few years battling myself on the trails, pushing through miserable workouts even when I’m exhausted because I know that the end goal is worth the temporary pain, and I’ve repeatedly broken my own glass ceiling regarding what I once deemed “possible”. That alone has revolutionized my perspective, and it’s forced me to find new ways to challenge myself as I keep redefining my own limits. But even as I’ve grown personally through my relationship with running, I’ve still remained stuck in a comfortable rut of my own creation, afraid to leave something that makes life easy in search of something that challenges me to be more.
This past semester, I enrolled in several strategic marketing courses, trying to “dip my toes” in a different direction, and sat in a classroom again for the first time in 8 years. As hard as it’s been to add schooling to my already hectic daily schedule, it’s also been a huge eye opener for me. Being back in an atmosphere of learning is both inspiring and motivating, and it made me realize how little energy and importance we assign to emphasizing continuous learning as a society. Simon Fraser University recently introduced a series of courses designed for ages +55 and up, and they’ve proved immensely popular, with senior students lining up at the university to enroll in options ranging from history and philosophy to quantum physics. Seeing how much joy and satisfaction these seniors get from continually challenging themselves to learn and grow made me realize how tragic it is that we ever allow ourselves to stop learning and growing. Knowledge is the key to growth in all aspects of our lives, and we should consider ourselves to be lifelong students, and masters of nothing.
I’ve just now set in motion plans that will change my current course quite drastically and allow me to pursue my dreams again, terrifying as that still seems. My only regret is that it took me this long to break free of the fear and doubt that have tried to hold me back. But this much I now know: we can’t control everything that life throws at us, but we can choose our response to it. We can’t look back, but we can and should look forward. I choose to make the most of what I’ve been given, and to appreciate every damned bit of it.
When I look back at my life in its totality, I want it to be through eyes that know that for better or worse, I’ve given each new day my all. That’s all we can really ask for, and it’s more than enough.