We don’t beat the Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well. And living fully. For the Reaper will come for all of us. The question is what do we do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up. Because when he shows up, it’s too late to do all the things that you’re always gonna, kinda get around to.
Ever since my dad passed away suddenly a couple of years ago, my own mortality has weighed very heavily on my mind. Of course I understand on an intellectual level that I won’t be here forever. At the same time, I also recognize that I indulge in a “there’s always tomorrow” mentality rather frequently, at least on a subconscious level. But why am I putting off to tomorrow what I can do today?
What if tomorrow never comes? What does that mean for all the dreams and ambitions that I have? What will it mean for my family after I’m gone? What will my legacy be?
A professor of computer science and human-computer interaction, Dr. Randolph Frederick Pausch (known more commonly as Dr. Randy Pausch) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. The Carnegie Mellon professor was told one year later that he only had “three to six months of good health left.” This helped Pausch put his life in perspective, and it was through this introspection that he co-authored The Last Lecture with Jeffrey Zaslow.
Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
In talks and interviews that he gave after receiving the terminal diagnosis, Randy Pausch always exuded a positive outlook on life. He asserted time and time again that when you look back, you rarely regret the things that you did. Instead, you’re far more likely to regret the things that you did not do.
By his own admission, he did a lot of stupid things in his life. Even so, he was able to look back with the pride in knowing that he seized every opportunity and made the most of his nearly 48 years. He was able to look back fondly at his memories and his experiences, even if he stumbled or made mistakes along the way.
And that’s the thing. Many of us are afraid to try something, because we are afraid to fail. Many of us are afraid to push our limits, because we are scared we might get hurt. In truth, you need to allow yourself to get lost every now and then, recognizing that these experiences are invaluable in and of themselves.
Remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
When everyone else is scared to try something, when everyone else is afraid to put themselves on the line, you have the opportunity to step forward. Success, however you choose to define it, isn’t going to be easy (nor should it be). If life were easy, it’d be awfully boring. If achievement were easy, the reward would not be so rewarding.
You want to feel like your efforts mean something, like you’ve earned it. You want to feel like your actions are moving you closer to realizing your childhood dreams, because simply being busy isn’t enough. You want to feel like you are working toward something, rather than simply watching the world pass you by.
Put another way, as cliche as it may sound, don’t worry about counting your days. Instead, focus on ensuring that your days count. What are you going to do today?