People like definitions. They like things that they can relate to, it helps to create a world that can be understood. A world without mystery is a world without risk; by removing risk we remove fear. In some stretch, this has a lot to do with common getting-to-know-you questions, like “what do you do?”. When someone poses a question like that, issues arise when you can’t say in straight terms what you do. Maybe you do a few things, maybe you do one thing that people are familiar with, but you really do something else too and it’s just hard to explain. In that case do you explain the second less familiar occupation? Do you avoid it to keep the conversation smooth, to avoid being seen as a strange one? Not having one home, not having one occupation, this is were it gets crazy. Try telling someone about the way you don’t live in one box, see how they react. It may just open doors of discomfort.
This post documents the findings of a nurse in palliative care; who takes care of patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their life before they pass away. When the patients were asked about their regrets, the 5 things she heard repeatedly were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Going over them one by one, I think you can easily draw some conclusions about how to live your life better, at least by the advice of those who offered their feedback from the days before theirs would end. Deducting the take away, you can make pro-active rules for yourself. I’ve recapped those here:
1. Have courage to know what you want and live the way you want, not how others expect you to.
This is a challenge for a lot of people, be it from our family, friends, society, or spouse, we feel pressure to live according to others expectations, even when they go agains’t our own personal aspirations. Do what you believe is right for you, it is not always so simple as just heading in the direction your heart tells you, but be clear with the people around you what that direction is, and if you ever feel held back, take note and free yourself from that obstacle.
2. Don’t work so hard. Focus on making time for your self outside of work.
Obvious but illusive; many people love what they do for work, and many people pour themselves into their work, but is it for the expectation of their peers, or for their own satisfaction. I think a lot of the time it’s for the former. I’ve found that the goals of my job, aimed for something I wanted to achieve, but eventually kept me from other things I wanted in life that I couldn’t get through work. Know when your work life balance is out of balance. Make the free time gaps in your work life that can be filled with your hobbies, passions, relationships, and life that you would never achieve through work.
3. Have the courage to express your feelings. Avoid people who don’t accept your true self.
If you can’t tell people how you feel. You will never feel understood. Because no one can understand you when you thoughts are unheard. It’s easy to slip into a life where you feel different from others and don’t see the need or place to share your feelings with them. But this is a habit that grows and grows until it’s normal to not share your feelings. Ultimately no one wins when you do this. People you interact with are being mislead, believing you want something else, and therefore wasting their time on you and supporting interests that aren’t yours. And you are wasting your own time, being with people who don’t understand you, or don’t want to understand you. Just imagine how fulfilling it can be to know the people around you support you and love you for who you are, not some carefully crafted image of the person you think you need to be.
4. Stay in touch with friends.
Perhaps work has something to blame here, perhaps not expressing your feelings does too. It’s easy to lose touch with friends, especially when you start investing your friendships in people from work, or the friends of your spouse rather than your own. In the end we all only have a select group of true friends. They are as important as family and it’s your job to keep them close, even if they aren’t good at it.
5. Let yourself be happier.
Since all of the above issues lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment I think it’s easiest said that if you don’t share your feelings, if you don’t keep your friends close, if you don’t make time for your personal life outside of work, if you don’t have courage to do what you truly want… you won’t be happy. And you aren’t letting yourself be happy. So start doing what you truly want to be doing, make it know how you feel to others around you. Keep your friends close and work, but don’t let it take away from the rest of your life, and have the courage to not work in the name of being happier and more productive when you are working.
Problems nag at us. They fill our thoughts, like a weed, growing up in between the things we deem important. They bother us, take attention away from what we want to think about. Many of us procrastinate, allowing the weed to grow, to form roots and eventually crack the foundation of the ground they formed under.
Others treat these problems like weeds, and hit them with some weed killer, applying toxic chemicals to take away the possibility that they become a strong life in the place where they coincidentally found refuge. Possibly introducing new poisons to our ecosystem.
Some problems can be treated not like weeds; growing up between cracks, but like crops. Perhaps they don’t present danger, perhaps they wont make things ugly. Maybe they are the spirit of new birth in our life, forming in the dark corners, conceived while we were looking in the other direction. And if we give them enough time to get past that seedling stage, provided they don’t offer any imminent danger, they will develop into a flower, or a hearty stalk. Something that can be used, or perhaps something that changes the way we perceive ourselves. Creating new life were there were only particles. The zygote of creation working it’s magic on our very own lives.
If we keep a passive eye on our problems, so long as they aren’t progressing into something bad, letting them mature, we can understand if they are actually a problem, or something new, beautiful, enlightening. We can reap the assets of those problems, as they in fact might not be problems, but diamonds in the rough. When the time is right, we can harvest them, make them into something great, grown organically in the backyard-chaos that is our lives.
That’s quite a view right? That’s how I feel too. This was taken in Norway after hiking 11km to the “Troll Tunga”. How I got there, and where I was in my life tells a story of a lot of unexpected situations, dedication, and careful planning. That’s a lot how life is though, isn’t it? You do some planning, and there are a lot of unexpected things that come along.
Up there on top of the Hardangerfjord in Norway, looking off the ledge of that rock, I was thinking two things, 1) “this is one of the most spectacular moments of my life”, and 2) “I better go soon, there are a lot of people waiting to stand here after me!”. But something changed inside me that day from that moment. I just wanted to stay. I wanted to spend as much of my time as possible in places as beautiful as Norway, looking out over endless beautiful landscapes. I felt rewarded, and I felt lost. I had touched bliss for a moment, and soon I had to walk down the mountain, to get back to the car, so I could drive to the airport the next day, and eventually head home to Berlin where I live and had a job to return to.
The juxtaposition of responsibility and desire to enjoy the moment were playing a tug of war in my head. I knew it was possible to stay, the consequences were not so big that I couldn’t recover from them. Everything that went into getting there emphasized the importance of time, to make the most of the time I had in Norway: looking at tons of maps, finding driving directions, comparing car rental fees with paying for tour busses, camping vs cottages, this city or another, phone calls and emails to tourism offices. So many decisions had been made before even getting to the airport in Oslo – so more time could be spent enjoying my time in this beautiful country. And yet here I was with less than an hour at the summit only to have to prepare to leave.
It’s a huge metaphor for life.
You spent so much time fighting, waiting, working, planning, just so you can get somewhere that you expect to be grand. And then the hike back down begins as quickly as the final approach had ended. How can we extend that time at the summit? How can we have more of it? How can the inevitable return to “real life” be less urgent? What if being at these places was “real life”, and the time back at base camp getting ready to ascend the mountain was the brief moment? That’s what I wanted!
Life is beautiful. It’s short. If you don’t think so, you’re probably in your early twenties and haven’t looked back at your last year of college like it was eons ago. But age is no matter, if you can open your eyes to behold a breath taking sunset, the world is still your oyster. The most important thing is the world is changing, constantly. It’s easier than ever to climb to the top of that mountain and have a lifestyle that allows you to stay at the top of that mountain, or go on to climb many more.
I’ve found many ways to live like this, and I think anyone else can do it. It’s not as easy as asking to work from home until your manager trusts you so much you can get away with flying around the country without anyone noticing. You can’t just find someone in another country to cover your ass while you go surfing. But it is as easy as giving yourself some runway, removing unnecessary lifestyle habits that prevent you from getting out into the world, making a plan, and booking a one way ticket.
This blog is dedicated to teaching people how to obtain those spectacular moments. No matter what your dreams are, chances are, some of the steps for getting there scare the living daylights out of you. On a deep chemical molecular level that is just your hippocampus warning you there is some risk. But just like riding a rollercoaster, or jumping off a diving board. As soon as you take the plunge, that same gland will reward you with dopamine, and nothing will feel as good as waking up every day challenging yourself to once again take a proverbial dive into the world that awaits you. Challenging yourself, and taking the sometimes unimaginable steps to get the things you want in life, not only helps you enjoy how you live completely. It’s an amazing ride and I plan to show you how to take it.
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Conversations move quickly. Thoughts move even faster. Unless you are highly focused, it’s easy to be distracted, especially if you’re staring at a computer screen with a broadband internet connection to boot. You can save energy (perhaps not time) by giving into the distractions, but do yourself a favor, as each one comes, remember what you were doing before you changed course. Once your curiosity is fed, go back to the thing you were doing last.
This one skill works wonders for conversation, productivity, and more.