“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to witness the humble, elegant, peaceful passing of my 89-year-old grandfather. As I sat quietly in his hospice care room alongside other family members, his nurse smiled softly and said, “I can see he lived well. Everyone dies the way they live.”
And as I drove home that evening, three questions began cycling through my mind…
“Am I living well?”
“Where do I have room for improvement?”
“What do I want to be able to smile about on the inside when I’m on my deathbed?”
These questions are tough, especially the last one. In fact, I desperately struggled to envision myself on my deathbed – thinking about it stressed me out. So I turned my back on these healthy questions and didn’t think about them any further. I distracted myself for a couple years, until I found myself back in a hospice care room with my 90-year-old grandmother (who was the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, by the way).
The questions came roaring back into my thoughts. But this time, as soon as I felt inner resistance, I rephrased the final question:
“What do I want to be able to smile about on the inside in 5 years from today?”
When rephrased in this way, I found it so much easier to digest.
And as crazy as it may sound to you, this small change in thinking changed my life. From that day forward I started living differently.
So today, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions, and let them inspire you to make positive changes in your life.
If you do, I guarantee in 5 years from now you’ll catch yourself smiling about…
1. The fact that you didn’t talk yourself out of doing your thing.
Walt Disney once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious – and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
This is one of my favorite quotes. It inspires me to write and create. And to move on to my next piece of work, even when I catch myself judging my last piece of work as “not good enough.”
For nearly a decade I have been publishing new articles every week on marcandangel.com. Sometimes the ideas and words come easier than others, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like my work was sub-par.
“I thought this was a great article. Why aren’t people reading and sharing it?” Or I’ll feel like I fumbled through an article only to watch it receive 50,000+ shares on Facebook. Regardless of which outcome I’m dealing with, I’ve realized one thing: As human beings, we are often terrible judges of our own work. We are just too self-critical to see the truth most of the time.
And not only that, it’s not our job to judge our own work. It’s not our job to compare it to everyone else’s work, or to how we thought others would perceive it. There’s no use in doing that.
Instead, it’s our job to create. Our job is to share what we have right now in this moment. Our job is to come as we are and give it our best shot.
There are people in nearly every career field who make each day a work of art simply by the way they have mastered their craft. In other words, almost everyone is an artist in some way. And every artist will have the tendency to judge their own work. The important thing is to not let your self-judgment talk you out of doing your thing and sharing your creative and unique gifts with the world.
Just like Walt said, the key is to “keep moving forward.”
2. Memories of persevering through some of your story’s greatest challenges.
Sadly, most people give up on their life stories far too early. They come out of school or college wanting to change the world, wanting to build an enterprise, wanting to make lots of money, wanting to start a family and live happily ever after. But they get into the middle of it all and discover it’s way harder than they anticipated. They encounter many setbacks, and they can’t see anything over the distant horizon anymore. So they wonder if their efforts are moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the ones ahead are getting larger… at least not fast enough. So they take it out on their family and friends, and themselves, and they go aimlessly looking for an easier path that doesn’t fulfill them.
Don’t be one of these people.
As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Good things don’t come easy. True strength consists of what you do on the third, fourth and fifth tries.
Never give up on your story. Don’t ever give in. Don’t ever stop trying. Don’t ever sell out or sell yourself short. Life is tough, but you are tougher. Your journey isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it. To never struggle is to never grow. It doesn’t matter what’s happened or what you’ve done; what matters is what you choose to do from here. Accept the circumstances, learn from them, and take another step forward, every day. (Read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.)
3. Moments of appreciating what you have, right now, right where you are.
The universe is always talking to us… sending us little messages, causing coincidences, and serendipitous events, reminding us to stop, to look around, and to believe in something special, something more.
But this special something isn’t somewhere else. It’s right where you are.
Sometimes you have to stop searching, and just BE. You aren’t missing anything anywhere else. You’re missing the goodness in front of you.
Let me assure you, you could run around trying to do everything, and travel around the world, and always stay connected, and work and party all night long without sleep, but you could never do it all. You will always be missing something, and thus it will always seem like something amazing might be happening elsewhere. Focusing on this is obviously futile.
Hustle, work hard, and seek adventure, but do it with your eyes wide open and focused on your present step.
You have everything right now. The best in life isn’t somewhere else; it’s right where you are, at this moment. Notice it, and make it memorable.
4. The peace of mind that comes from letting go.
The more you talk about it, debate it, rethink it, rehash it, cross-analyze it, get paranoid about it, track it, respond to it, contend with it, complain about it, immortalize it, cry over it, kick it, insult it, gossip about it, pray over it, put it down or dissect its motives… it continues to fester and rot in your mind.
It’s time to accept that it’s over! It’s dead! It’s gone. It’s done. It’s time to bury it because it’s stinking up your life, and no one wants to be near your rotted corpse of bad memories, or your decaying attitude. Be the funeral director of your past life and bury that thing once and for all!
Holding on is being brave, but letting go and moving on is often what makes us stronger and happier in the end. Give yourself this gift so you can grow and smile again. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Happiness” and “Adversity” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. Your own acts of selfless giving.
My personal heroes are everyday visionaries and dreamers, those beautiful people among us who try to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in tiny ways or enormous ones. Some succeed, some fail, most have mixed results… but it’s the effort itself that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.
I challenge you to take a page out of their book. Because, win or lose, it’s this act of fighting for something greater than yourself that makes your story an inspiring one in the long run.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The purpose of life is not to simply be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
I want to leave you with a poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley that my grandparents used to have hanging on their refrigerator when I was growing up. I think it perfectly embodies the message of this post:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
What do you want to be able to smile about five years down the road? What’s one thing you absolutely want to be able to say about yourself and how you’ve lived your life? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Joy Jordan