A Good Girl (Who Didn’t Make It)
Alyssa was my best friend. She was a talented musician, a graceful gymnast, a brilliant writer, and a deeply passionate human being. She cared about people. Love bled from every facet of her being. When she spoke, her eyes were as sincere as her words. And she always wanted to understand what was wrong so she could strive to make it better.
But Alyssa woke up one day during her senior year in college with a strange pain in her chest. The on-campus doctors didn’t understand why, so they referred her to a specialist. After several MRIs and blood tests, they determined that she had a rare, escalated case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a form of cancer. She spent the next three years suffering through varying degrees of pain and sickness as multiple doctors treated her with radiation and chemotherapy. And although these doctors were initially hopeful, Alyssa’s condition worsened, and she eventually succumbed to her cancer, dying on her 25th birthday.
A Bad Guy (Who Did)
Ethan was also my friend. Although not as multi-talented as Alyssa, he was incredibly smart, particularly when it came to money and business tactics. But sadly, he didn’t care about people one bit. I eventually learned, just before ending our 10-year friendship, that he ripped people off for a living. He primarily targeted elderly folks who had a relatively small life savings. “They’re all suckers,” he told me. And he felt no remorse because, he continued, “they’ll all be dead soon anyway.”
Today, at the age of 37, Ethan is a multi-millionaire. And although we haven’t spoken in years, I’ve heard from others that he still hasn’t gotten into any legal trouble—largely, I think, because of the calculated legal threats I’ve heard he makes to anyone he suspects might have a good conscience. I hear, also, that he doesn’t suffer from any major health problems, and that he, his complicit wife, and his two healthy sons live in a mansion somewhere in Los Angeles.
The Reason We Make Our Time Count
These are real stories, and yet they’re old stories—familiar stories. The people and circumstances differ slightly for everyone who tells them, but the core lessons remain the same: Life is short and it isn’t fair. Bad things do happen to good people. And good things do happen to bad people.
Tragically, these stories and lessons often fuel the excuses many of us use when we choose not to follow our hearts. And they fuel the excuses many of us use when we choose to treat ourselves and each other without dignity and respect. “Why care?” we argue, “when the Alyssa’s of the world suffer and die young while the Ethan’s of the world sip wine at five-star resorts well into their eighties.”
But for some of us, Alyssa and Ethan are the reason we do follow our hearts. His story is the reason we live to make the world a little brighter, to make people a little happier. And her story is the reason we use all of the strength we have right now. Because we know we may not have the same strength tomorrow…
Because a world with no guarantees requires us to make the best of the precious little time we have left.
Notes to Self for Making YOUR Time Count
The key, Angel and I have discovered, is keeping the right thoughts and intentions at the top of our minds on a daily basis. Over the past decade we’ve written various “notes to self” like the ones I’ve listed below (all of which are now excerpts from our NYT bestselling book), and then we’ve placed them where we can easily see and reference them (for example, several of our original notes are presently taped up over our desks in our home office). These “notes to self” help us stay on track, by empowering us to make the best and most effective use of our time.
1. Opportunity is only ever found in the present.
Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness and peace. Don’t be one of them. Life is too short. Time is running out. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been. The secret to happiness and peace is letting this moment be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the very best of it.
If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. Realize this. What you do now matters more than what happened yesterday.
2. Your entire life can be customized from day to day.
There are hundreds of people in every town on Earth who live their entire lives on the default settings, never realizing they can customize everything. Don’t be one of them. Don’t settle for the default settings in life.
Find your loves, your talents, your passions, and embrace them. Don’t hide behind other people’s decisions. Don’t let others tell you what you want, or what you are capable of. Explore the unknown! Test the limits! Design YOUR journey every step of the way. The life you create from doing something that moves and excites you is far better than the life you get from sitting around wishing you were doing it.
3. The willingness to do hard things makes life worth living.
If you want a job, be ready to work. If you want a relationship, be ready to work. If you want a family, be ready to work. If you want happiness, be ready… To learn and earn and give and grow, NOT just want and have and take and show.
Truth be told, one of the most important abilities you can develop in life is the willingness to accept and grow through life’s challenges and discomforts. Because the best things are often hard to come by, at least initially. And if you shy away from hard work and discomfort, you’ll miss out on them entirely. Mastering a new skill is hard. Building a business is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Friendship is hard. Parenting is hard. Staying healthy is hard. But all are amazing and worth every bit of effort you can muster.
4. Daily kindness is a beautiful legacy to leave behind.
Some people will be kind to you. Some won’t. Be kind anyway.
Through kindness you have the ability to make a profound difference in every life you touch, including your own. When you guide somebody who is lost and confused, when you hold somebody who is sad and grieving, when you hug somebody who has lost all their hope, you too will feel yourself healing and growing stronger.
So just keep reminding yourself that you will end up terribly disappointed if you expect people will always do for you as you do for them. Not everyone has the same heart, strength and inner resolve as you. No matter what has happened, or what happens today, let kindness be your superpower. Being extra kind to people is a peaceful way to live in each moment, and a beautiful legacy to leave behind in the long run.
5. Everything will change again, faster and sooner than expected.
Nothing lasts. Everything changes. Day to day is a winding journey.
As human beings we are constantly outgrowing what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and falling in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life literally keeps leading us on journeys we would never go on if it were up to us. Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Find the lessons. Trust the journey.
You will gradually learn that nobody gets too far without losing somebody they love, something they need, or something they thought was meant to be. But it is these very losses that make us stronger and eventually move us toward future opportunities. Embrace these opportunities. Enter new relationships and new situations, knowing that you are venturing into unfamiliar territory. Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to experience something or meet somebody that just might change your life forever.
Afterthoughts & Questions…
Although it still hurts sometimes, it’s also inspiring to think that, a whole decade after her passing, fond memories of my friend Alyssa continue to guide many of the decisions Angel and I make on a daily basis. And Alyssa is not our only source of inspiration. Over the years Angel and I have lost several key figures in our lives too soon to death, including Angel’s brother Todd and our mutual best friend Josh. Every single word we write on this blog and in our books, every single live event we host, and every coaching session we hold with a student, is done with these people, and the “notes to self” they’ve inspired, in mind.
And, I’m sure you can relate in some way…
To a greater or lesser extent, we all know deep down that life is short, and that our mortality—our inevitable demise—will catch up to each and every one of us eventually. And yet we are infinitely surprised when it catches up to somebody we know. It’s like walking up a long flight of stairs with a distracted mind and miscalculating the final step. You expected there to be one more stair than there is, but there isn’t, and so you find yourself off balance, tripping over yourself for a while, until your mind shifts back to the present moment and the reality of how life really is.
Let’s take a deep breath right now and take this to heart.
Let’s make the best of the precious little time we have left, together.
. . .
And if you’re feeling up to it, I’d love to know what you think of this short essay.
What’s on your mind right now?
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