May you truly live every day of your life.
The 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.
The Guy Who Did Make It
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 40, 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.
Why We Make Our Limited 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, and 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.
Reminders Can Help When We Forget
You have to admit, you know deep down that life is short and precious, and yet you often forget to act accordingly. You act like a healthy 85 years is guaranteed even though you know better. And you aren’t alone either. The truth is, we all forget, again and again…
So what’s the secret to staying on track?
The secret is no secret. When you forget, remind yourself, forgive yourself, and begin again…
The biggest key, Angel and I have discovered, is consistently keeping the right thoughts and intentions at the top of our minds. Over the past 15 years we’ve written various reminders like the ones I’ve listed below, and then we’ve placed them where we can easily see and reference them (for example, a couple of these reminders are printed out and taped up on the wall in our home office right now). These “notes to self” help us stay on track, by empowering us to make the best and most effective use of our time.
We’ve passed these same reminders on to our course students, coaching clients, and live seminar attendees in the past too, and many of them have taken the time to personally thank us for doing so. I hope YOU find value in them today, too:
1. Opportunity is only ever seized in the present.
Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. Don’t be one of them. Life is just too short. Time is flying. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been, or how much potential you have.
Truly, the secret to more happiness and progress is letting today be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the very best of it. Because if you don’t allow yourself to gradually move through life’s challenges — what happened, what was said, what was felt — you will look at your present and future with the same dirty lens. So keep reminding yourself:
What you do today always matters a little bit more than what happened yesterday. Focus your energy not on fixing and fighting yesterday, but on building and growing something new right now.
2. Your 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 unknowns! Test the limits! Design YOUR journey every step of the way.
In other words, forget popularity. Just do your thing with passion, humility, and honesty. Do what you do, not for an applause, but because it’s what’s right. Pursue it a little bit each day, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s how dreams are achieved.
3. The willingness to do hard things makes every day left 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. (NOTE: Angel and I discuss this further in the “Success” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. Daily kindness is a beautiful legacy to create and leave behind.
Some people will be kind to you. Some won’t. Be kind either way.
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.
I know it’s not always easy, but just keep reminding yourself that you will end up disappointed if you expect people will always do for you as you do for them. Not everyone has the same to give, or the same inner strength and resolve as you. So no matter what has happened, or what happens today, be kind to people. Smile. Compliment them. Magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses. It’s truly a more peaceful way to live day by day, and a beautiful legacy to leave behind in the long run.
5. Life is always in the process of changing again, faster than expected.
Nothing lasts. Everything changes. Day to day is a winding road.
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, nearly two decades 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 client or student, is done with these people, and the timeless reminders they’ve inspired, in mind.
And I’m sure you can relate in some way…
Again, to a greater or lesser extent, we all know deep down that life is fleeting, 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 truly 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 post.
Which point resonated the most?
What’s on your mind right now?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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May Evans says
Yes, looking for life to be fair is a younger interpretation of our school days and a way to try and make sense out of life. As we mature emotionally and psychologically, if we continue holding on to this limited way of thinking, we are living with unrealistic expectations. There may be no outward justice in life and it can look like folks are happily getting away with something. But from my 20+ years as a therapist and coach, that is not usually true. In the unseen world, folks who live their lives from fear and greed rarely live with inner peace. And this post has some very wise reminders on how to do the opposite, and truly live with inner peace.
Thank you Marc and Angel for continuing to share your stories and strategies for living with the world. I regularly use your GBTH book, blog and GBTH online course material with my clients. You have been helping me help others make the best of their lives for the past several years, and for that I am grateful.
Your emails always arrive on time. Thanks for sending the link to this essay today. Above all, such an incredibly poignant reminder of why we really do need to appreciate each day and never take our family or own health for granted. I’ll be sure to have the sentiments of this essay my mind when my wife and kids greet me tonight at our front door (God willing).
Just readinng your blog here for the first time. It totally resonated with me as I am surrounded by Allysas and Ethans for decades now. Very unfair to many, including myself, until I found a way to embrace it all and learn from it all, as part of life. Taught my teenaged boys to expect it, but to remain true to themselves, like I did. Reading still is a constant source of strength to keep the faith and it is true, I sleep soundly while I know of mean people who can’t. So remain beautiful, let them wither instead, from their own wrongdoings.
Agnetha K. says
My father always told me not to wish my life away as life is too short to waste on what doesn’t matter. I now see the wisdom of his words, especially as I will be 60 next year. This is an excellent article, Marc and one I will take on board. Thank you.
I read your essays and emails every week. I always find something in them that resonates. In a couple weeks it will be the 4th anniversary of the death of my best friend, my muse, my soul mate. She battled beast cancer for 25 years and stayed alive long enough to see her daughter married. This time of year is difficult for me. Because I miss her so much. But it also is the time that in remembering her, I remember that life is incredibly short and we don’t know how much time we have left. So I vow to love and care for others everyday. People I know. People I don’t. I fall down and I get back up. And try again.
I am blessed with many good friends, but I’ve had several Ethan’s in my life. It took a while, but I finally realized that I need to appreciate those truly good friends and work hard to keep them close. The Ethan’s eventually slip away. It is hard to put past hurts behind me, but I keep on trying.
And your other points here are great too. Life is indeed short. Thanks.
Your emails always come at very opportune moments for me. Yesterday I spent the day w/three of my grandchildren, my 80 yr. old parents, my husband and my son in law.
We had a lovely day with lots of food, laughing, playing and much joy. The only one missing was my oldest daughter, the mother to my grandchildren. We have been estranged since December and in her words “You’re dead to me.”
With the wise words from Marc and Angel, I have to been able to appreciate and love all who are with me in the here and now, and move steadily through my grief of losing my daughter.
I have much to be grateful for, life is very good. Thank you Marc and Angel~
Your comment that we all lose people we love along the way and can benefit by open to new relationships is so true. As someone in my late 70’s who has lost a husband to death as well as several dear friends, I am living each day focusing on the joy and accomplishment which life offers me today. New friends appear, a new relationship I could never had imagined also–being open to the day offers so much. Your posts are a wonderful gift–thank you.
Madolyn Haybe says
Such great reminders of how and why to live in the present are amazing. Thanks, these ideas have hit home.
Great post! And best inspiration for me from this post: ‘What you do today always matters a little bit more than what happened yesterday.’
Paula Swanson says
I am 66 and have lost many people that I loved and still do. Love never ends- er never end- trust in the love and joy that created us- that’s all there is. But it’s more than enough!
I truly appreciate your articles- and I resonate with them!
Thank you for sharing and being present!
Thanks Marc and Angel. Your emails have always been very useful as they make me think deep. It gives me a clear capture of several haphazard things. Yes, here I look at my self as Allysa because I work hard at things and honestly too. I do hope my efforts will be crowned one day. Life is short and so I will continue to be my best having the Almighty at heart always. Thanks again Marc and Angel. Keep the good job going.
My son died 6 days after his 14th birthday… a hit and run…
in human times it is 32 years… in my time ~ just like this morning…
to watch his 2 brothers surpass every milestone is a challenge even though there is great joy in their accomplishment.
This event certainly changed my perspective on MOMENTS for all of my time…
Eunice James says
I know life isn’t fair. I lost my daughter when she was thirty nine years old. She left behind two wonderful young children eight and five. Looking back I have no idea how I survived the blow. She was my best friend and confidante. I miss her every day of my life. But I wouldn’t give up one moment with her.
Sarah Congress says
Cain Czopek says
Wonderful post! Thank you for your caring, inspiring words! It’s never to late to learn and grow!
Arianne Tuazon says
A powerful reminder that tomorrow is never promised. Since I know that fact, oftentimes, I’d take for granted the beauty happening in the present. Mostly because of the pressures of everyday life. But I was so thankful, that on the last night that my father (he was 81 but he’s ok) was alive, I did not let my extreme tiredness to disobey his request. I did what he asked me to do, and saw his happy face and heard his grateful voice, saying, “Thank you!”. But also, due to my tiredness, I was not able to see him before he slept. The next morning, he died in his sleep. Time and chances are indeed limited. It is all up to us how to use them well. God is good. But we need to see the blessings of now. Be thankful. And not to let them slip away.
Sarah Congress says
As a playwright/tv writer I do my best to spread the themes of love, patient acceptance and mindfulness throughout my stories. Your blog is always endless inspiration to me … so important to keep spreading words of mindfulness to our very distracted culture.
So true. Make the best of today. The future is not guaranteed. Nothing lasts. Be kind. Words to live by. We all need words of encouragement to put things in perspective. Thanks for reminding us.
Eileen C says
This is what resonated with me: <>
Not only does this help me remember to continue to be kind, but it reminds me to let myself off the hook for those times when I didn’t have the wherewithal to be my “best” self. I recognize and forgive myself for those times that I didn’t have the self-love to be able to show or share love and kindness with others.
Life definitely is short but why do we constantly catch a wake up with a ‘sudden’ death of a loved one.
I’ve made a conscious decision to live every day with gratitude. Instead of complaining about Mondays being too long n tiring and and and.. I’ve made Mondays into my dress up days and the Compliments I get throughout the day makes it shorter.
Share a smile, it can brighten up someone’s day.