“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
— Mae West
This morning a close neighborhood friend, Alison, passed away far too early. While Marc and I have spent most of the day grieving, I’ve also spent this past hour thinking about the fact that our lives are often much shorter than we expect, and that we need to do some pretty darn hard things to maximize our very limited time. Alison strongly believed in doing the hard yet necessary things in life — we talked about this topic on several occasions, and she never backed down from a challenge. So today, I want to reflect on this with you.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you absolutely need to do hard things to be happy in the long run. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life. They make the difference between existing and living, between knowing the path and walking it, between a lifetime of empty promises and one filled with more possibility and progress.
You know this is true, so…
1. Don’t be afraid to accept and appreciate life’s changes.
You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life.
Sometimes there are things in our lives that aren’t meant to stay. Sometimes the changes we don’t want are the changes we need to grow. Let this sink in. Growth and change may be painful sometimes, but nothing in life is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong.
The bottom line is that you can’t reach for anything new if you’re holding on to yesterday. You may think holding on makes you strong, but oftentimes it’s letting go and starting anew that truly builds your inner strength.
2. Don’t be afraid to trust yourself.
You may not be where you want to be yet, but you’ve also come a long way from where you once were. Appreciate how far you’ve come. You’ve been through a lot, but you’ve grown a lot too. Give yourself credit for your strength and resilience. You have good reason to believe that you can trust yourself going forward, not because you’ve always made the right choices, but because you’ve survived and grown from the bad ones.
Good things take time, and you’re getting there. So don’t allow yourself to be crippled by stress and self-loathing. Everything is only as it is. There’s no reason to let it cripple you. Remind yourself to breathe — to let every moment be what it’s going to be. What’s meant to be will come your way, and what’s not will fall away. And remember that life’s best gifts may not always be wrapped the way you expect. (Read The Last Lecture.)
3. Don’t be afraid to live your truth.
Tell yourself, “I am ENOUGH” anytime you begin to feel otherwise. Accept your flaws. Admit your mistakes. Don’t hide and don’t lie.
Deal with the truth — your truth — every step of the way. Learn the lessons, endure the consequences of reality, and move forward. Your truth won’t penalize you. Your mistakes won’t hurt you. Only your denial and cover-up will. Flawed and vulnerable people are powerful and strong in the long run. Liars and phonies are not. Every beautiful human being is made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions and finished with trials and errors.
So keep reminding yourself that you are YOU for a reason, and that the journey is worth it. Ignore the distractions. Listen to your own inner voice. Mind your own business. Keep your best wishes and your biggest desires close to your heart, and dedicate time to them every day. Don’t be scared to walk alone sometimes, and don’t be scared to enjoy it. And don’t let anyone’s ignorance, drama or negativity derail you.
4. Don’t be afraid to craft a daily routine that’s right for YOU.
If your life is going to mean anything, you have to live it yourself. You have to choose the path that feels right to YOU, not the one that simply looks right to everyone else. It’s always better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb, than the top of the one you don’t. So don’t wait until you’re halfway up the wrong ladder to listen to your intuition. Every morning, ask yourself what is truly important, and then find the courage, wisdom and willpower to build your day around your answer.
In the end, it’s not what you say, but how you spend your time that counts. If you want to do something, you’ll find a way… if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. (Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the Rituals chapter of our New York Times bestseller, Getting Back to Happy, and we also establish a foundational routine of consistency through daily journaling in our newest publication through Penguin Random House, “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day”.)
5. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to unnecessary obligations.
In a world with so much noise and clutter, you must make room for what matters. That means pruning nonessential commitments and eliminating as many distractions as you possibly can. No wasted time, no fluff, no regrets.
The mark of a successful and peaceful person is the ability to set aside the “somewhat important” things in order to accomplish the vital ones first. When you’re crystal clear about your priorities, you can painlessly arrange them in the right order and discard the activities and commitments that do not support the ones at the top of your list.
6. Don’t be afraid to give yourself enough mental and emotional space.
If you think and you think and you think, you will think yourself right out of happiness a thousand times over, and never once into it. Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace and potential. Stop over-thinking everything. Life is just too short.
Your biggest limitations are the ones you make up in your mind. The biggest causes of your unhappiness are the false beliefs you refuse to let go of. You are capable of far more than you are often thinking, imagining, doing or being. But in time you will gradually become what you habitually contemplate, so clear your mind and let your hopes, not your fears, shape your future. How? Meditate. Run. Breathe. Write in your journal. Find the space… to set your mind free.
7. Don’t be afraid to make more time for the right relationships.
Not everyone will appreciate what you do for them. You have to figure out who’s worth your attention and who’s just taking advantage of you. If your time and energy is misspent on the wrong relationships, or on too many activities that force you to neglect your good relationships, you can end up in a tedious cycle of fleeting friendships, superficial romances that are as thrilling as they are meaningless, and a general sense of wondering why you always seem to be chasing affection.
Choose yourself rather than settle for those who treat you as ordinary. YOU certainly aren’t. Never settle for being someone’s option when you have the potential to be someone’s priority. You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with. If you hang with the wrong people too often, they will bring you down. But if you hang with the right people, they will help you grow into your best self. These people will love all the things about you that others are intimidated by.
8. Don’t be afraid to learn something new.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Life is a book and those who do not educate themselves read only a few pages.
When you know better, you live better. Period.
And remember that all education is self-education. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in a college classroom or a coffee shop. We don’t learn anything we don’t want to learn. Those of us who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own time are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.
9. Don’t be afraid to explore some of your dreams.
There are thousands of people who live their entire lives on the default settings, never realizing they can customize everything. Don’t settle for the default settings in life. Don’t hide behind indecision or laziness. Find your loves, talents, and passions, and embrace them fully!
Seriously, too many people dream only at night in the quiet of their own minds, and then awake to find it was all an illusion. Don’t be one of them. Dream by day, too. Be one of the people who dream with their eyes wide open, and who works to make some of them come true.
And forget popularity too. 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. (Read Tuesdays with Morrie.)
10. Don’t be afraid of other people’s empty judgments.
The greatest and most gratifying experiences in life cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart from the inside out. There’s nothing more inspiring than the complexity and beauty of human, heartfelt feelings. Sadly though, many people let the fear of judgment numb and silence them. Their deepest thoughts and feelings often go unspoken, and thus barely understood.
Do NOT let people invalidate or minimize how you feel. If you feel something, you feel it and it’s real to you. Nothing anyone says has the power to invalidate that, ever. No one else occupies your body, or sees life through your eyes. No one else has lived through your exact experiences. And so, no one else has the right to dictate or judge how you feel. Your feelings are important. Never let anyone or any circumstance lead you to believe otherwise.
Remind yourself that there is a great freedom in leaving others to their opinions, and there is a huge weight lifted when you take nothing personally.
Now, it’s your turn…
With Alison in mind, I sincerely hope this short post has inspired you to LIVE your life TODAY…
Don’t ignore death (or any form of pain), but don’t be afraid of it either. Be afraid of a life you never lived because you were too afraid to take action on what matters most. Truth be told, death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside you while you’re still alive and breathing.
Alison absolutely lived her life far beyond her years. Challenge yourself to do the same.
Be bold. Be courageous. Be scared to death, and then take the next step anyway.
Do the hard things you know you need to for yourself!
Every. Single. Day.
(Note: Marc and I take a much deeper dive into the process of doing the hard but necessary things in life in the Getting Back to Happy Course & Coaching.)
. . .
And before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which point above resonated the most with today?
Finally, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Susan Manes says
Your point on embracing change shouts loud to me right now. I am sincerely looking forward to the rest of this year….for positive change. I’m looking to change careers soon and follow a life-long passion of mine (kinda like early retirement because I’m 59-years-old). And all 10 of these things will be a part of that transition. Currently I’m downsizing and trying to create a more manageable life for myself. There has to be more to life than just existing to pay bills, right? 😉
Thank you for this entry, and thank you for your book and the course related coaching I did with you last month too You are both helping me give myself the gift of growth and positive change.
PS: I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I’ve been there recently myself.
CHARLES MCHUGH says
“There has to be more to life than just existing to pay bills, right?”
That was part of a comment from Susan Manes wrote in your comments section. It summed up how I feel. I’m sorry to hear about your friend Alison. My thoughts and prayers are with you and her family. Today I am starting to read your Getting Back to Happy book for a second time because I feel myself falling back into bad patterns that I had started to change. I intend to do the 30 day method you talk about one step at a time.
Great essay/post! I’ve been struggling with actually living in the present because I’m so focused on the future, so the points on letting go really resonate. Reading this post has really inspired me to continue striving to improve and live one day at a time. Looking forward to your event in San Diego in a couple weeks!
And, of course, my condolences to you and Marc for the loss of your friend.
Jane Pritchard says
You guys never cease to amaze me with your articles. I love each and every one of them because they inspire me in one way shape or form all the time. Thanks so much for that and iam truely sorry for your lose however feel that your friend will always be with you in spirit. Hope you find comfort in knowing this.
Nancy Ann Gomez says
Your emails always arrive in my gmail inbox on time! Thank you for sending the link to this post. Simply beautiful and concise reminders!
This hit home like a grand slam. I feel, literally like you were speaking to me for everything touched upon is where I am. This is so true: ‘What’s meant to be will come your way, what’s not will fall away. And remember that a great gift may not always be wrapped as you expect.’
Thank you again and my sincere condolences..
As a recent college B.S. graduate, at age 48, I really liked the quote, “You may not be where you want to be yet, but you’ve also come a long way from where you once were. Appreciate how far you’ve come. ” I really needed this morning read, as I contemplate my next steps in life. I take it to heart that you can only grow when you let the things that held you back go. This rings so true to me, I will concentrate my efforts on the luving in the present moment and stop worrying about what is not important.
One of your faithful readers says
I am sorry for the loss of your friend, Alison.
Your advice is such a great reminder for all of us. I recently made some significant – albeit painful – changes in my life. Realizing that I was more than halfway through my life, I didn’t want to live the remainder of it feeling bad about myself, continuing to deal with toxic people and disregarding my own self-care. Although it is a journey of peaks and valleys, so far, it’s been worth it.
Thanks for the inspiring words to keep me going.
Melissa Loftis says
Sorry for your loss of Allison, your neighbor. This post has so much truth in it! I needed to read it as a reminder to myself. Lately, I’ve been thinking and thinking…a little bit too much. I will refocus my energy to take care of me. I’ve made great progress in the past 5 years but of course I want to continue to live life to its fullest. Marc and Angel, thank you for being a blessing in my life.
Sonia Van Welde says
Marc and Angel, thank you so much for all of your positive affirmations regardless of the circumstances. It is definitely a blessed reminder to focus on the present; living life with a purpose daily. Knowing that when I lay my head down at night, I’ve lived my best life.
My daughter also lost her father over a year ago, which has inspired her to realize how important it is to live life as she wants to live it daily regardless of the validations of others. Life is a treasure to be cherished daily!
Condolences for the Loss of your friend!
Clair Kelly says
Perfect words for my life right now. Dealing with learning to be alone each day and how to do things that my husband did. He passed away recently after being together 49 years. I’m shocked at what I can actually do!
Thank you for the pep talk!
Clair, I am sorry for your loss. But completely understand. I lost my husband two years ago and finding the path “forward” continues to be a new experience each and every day. And yes, we CAN do amazing things. Blessings to you. -Anne
Apryl Sims says
What a beautiful homage to your friend Allison. Your words have given me things to ponder over. My dear friend Nona shared one of your postings with me years ago. I miss her dearly. Inspired then. Inspired now. Thank you!
I have been reading your stuff for YEARS but never left a comment. Today I was feeling down for no other reason than probably hormones or the stress of changing careers when I came across your article. I don’t really know why I’m writing this other than to say thank you for the work you two do. Today I will try to live un-afraid in my true self.
I think I worry too much about unimportant things and also about others’ opinions of me. Thank you, this article is timely. I’ve realized these past days to focus on the importance things and “not sweat the small stuff.” And do accept my sincere condolences for your friend’s demise.
Dear Angel and Marc,
This article seems to have landed in my mailbox the day I really needed to hear/ know the advice mentioned therein.
I’m struggling with some issues right now, much indecision, procrastination and self created barriers to moving forward towards my best life.
Thank you for sending these words at the right time. I’m hoping I will find the courage to make the changes I need to, to tackle the hard but necessary things so I can move forward.
I’m sorry about your loss too. Sending you much love.
One of my favorite posts yet!!! I loved reading this and the timing for me is perfect. Thank you, thank, thank you…a thousand times over.
Thank you….this is exactly what I needed today. I am so sorry for your loss.
Wow the one that got to me was:
It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than at the top of one you don’t.
I was at the unwanted top. Now I’m at the bottom. Yes it’s MUCH better to climb a ladder you want.
Thank you for your words today. They are helping me get some emails done that I would rather put off until tomorrow! Sorry for the loss of your friend. I hope healing comes your way as you need it.
Barbara Stanley says
This article hits close to home. I read and re-read several parts because it was exactly what I needed to tell myself right now. I do waste a lot of time regretting and worrying and it needs to stop. Thank you for this encouraging read. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.
True to the core! Overthinking is detrimental to the people around you. Many a times it spreads negativity that is uncalled for, and although you try to prepare everyone for the worst, what is destined to fall apart will fall apart one fine day, is what I have learnt from my daughter’s untimely demise. She related to Alison in more ways than one, she was a fighter, and she cherished the hard talks we had. She wrote about the important influence they had in one of her essays. I can relate to your emotional loss.
PS: The quality time that I spent with my Alison was the most important thing. Not just arranging to pay bills. Spending good time with each other is what gives meaning to life. I don’t regret investing my time in the tiny span of life that she had.
I just recently signed up for this, this past couple of weeks that I have been receiving your email, my life has experienced a shift. Thank you for all you do for the body of Christ.