We are all fascinated by death. There’s a reason we crave adrenaline and seek risks that make our hearts beat wildly out of control. The wave of nausea you feel teetering on the highest point of a roller coaster track or the sinking feeling that follows as you descend is what some of us define as fun.
But I’m not afraid of death. In fact, I unconsciously challenge the Grim Reaper every day. I often cross the street without looking both ways, eat fruits that should be more thoroughly washed and trust people way too easily. These things are not what intimidate me.
What I am afraid of – no, terrified by, however – is the possibility of dying with regrets. We often hear the saying: “life is short, make the most out of it.” I used to misinterpret this to mean: “party a lot and do stupid things just for the crazy memories”. But while that may work for some people, it has never worked for me. Over the years, I’ve learned what has consistently made me happy and so “making the most out of my life” now translates to living a fulfilled life – whether that fulfillment comes from chugging 5 beers in record time or spending the entire day indoors reading.
Do you want to know the secret to obtaining this fulfilled life? You must live without regrets, so you can die without regrets. Here’s how:
1. Focus on quality, not quantity
I wish I were never concerned with popularity in high school. I tried to attend every birthday party of every classmate who asked, even when I was just too physically exhausted to go out. The truth is that it’s okay to cancel, but not on the people that are important in your life. Outside of high school and college, no one will care if you were the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader. In fact, a number of friends you have are directly correlated to how old you are. As you get older, the number will rapidly diminish – I promise.
So keep the people you love around and check up them from time to time. Ask how their day went and actually listen, not out of courtesy, but out of interest. It’s also important to weed out the negative people in your life: the people who are only interested in talking about themselves, never make an effort to return your calls or messages, and only turn to you when in need. I regret being that person during the important phases of my friends’ lives and am working to correct that.
2. Find out what you love to do, and find every possible excuse to do it
Everyone, at one point or another, will have dealt with the problem of figuring out what to do with his or her life. Sometimes, we know, but we don’t nearly try hard enough to reach our goals…or worst yet, we sell ourselves short – my favorite excuses being: (1) “Oh, I’m definitely not up to par with these other people”, (2) “I just don’t have enough experience”, and (3) my personal favorite: “It’s just too unreasonable.”
Other times, we have no idea. For the longest time, I’ve struggled with not knowing and I distracted myself in the meantime by doing other things. I went to four years of art school – just because – and spent another four years getting my degree in Anthropology for God knows what reason. What I’ve learned from these eight years is that you should never do something “just because” – “just because” you’re good at it or “just because” it pays the bills. If you still haven’t found out what it is exactly that you love, ask yourself this: How do you spend all your free time? What do you do when you have no obligations or deadlines?
Make Living out of it
Whatever it is, that is what you enjoy doing – now make a living out of it. This means that you have to put your dreams as your main priority in life – not something you do when you get home from work in your down time. The difference between a person that wants to become a professional musician and an actual professional musician, is that the latter most likely invested all his or her time, energy and yes -money into his/her goals. After all, we all generally spend the same amount of time in our lives. It just depends on how you spend the time.
*Alternatively, some people may argue that it is sometimes near impossible to achieve your dreams (all you actors/models/singers – I understand). In that case, the advice I can offer you is this: find a career in something you are content doing, but make sure it allows you enough time to do what you love doing. A person who loves traveling, for example, maybe consider teaching – hey, you get the summers off for extended vacations!
3. Believe in something
I believe in God. You may not. But, don’t worry; I won’t use this blog post as a covert opportunity to push my beliefs down your throat (all in the name of Jesus, of course). Whether or not you are religious, however, it is important to believe in something – maybe a cause or a dream. I learned this from a friend who once contemplated getting a tattoo of an astronaut in space, with the quote: “I see no God up here.” She was so thankful that she never did because everyone and I mean everyone, has his or her own god (whatever it may be that you worship). It’s always good to believe in something that motivates you and drives you beyond the limits you have set for yourself.
4. Don’t think that you can’t learn anything from someone
My mother never graduated high school. In fact, she nearly flunked middle school and for that reason, I often discredit the things she says. I learned the hard way that it’s not smart to assume you know more than someone. When I brought my new, awesome Nutribullet blender, for example, she told me I needed to add some water to the smoothie I was making. I disregarded her advice, convinced I knew better; several regrets and a burned out motor later, I knew I should have listened to her. The point is this. Everyone has different experiences; the wisdom you gain from the joys and hardships in your life is meant to be shared.
5. Don’t dwell on things that are beyond your control
Sometimes, it’s hard to follow my own advice. I am guilty of wasting my time constantly overthinking and overanalyzing other people’s actions. This is not to say that you shouldn’t think about the past, or the future, for that matter. You may be regretting something you said or thinking about someone you hurt. No problem, think about what you can do as damage control and go back to fix it.
It only becomes a problem when you are consumed by the past or future. Don’t spend precious time thinking about things that you can never change. I’m talking about when you shuttered in your interview or that time you changed your multiple-choice answer from the right one to the wrong one. Unless you are a time traveler, those events are now history. How does that saying go again? Oh yeah… “Depressed people live in the past. Happy people live in the present. Anxious people live in the future”.
Keep in Mind…
On that note, keep in mind that this is not a step-by-step guidebook to a fulfilled life. These are things that I’ve realized based on the observation that I wanted to share with you all. Hey, if you happen to heed my advice, then you can cross number four of your list. More tips coming up in Part 2…
*Thanks to artist Javier V. Sánchez for the awesome Deviant Art image and New York Times Best-Selling Author & Resident Wildlife Expert on Chelsea Lately (E!) & The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS), Bradley Trevor Greive, for the inspiration. Check out his book Tomorrow Adventures in an Uncertain World.