It is all too easy to slide into a rut and to mindlessly, if unhappily, follow it far too long. Even those who aim to live mindfully can lose sight of their end goal, and the ways in which a given path may diverge from that goal. Periodic reflection is necessary to recalibrate.
Psychiatrist and expert in near-death studies Elizabeth Kubler-Ross offered some excellent thoughts on this matter:
“It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do. Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. And you will not have a pleasant death.”
These words are profound, and all the more so coming from someone who made a career of working with the dying. In fact, I expect that these words are so profound – and profoundly uncomfortable – that most people will ignore them rather than internalize them.
On a similar vein, Steven Woodhull made this observation:
“You’ve got a lot of choices. If getting out of bed in the morning is a chore and you’re not smiling on a regular basis, try another choice.”
These two quotes sum it up well. Why subject myself to a job and life that I hate? Why waste my one life doing what I do not want to do or being in a place where I do not want to be? Why not make choices more in keeping with what is important to me, and pursue what I love to do? What is the worst that could happen?
I may be poor, may go hungry, may lose my car, and may have to live in a shabby place. This is all really a small price to pay and, to keep it in perspective, this is the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is immeasurably better.
It has well been observed that nobody on their death bed looks back on their life and wishes they had made more money or accumulated more stuff. Faced with death (and it is inevitable), people instead tend to reflect on how much of their lives were spent not really living, how little time was spent playing, or how not enough time was spent with loved ones.
The things that ultimately matter in life have nothing to do with money. We instead buy into the cultural lie that more money (or more stuff) will eventually bring happiness, but the opposite is actually true. Happiness arises from pursuing that which is truly valuable and on which no dollar cost can be set.
This is not an argument against work or for irresponsibility. It is instead an apologetic in favor of questioning the consumeristic status quo, of seeking out that which is actually important and meaningful rather than that which is vain and fading.
We too often live our lives as if we will live forever, and that we will have plenty of time to eventually do that which is important. This too is a lie. None of us will make it out of this life alive. We all return to dust in due time, and we know not how many decades we will be granted in this life. It is critical then that we not wait for some mythical “tomorrow” or “someday” to actually live – for that mythical future day may never arrive or, if it does arrive, may find us with health too poor to still pursue our dreams. It is essential that we sing while the song is still within us.