My dearest reader, you truly are paragons of the species. Despite my repeated assaults on your reason and valuable time, you’ve returned to wade through the profusion of periphrastic piffle I’ve chosen to inflict upon an innocent and unsuspecting world. For that, you should be, at the very least, sainted. Or given your own talk show. Your choice.
This time around I’ve decided to turn my literary legerdemain toward the subject of “end of life accounting.” This activity is quite popular in motivational and self help circles. The process involves a query along the lines of:
“At the end of your life, what will you regret not having done?”
Assuming that the hunk of humanity being queried answers honestly, the response is usually a passionate entreaty:
“Don’t wait another moment! Go do those things now!”
All things considered, it’s pretty good advice. A kind of carpe diem cry to avoid wasting another moment of one’s life. Regret is a powerful motivator for change.
As someone who suffers from occasional bouts of anxiety and depression, not to mention near-superhuman levels of low self-esteem, I’ve developed a slightly different take on this idea, one that has served me well so far. Perhaps it will help you as well.
If the Grim Reaper himself (looking oddly like Christopher Walken at a goth toga party) appeared to you at this moment and said:
“What have you… accomplished… in this life? What. Have you done?” (This IS Christopher Walken we’re talking about.)
How would you answer?
This accounting of past experiences is similar to the concept I mentioned earlier, however it focuses on your achievements and experiences rather than what you have yet to do.
I looked back over my 45 trips around the sun (46 in fifteen days!) and was quite astonished by some of the things on my list. I have:
- Performed stand up comedy in an actual comedy club.
- Made friends on nearly every continent.
- Seen George Carlin perform live.
- Seen Carlos Santana perform live.
- Loved with every fibre of my being, and been loved in return.
- Experienced devastating loss that, even now, can bring me to my knees in a heartbeat.
- Overcome severe stage fright to speak to large groups (200+) of people.
- Been certified as a personal trainer.
- Stood on the deck of the USS Constitution.
- Been homeless and forced to live on the street.
- Seen the turning of the century.
- Worked at many jobs in many industries, some amazing, some dreadful.
- Lost many jobs in many industries, some amazing, some dreadful.
- Learned to play the bass guitar and made beautiful music.
- Spent many nights laughing until tears came.
- Flown into the Northern Lights in a single engine plane.
- Written words that affected people deeply and emotionally.
- Gained a new family, and even a little sister.
- Seen, and touched, real magic – I’ve held it in my arms and kissed it goodnight.
Many of these things may not seem like great accomplishments as we think of the term, but therein lies the beauty dear reader. This list represents some of the things I’ve done in my life that have impacted me on a deep, emotional level and given me unspeakable joy.
You will also note that I included negative experiences on my list. These were as formative and valuable as any other, and deserve to be recorded. I wouldn’t the human I am today – for good or ill – if not for those experiences.
If you decide to try this method, and I do hope you do – if not I’ll be all disappointed and will have to have a minion flogged or something – your list will no doubt look very different.
The really interesting thing is that it will very likely not mention money or possessions. Methinks there’s a lesson in that.
Success is a largely meaningless word in today’s society. Meaningless because it’s often attached to money (which doesn’t actually exist), or things (which don’t actually matter). Unfortunately, it gets used by authority-type humans as a way to abuse and put down others in order to prop up their own fragile egos. If you’re not successful (according to their vague or at least exceedingly narrow definition) you’re obviously lazy, or a loser. Sadly, this is turning into an industry.
The success I’m looking for is not measured in dollars – as long as I can pay my rent, I’m fine – and is most certainly not defined by bullies masquerading as gurus who use their own narrow views to abuse and shame others.
When I did this inventory, it left me with the feeling that, if it all ended tomorrow, I’ve had a good run. I’ve done things I’m extremely proud of, things that have brought me happiness and, I hope, brought happiness to others as well. I’d like to think I’ve made a difference in at least a couple of lives, and there’s even the possibility that I’ll be missed after I’m gone.
Please understand, this isn’t some kind of Pollyanna, rose-coloured glasses-style avoidance of anything negative in my life. Indeed, most of the things on the list above were born out of those negatives. I just know that for me, focusing on the moments of pure ecstasy these experiences have brought to my life changes the little voice on the back of my mind, even for a short time. Usually harshly critical, that little voice occasionally shifts to one of playful encouragement and adventure, whispering conspiratorially:
“Where are we off to now?”