I think often lately about a night sometime between 2001-2003 when Smitty and I were freshly married and living in our first little old house in Waldo. I was melancholy, which was (and still is) a fairly common state for me. I figured I was having a midlife crisis. Isn’t that cute? I was 24 or 25.
Change had been coming in consistent intervals for awhile – high school, then college, then career choosing, then marriage, then home buying – then it stopped. The days were suddenly very monotonous. The reality of adulthood set in along with the realization that this was life. This is what I had been growing up to do, apparently. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, veg out, go to bed. Repeat daily. Ugh.
I’m embarrassed to say I surrendered to it. I would prefer to tell you I committed right then and there to creating a different, more fulfilling and meaningful life, but that’s not what happened.
I’m certainly not saying I spent the next 6-8 years miserable. I didn’t. I just floated. I had a few jobs, I made a few friends, I worked, I played, I traveled. I lived, I guess. But I always felt like I was waiting for “the big thing” to happen, whatever that means. I was waiting for my ginormous life purpose and impact to be revealed to me so I could get on with becoming the well-known, influential, world changing, legacy leaver I was meant to be. Because aren’t we all?
Instead, I got cancer. The whispers of “pssst: this is your life” became a giant 2×4 over the head of “HELLO! THIS IS YOUR LIFE AND IT’S NOT GOING TO GO ON FOREVER!” And I realized instead of waiting for things to happen, I was supposed to be happening to things. And while I was fretting over who I was supposed to become, I was missing all the opportunities to be who I am.
It might seem reasonable that my life focus post-cancer would be health and happiness, but that’s not really the case.
My focus post-cancer is being awake ON THE DAILY to what voices I’m allowing influence in my life: is how I’m spending my time, words, energy, and money true to my heart or am I letting the values (or lack thereof) of society choose my direction?
If my time here is up tomorrow I want to be proud that my life was my own, signed by me, and that I spent that life pursuing what matters. To me. It’s not the easiest choice and the end result may not look like health and happiness, at least the way they’re typically defined.
I said something in passing to my dad the other night about “when I was a kid and I was such a rule follower” and he didn’t quite know how to respond. “Rule follower? You?” So maybe we remember my childhood differently. But maybe this aspect of my personality has come to serve me well.
All day every day I utilize a filter around my heart. I take in everything that fights for my attention and challenge it with “is it true and is it important?” The amount of crap thrown at me containing virtually no truth is quite shocking (marketers are LIARS, you guys). And if something does manage to pass the truth test, it’s rare that our culture and I agree on its importance. And I mean RARE. At times I feel like my eight-year-old nephew, who takes great pleasure in his contrarianism. His stance is always exactly the opposite of yours. We’re Royals fans, so he roots for the Cardinals. Charming, right?
But I have good reason for my contrarianism – my time here is limited. And I don’t get to know when my limit will be hit.
I had coffee recently with a longtime friend I admire immensely for a billion different reasons, including her attitude about the hand she’s been dealt – multiple cancer occurrences and treatments over the last twenty years. Her oncologist likes to remind her that she’s considered terminal. Jane’s response? “Yes, and so are you.”
Do you know how much easier it is to prioritize and find time when I live from this place? I refuse to be strangled by the expectations and implied obligations of complete strangers who think they deserve an opinion on my life. This leaves me space for my people, which is where I prefer to spend myself. And isn’t that what we’re doing every day? Spending ourselves? I’m more than happy to pursue exhaustion swimming upstream to live on my own terms and pour my heart into my people. I am unwilling to exhaust myself pursuing inconsequential and meaningless stuff.
This is where I find my meaning and purpose amidst the daily-ness. Fighting for my own heart so I have enough of it left to give away. Twenty-four/seven. Three-sixty-five.
They say “start with the end in mind”. For me, it’s been a great way to live.