I’m sorry to break to you, but you have one life.
There is no evidence to the contrary.
It is one life and it's the one you're reading this with. You might feel shocked. You might feel scared. You might feel alive. Whatever you feel, you need to accept what I’m saying. Today is not the day to wallow in the self-pity of it all.
No, today is the day you need to wake up and stop living in fear.
You shouldn’t fear getting life wrong, you should fear not accepting the challenge of living. Because that’s what we do. We live scared. We stress over decisions. We stress over what other people think.
A hundred years from now, will it matter?
There is nothing like looking back from a future perspective to see how utterly misplaced your worries are. Of course, it is easy to rant about our one life, but quite another for a life complicated by illness, conflict, or poverty.
Unfortunately, only you can decide how to face this.
There was a guy on TV last night who lost his legs in the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack. Left wheelchair-bound, it would have been easy to say sod it. His response was to climb Mount Snowdon in his wheelchair to help raise money less fortunate than him.
This guy is living his one life to the max. He isn’t shaming those of us who can’t be arsed. Actually, he is showing us how we should be living our one life.
The Time of Your Life
Oliver Burkeman kindly calculated the average life is 4000 weeks, assuming you live to be eighty.
How many weeks have you lived?
How long a go go is a website you can't hide from. Enter your date of birth and from there you can see how long ago your birth was in months, weeks, hours, minutes, and seconds. Compare to the 4000 weeks and you might find a number too close to the end. It happens. It is revealing and puts the stark nature of our ‘one life’ in sharp perspective.
That same perspective offers you more.
It challenges you to get out of the weeds of what you think of as living and ask yourself what really matters. Faced with 1500 weeks left, or 500 the question shouldn't change. You might find yourself regretful at the opportunities gone, or maybe not. If you’re not sad, well done you.
But, if you are, what will you do about it? After all, it is your one life.
What Are The First Principles of Life?
Actually, a better question would be this: what are the first principles of a good life?
First principles draw a viewpoint few of us pause to consider. That’s the problem with technology. Everything around us is moving quicker and quicker, thus making our world smaller. We can communicate without travel, which means we can trade without travel.
The world has changed so much in the last fifty years.
The barriers to engaging with someone of the opposite side of the planet have never been easier. But, we can’t keep up. Of course, it doesn’t stop us from trying. Our fascination with mental models, managing our biases, and decision-making are all attempts to keep up.
Ironically, we are playing the wrong game.
Pausing to consider the first principles of a good life open up a multitude of thoughts, none of which mention speed.
Similarly, different values come to mind about physical and mental health. The need for longevity brings new thoughts to mind about diet and exercise. The quality of both directly influences how long and how well we can live.
Somehow, this simple fact gets overlooked.
In our haste to consume life, we’ve forgotten the basic fundamentals. It is a terrible error, one most of us have to live with. Only at the end of our 4000 weeks do we look back at what should have been. A palliative care nurse made a list of the biggest regrets of the dying. As Paul Graham then noted, these were mistakes he could see himself making. I’m guilty of the same, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
The great insight Paul makes is that these are all errors of omission.
Inverting them turns them into commands rather than regrets, which sit at the top of his To Do list.
- Don’t ignore your dreams
- Don’t work too much
- Say what you think
- Cultivate friendships
- Be happy
It is hard for me to visualise a better to-do list than this.
Go and Live Your One Life
I see life as an incredibly simple process.
What I’ve come to realise is that we are really good at making it complicated. Don’t get me wrong, I know the nature of humanity means we have to live with complexity, but that doesn’t mean our lives should be complicated. Frustratingly, this blocks our progress. Trapped in what we perceive as complicated, we lose sight of what’s important. The obviousness of our one life becomes shrouded in darkness. Strip it back to first principles and only one thing matters.
Our one life.
Nothing else matters. Whatever inspires you, and pushes you towards the 5 items that should be on your to-do list, that’s what counts. Life is too short and over too quickly for us to get caught up in some of the bad stuff. Your best life is your one life. It is your legacy. Don’t live with regret.
Don’t leave it until those 4000 weeks are nearly up.
Wake up and realise your life is your one life. Go and live it, and please, start today!
Photo by Helena Lopeson Unsplash