Life is such a wonderful gift – don’t waste it!

This blog is so typical of my ‘writing’ style…it has often been called a ‘stream of consciousness’ and there can be no argument that that is what this blog is…straight from my brain/mind and onto my laptop with no filter (not a great recipe for quality blogging!):

A couple of days ago, I read one of those tragic stories which we have all seen, the kind that sends me into a bit of a spin. It was a blog by a lady who has been publicising her battle against, and life with, cancer. I hadn’t seen any of the blogs, only this particular one, tragically her last. She was a young lady, I’m guessing mid-30’s, married with children, an otherwise happy lady with so much life in front of her. Her words, her feelings, her advice to all of us are, I guess, no great surprise but they are, nevertheless, still hugely poignant and thought-provoking. She blogged about her impending exit, about not wanting to go, about missing her children’s futures and her advice was that we, not on ‘Notice’ of death, must live life to the max and not waste the many and varied opportunities open to us. Depressing and, at the same time, uplifting.

I also saw, whilst skimming Facebook, some very inspiring, life story headlines focusing on some major life-achievers, eg about Einstein who apparently couldn’t speak till he was 4 years old and was told by a school teacher that he’d “never amount to much” and Oprah Winfrey who was, again apparently, demoted from her job because she was “not fit for television”, about Eminem who was a high school dropout whose personal struggles with drugs and poverty led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt and The Beatles about whom Decca Recording Studios said “We don’t like their sound…they have no future in show business”

I saw a post in response to the effect that we, as adults, should show these life story ‘headlines’ to our children to which I agreed but added that we (adults) should also digest those headlines (unless, of course, we all, in our heart of hearts, truthfully, can say to ourselves that we have lived our lives to the max).

If we, as adults (and I’m talking about people in their 40’s but it applies to younger and older) were to G-d Forbid suddenly learn that we only have 6 months left, would we say that we max’d our time, that we had ‘gone for it’, that we hadn’t made excuses, that, although we may have fallen down, we at least had a go? In many ways, I love the place “I’m at”, I love my family and, of course, my family is the most important thing in my life. If I had made better decisions earlier in my life, I would probably have been in better places vis a vis other aspects of my life but I wouldn’t have the wife I have, nor would I have my children so I can’t have regrets about any of the directions I took…there was only one road leading from my birth to where I am today and that is the one I have travelled. The fact is, however, that I have definitely wasted time and opportunities, I have definitely lacked motivation, I have definitely made excuses, I have definitely, at times, not ‘gone for it’. There have been times when I have ‘bottled it’. If I were knowingly facing the end, my two big picture frustrations would be, a, leaving family and the world and, b, the wasted opportunities and, for sure, suddenly, everything I have always thought was too risky and too difficult would suddenly look easy and do’able….were it not for the end of my life fast approaching. We can all learn and find inspiration in the life stories of people who kept pushing forward, undeterred by the tides pushing them back!

There’s a dichotomy at play here: on the one hand, life is such a wonderful opportunity, it’s a gift, we don’t have to get through an interview to be given a place on life’s stage, it is handed to us and it’s up to us to make the most of it…I sometimes look at it as an invitation to a party and we can either sit like a wall flower, not make the most of it, let everyone else enjoy it whilst we just sit and sulk or we can really enjoy ourselves, make the most of it and get right into the thick of it. It is the golden ticket to Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory. In theory, we should be elated, we should be rushing into the party of life, we should be taking advantage of the wonderful opportunity, an opportunity like no other. However, all of us, or certainly most of us, to a lesser or greater extent, do not dive into life. Most of us, and I must stress ‘to a lesser or greater extent’, are reticent about going to the party. I guess it’s because we only have one shot at it, it is so valuable, that we don’t want to take risks with it, we are scared that we’ll damage this precious gift so we hold onto it, we protect it, we don’t take chances with it….I guess it’s about getting a balance between not wasting the gift of life and not being reckless.

I think we have to ask ourselves, “If, G-d Forbid, we were told tomorrow that we have just 3 months to live, how would that affect us?” Of course, the first thoughts most of us would have would centre on our families and the thought of leaving them, not seeing our children grow up, not being there to look after our wives/husbands, children etc, perhaps leaving our parents and knowing it would destroy them, all those sorts of thoughts but how would we feel about the lives we’d led? Would we have regrets, would the hurdles which we’d seen in front of us and which had stopped us doing things, would we suddenly see them as having just been excuses? Would our weakness suddenly become apparent? and what we had thought were hurdles, would we then know that if we had our time again, with the new-found wisdom, would we see these insurmountable hurdles as just tiny little bumps on the road?

The late Steve Jobs is reputed to have said that when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he felt a rush of energy, a sense of liberation and freedom to go and do so much…I guess he felt that he no longer had to protect his life because it was breaking anyway, he could go for everything because it didn’t matter any more if things didn’t work. I also remember one of my late grandparents who said, in her 80’s, when she was ill, that she had the mind of a young kid but that her body was letting her down…the only thing stopping her from taking on the world when she said that was her age and illness.

We can’t imagine how people’s perspective changes when they are told they have a terminal illness. Of course, in a way, life is a terminal condition! A lot of us have to wake up from our mental slumber, we have to ask ourselves these searching questions. We have to draft our ‘bucket lists’ now. We have to get out of our comfort zones. We have to challenge ourselves. We have to face our fears. We have to prove to ourselves that we can do things which we really thought were beyond our reach. Perhaps the idea of sky diving terrifies us. If it does, I believe we should do it and that it would so blow our minds, and smash our glass ceilings that we’d start to believe in ourselves and our abilities. We have to look forward, not keep looking backwards at our mistakes and failures and using them as anchors to stop us moving forward.

Most of us are our own worst enemies. We stand in the way of ourselves. I am definitely my own worst enemy. The irony is that I know it and yet I can’t get out of my own way. I can give great advice but I can’t take it from myself. ‘They’ say doctors are their own worst patients (something like that!)

Wake up, be positive, look at yourself under a microscope, be honest with yourself, draft your bucket list now, challenge yourself, smash your glass ceiling, don’t be afraid of failing, and do what you have to do to ensure as best you can that when the time comes to take stock, you don’t have regrets…

Shana Tova v’Metukah