“Live every day as if it were going to be your last; for one day you’re sure to be right.” ~Harry “Breaker” Harbord Morant
But most days you’re sure to be wrong. I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Morant on this one- though I think there are many valuable lessons to derive from this quote (and other similar ones you have surely heard- James Dean anyone?). But, I still don’t think you should live every day like it was your last. You should live every day like you had about 5-10 years of life left. Let me explain…
If I lived today like it was the last day of my life I would ask my family and closest friends to drop everything they were doing and hop on the next flight to come see me (in a preferably scenic location) so that I could spend my last day on earth with them. I would spend a lot of time crying, I would spend a lot of time hugging people and telling them how much I love and appreciate them. I would spend time outside, I would not sleep, I would not eat. I would give away all my money and possessions. I would enjoy the beauty of the world and people around me one last exuberant time. I would be very very sad and at the same time trying to be as alive as possible and enjoying everything to a maximum – the emotion might overwhelm me to the point of explosion. In fact, I’m fairly sure the knowledge of knowing it was my last day on earth would be enough to incapacitate me and accelerate my untimely death.
I would certainly not go to work. I would certainly not take the car to the mechanic. I would certainly not do laundry or clean the bathroom. I would certainly not take out the trash or oil my bicycle. I would also certainly not write or plan any future adventures. I would probably not read or fix any of my backpacking equipment. I would not apply to any jobs or research any universities or look at any career options. I would not waste any time talking to strangers or people I don’t know well (it’s my last day alive, what’s the point when I already have so little time with which to see my loved ones?). You see where this is going? I wouldn’t do all the things I don’t like doing, but I also wouldn’t do any of things that I do like doing or that potentially bring me great amounts of delayed gratification.
Simply put, I think that the pressure of living every day as if it were your last would be too much, and would not bode well for the probable arrival of your tomorrow.
I know Morant’s quote is not meant to be taken so literally and I beg him forgiveness because I really don’t mean to be such a smart aleck about it. But I do want to discuss my current thoughts on how to make the most of life.
As I said previously I think you should live your life as if you had 5-10 years left. 5-10 is an arbitrary number, but what I mean by it is to live your life with the ability to balance delayed and instant gratification, with sufficient foresight to ensure your likely tomorrow, but also with enough urgency and value in today’s time to not let special moments and opportunities slip by, to always do your best, and to remember to appreciate those around you.
This particular quote appeals to me far more than Morant’s:
“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”- Steve Jobs
Remember every day that you and your loved ones are mortal. This will help you act even when you are afraid. I would say do not be afraid, but I can’t say that. You will be probably be afraid, I am afraid all the time. Be afraid, but don’t let fear stop you. Be afraid and do anyways.
Remembering mortality will also help you tell others how much you love and appreciate them -uninhibited and unashamed. You don’t have to gush out your feelings for them every day, but do gush them once, and remind them every so often. Don’t worry specifically about when mortality will catch up to you, but do remember that it will.
Another quote that I like a lot is this one.Admittedly it makes me a bit nervous too, but paradoxically that reminds me to relax:
“That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.” – Tennessee Williams
Don’t postpone chasing your dreams, but at the same time remember that your dreams probably take more than a day’s journey (except my dream of making an all-chocolate covered items trail-mix – chocolate covered blueberries, peanut m&ms, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered chocolate, etc. who’s with me? I think we can do this in less than a day!). The point is- chase your dreams, whether your chase is cut short or not.
Side note- hopefully this brings you more joy than misery. Is a dream worth chasing if all the chasing makes you miserable? I vote no. I think it’s a bit naïve to say it is the journey that matters and nothing else. Let’s face it, pouring your heart and soul into something that ends badly hurts. A lot. But, the journey does matter and it is the biggest part of the process. It’s importance should be emphasized. Because outcomes are not completely in your control (and what a blessing that is-where would the surprise and spontaneity of life be with complete control?). Your end result may disappoint or elate you but if you can still find meaning and worth in knowing you were doing something you loved the whole time, you will still find fulfillment in your efforts, despite whatever tragic ending life may throw at you. It may still hurt – a lot – but finding fulfillment alongside pain is also what will allow you to move on to new projects and give your heart and soul to the process anew.
I also think you should commit to being committed and doing your best in all your endeavors. Be productive, go 100%- it feels so good! But more importantly, be consistent in your efforts- you won’t feel your best every day, but you can still do your best for that given day. You can’t be at sonic speed every day (at least I know I can’t), but if you keep chipping away… well, as the saying goes…persistence pays.
As much as you should take care of your big projects (and the little annoying things that are just necessary for day to day life), I think you should find fun, play, and friends alongside them- ideally every single day! Spend most of your time doing what you love with those you love. Key word- most. Because you should probably still take the trash out.
“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see.” ~John Burroughs
I think the difficulty with all this is that it is so easy to write on paper, but hard to juggle in practice. It can be difficult to choose how to devote our time and self to all the varied aspirations, activities, and people in our lives. I continually struggle with this, as I am sure many of you do. I think the ultimate goal is to find that perfect balance- but it’s like walking on a slack line- different every day depending on who tightened the line, how long the line is, what the wind is like, how you’re feeling, etc. The perfect balance is constantly changing- an elusive holy grail of sorts perhaps? But every so often, I think we feel it. And what a feeling that is!
One thing is for sure- worrying doesn’t get you anywhere. Control what’s in your control and don’t worry about the rest (easier said than done alert!!).
Have enough urgency to appreciate and celebrate all the big things of life- but not so much that you forget about the little marvels and details and panic your way to a false end. Enjoy the everyday things that make up the journey of life- yes, go ahead, get excited for breakfast. Because by god, it is so awesome!!
I find it so remarkable that evolution has no foresight, but that it brought about a creature that does (yet another fascinating topic!). What a remarkable adaptation it is to be able to look towards and predict the future! Use it to your advantage. The birds and the bunnies might take life one day at a time, but do they think about tomorrow or contemplate their mortalities? I don’t know for sure, but I do think that these are two of the cursed blessings (blessed curses?) of the human condition.
What I am trying to say is that we might as well maximize the blessing portion of these two human particularities- our awareness of the future and our mortality. In such a way that we can balance the bold vibrancy of a last earthly hurrah that will allow us to feel exuberantly and take risks today, with the calculated calm of human foresight that will ensure us a healthy and happy tomorrow. Emphasize the present and the immediate future, but keep the distant future in the back of your mind. Go out and Carpe Diem*.
*in such a way that you can still Carpe your-more-than-likely-Cras (Latin for “tomorrow”).
There’s more, but I think that’s enough for now. I know I am fairly young and inexperienced in the grand scheme of life, but I am also continuously evolving and questioning my own thoughts, so please, feel free to discuss!
I leave you with two of my favorite quotations of all time:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dryrot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
“The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is no use’. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.” –George Leigh Mallory