I don’t know if I want to do it anymore,” I said to my friend Darren. And by “it” I meant live. Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and given a 40 percent chance of surviving more than five years. At 34 years old, I felt ready to give up but my sister wasn’t. She bought me a session with a psychic who told me two minutes into our call, “This isn’t about you dying. It’s about choosing to live.”
But I’d seen the cancer movies, full of chemo wards, bald heads, and knitted hats. It seemed easier to hit Mexico, drink margaritas, and spend my last days by the beach. I visited another healer just to make sure. Touching my head, she said, “Choose to live.” That was 14 years ago and I’ve never stopped.
In the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne puts it this way, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” But, for many of us, it doesn’t seem that simple and we all think we have more time. Even as we age, we hit the snooze button on our big dreams. We stay stuck in our ruts rather than reaching for the stars. As uncomfortable as life can be, the status quo is often easier than making changes. So we say we’ll do it “someday” and someday never comes.
But I’m here to tell you, today is all we have. None of us is guaranteed any more than the present moment so we might as well get started. If you think about it, there’s nothing more liberating than knowing the next breath could be your last.
Ask yourself: What can I do right now to improve my life? What small changes can I make today that will lead to big leaps in the long run?
For Andy Dufresne, a vision of Zihuatanejo helped him escape prison one chiseled rock at a time. I encourage you to do the same thing. Picture the end of your life and think about where you’d like to be. Who’s with you and what are you doing? And most importantly, how do you feel once you’re there? Like a plane with a flight plan, decide where you want to land before you take off. Remember, if you do a little bit every day, you’re always on your way!
While it might seem like a small thing, you can bring on big shifts by decluttering as Marie Kondo suggests in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Unburden yourself of the things, places, and activities that fail to “spark joy” for you. For me, “cleaning out my closet” meant bye-bye to Camel Lights, vodka crans, and people-pleasing ways.
When you say “yes” to you, you create space in your schedule for fun and isn’t that what you’ve worked so hard for so long to achieve? If you love hiking, get up and out! If camping’s your thing, take a longer trip and see how peaceful it is to unplug. Always yearning to go abroad? There’s no time like the present. Just booking a ticket can make your spirits soar!
Alternatively, you can follow your heartbreak and give your energy to a good cause. Like Jane Goodall in an
urban jungle, you can help homeless teens in Tucson or work for peace in the Middle East. You can march for gender equality or affordable healthcare, or kneel to end police brutality. You can open a no-kill shelter for cats, plant trees all over town, or build wells for water in Africa. If you find yourself called to action, it’s time to answer. Not sure where to start? Ask Google, join
a Meetup, or volunteer at an existing organization.
Step by step, you’ll start making a difference and discovering more meaning in your routine. That’s life “on purpose”!
If the idea of doing any of this scares you, GOOD! Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s how you know you’re still breathing. I’m not saying any of this will be easy — it certainly wasn’t for me — but it will be worth it. I still have days where I feel like giving up, but I’ve come too far to quit now.
Becoming who we are meant to be takes courage, confidence, and a belief in something better for ourselves. Think about yourself as a small, innocent child. What would you most like to give him/her before it’s too late? What kind of life did he/she dream of and what’s stopping you from achieving it?
None of us knows how much time we have left. But I do know this: the more you start living, the less you’ll feel like dying. Now go make the rest of your life the best of your life!
Jennifer Rowley, the founder of Fab55, helps older adults transform their lives through classes, consulting and speaking engagements. Her social work experience includes geriatric case management in Seattle, Washington, and live-in caregiving. She teaches “Intentional Retirement” at the University of Arizona Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Rowley has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is trained in non-violent communication, certified in Matrix Energetics, and is a level II reiki practitioner.