Burning down the house
As I get older, milestones become more important. Some of them — like birthdays — mark the passage of time. Others make me think about the future.
Today is one of the latter. On this day two years ago, I was told I have a brain tumor.
I’ve tried very hard not to let it be the thing that defines me, the thing that shapes my life. But the knowledge has changed me irrevocably.
In some ways, it’s been a gift: A little whiff of mortality can be a powerful aphrodisiac. Everything seems more meaningful and more poignant. Seeing what might kill me has made me feel more alive.
But in other ways, it’s been paralyzing. I’ve put off making some plans for the future. Every decision has come with a quiet but insistent bass line: “What if, what if, what if?”
I hadn’t realized until a few days ago just how much I’d surrendered to my fears.
The first wake-up call came via Skype. “I wish I could live in Europe, if only for a while,” I told my friend Jan. “So why don’t you burn your house and come over?” he replied.
The second wake-up call came over sushi. “I want to travel more and spend more time taking photos,” I told my friend Todd. “Sometimes you’ve gotta burn down the house and just go,” he replied.
And the third wake-up call came over the weekend, as I was trying to distract myself from a crippling headache.
“What if 2012 were your last year, your last chance at leaving your mark or doing something great or crossing out every item on your bucket list?” began the post at Olivier Blanchard’s BrandBuilder blog.
This has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar or the financial crisis, mind you. It’s just a simple what if question.
What if you went another year without writing that book you’ve been thinking about for a decade? What if you went another year without taking that trip to Paris or Moscow or Sydney you’ve been dreaming about your whole life? What if you went another year waiting to launch your startup? …
Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few years: There’s no such thing as the right time. All we really ever have is now. Now is the right time. Tomorrow is bullshit. Tomorrow turns into next year and then someday and finally never. Tomorrow and next year will be too late. Whatever needs doing, do it now. Today.
Early in my career, I wasted years – precious years – doing what I was told, trying to fit in and often playing it safe when every instinct in my body told me not to. You have no idea how much I now regret having thrown those years away. I lost so much time waiting for opportunities and “the right time” to do something, it makes me ill just thinking about it. Never again.
So the lesson here is simply this: Ask her out. Book that flight. Graduate. Take the job. Write the damn book. Get your funding. Finish that triathlon. Launch your startup. Carpe Diem isn’t a slogan on a T-shirt. It isn’t an abstract philosophy. It means get off your ass and do the thing that needs doing. Today. If it fails, it fails. If it works, it works. So what? Either way, the sooner the better.
That’s it. You have 365 days. Show me what you’ve got.
In other words, stop being so afraid and just burn down the house already!
Obviously, I’m not about to literally grab the matches. But I’ve decided that today — this bittersweet anniversary — is the best day of my life. And 2012 is my year to shine.
Make it your year to shine, too.
Filed under: Brain tumor, Friends and family, Psychology, Random thoughts, Travel | 46 Comments
Tags: Brain tumor, BrandBuilder blog, Jan, Olivier Blanchard, Skype, Todd