Make Self Your Hobby
In the article The Value of Reflecting on Death, we discussed how there are vast numbers of people who live mindless lives. The precious moments of their lives are ticking away and they either are unaware of this or they do not care. It is very possible also that they stay distracted so that they do not have to face the reality of death and that their lives are slipping away.
The alternative is to accept that death is a reality. It is at this point that one must find meaning. Please know I am limiting my comments to the practical and philosophical realms and I will leave the spiritual and religious aspect for another time. Once we accept the reality of death, and we are willing to embrace this reality, then we can set a course for the life we wish to lead. Hopefully, that course will include not only personal fulfillment but also social good.
Living an Authentic Life
Being honest is not always easy, especially with ourselves. To live an authentic life we have to acknowledge our mistakes, destroy our delusions and accept where we are now. There is a sense in which how we got where we are today is irrelevant. It is very popular and comfortable to blame others. The “man (or woman) is keeping me down”- “I did not come from a good family”- “the system is rigged.” These and a thousand other excuses are offered. But the purpose of excuses is to keep us from taking action. They do us no service. We hide behind the excuses so that we do not have to take responsibility for our lives. Whether we are at fault, or the victim of circumstances, we are still the only ones who are responsible to change our course.
Accessing Yourself with Brutal Honesty
This is not easy. It requires a high level of maturity and self-awareness. If you are not sure where to begin, you might ask yourself: “Where is my life lacking? What do I hate about my life? What would I change if I could?” Whatever the answers are, the next step is to ask “What am I doing to make my life so?” This is very important. A person who says that they are not doing anything to make their life unfulfilling is not ready to change. They have not reached a level of maturity where they can be honest with themselves.
Let’s take an example. A person might say that they wish they did not have to struggle so much financially. While I believe that this is a very shallow issue, it is an issue in the lives of many people. Let us suppose at the end of the month, there is just not enough money to pay the bills and this person has to choose what bill to be late on. They could start the blame game. “If that so-and-so of a boss would give me a raise…If I had not grown up poor then I could have gone to college and got a better job…if…if…” This is all meaningless. This way of thinking is of no real value. Playing the victim might sooth this person's ego but it will not change their situation. Let’s start with “What am I doing to make this situation?”
It could be that they are poor performers at work and that is why they never get a promotion. Maybe their boss has sensed that they have a bad attitude. Maybe they are not assertive enough to ask for a raise or pursue a promotion. Possibly, it is fear that is holding them back from pursuing a better career. It could be that they waste money. The vast majority of people do. Maybe instead of binge-watching their favorite TV shows or spending hours scrolling on social media they could learn about personal finance or take a part-time job.
Most people start thinking about money and finances, but that is only a very small part of our lives. We should access our relationships, our contributions to the community, our spirituality, our satisfaction with ourselves, etc. One striking question I ask my self is, “In all the roles, tasks and relationships I have, am I doing my best? Am I living to my fullest potential?” Or another question to consider: “Is the world a better or worse place because I am in it?”
Who am I - Warts and All?
If you ask most people what their strengths are and what they are good at, they will likely be able to immediately respond with a list of things. Ask those same people what they are not good at, what their weaknesses are and where they are failing and the answer will likely be slower. This is a hard thing to do. What further makes it difficult is that once we begin honest introspection, we come to realize that beneath the surface of our issues are great depths of self-deception, error and perhaps even decades of bad habits and wrong thinking.
At this point, there will be a temptation to turn back. Not only is it hard to face the facts of what many of us truly are, but the idea of working through all these things can also seem daunting. If one is more advanced in age, they may conclude that it is too late for them and hopeless to even try. This is cowardice, lazy and pathetic. It was this way of thinking that brought many to be advanced in years but still immature. I include myself in this category. If not immature, at the very least the vast majority of people are living below their full potential.
The Great Journey
Start with the question: “What will I be like when I die?” If you see no need for any changes, I suggest you look again. There is always room for improvement. Now, rephrase the question: “What do I want to be like when I die?” How you answer the question will determine your path. Make a list of all the things you want to be at your death. Then, make a step by step list on how to achieve each one. Finally, choose one. It does not matter which one you choose. You can encourage yourself by choosing the easiest to accomplish or the one thing that would have the most immediate benefits, etc.
Now, build that one thing into your schedule. Choose when you will do this and how much time you will spend doing. You may schedule it daily, weekly, monthly, etc. In time, this action will become a habit for you. The habit will become normative and you will change. It is inevitable. Then you can add another goal. Stay motivated by reminding yourself daily of the goal: to have lived a life worth living and to have made the most of myself while I was alive so that when I die I can lay done my life without regrets.