Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.
Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?
If I had one week left to live I doubt that I'd be doing anything that I'm doing now. I'd spin a globe, put my finger on some place i'd never been and just go. I'd spend my days exploring beautiful things, my evenings making love, and each night I'd write about everything till my fingers cramped up around my pen. It sounds like a perfect way to die- but a difficult way to live.
My job does not make me "come alive". But it doesn't make me entirely miserable either and it's a pretty decent way to pay the bills. If I had my druthers I would be making a living off my writing. The thing about that dream though is that the publishing world is kind of a crap shoot. I could write the most brilliant, beautiful piece of fiction the world has ever known and struggle my entire life only to die in obscurity- or I could write something completely mediocre and live out the rest of my days in a mansion. I'm not saying genius is never rewarded in literature I'm just saying that you can't count on it. What I'm saying is there's really no way to know for sure that what you write is going to sell. So, as much as I'd love to quit my job and do ONLY what makes me "come alive" I haven't earned that life and truth is I probably never will.
That sounds depressing, and it kind of is. My dream for as long as I can remember has been to write, just write, without having to worry about doing anything else to keep the bank from repossessing my car or kicking me out of my home. That dream is still a possibility. People do it. It could happen. But I have to gird myself for the possibility that I may never get there and readjust the way I look at myself. Because never getting there doesn't neccessarily mean that I am a failure. Being able to pay the bills is not what makes you a successful writer. Writing makes you a successful writer.
That's everyone's dream though, isn't it? To get paid, and paid well, to do the one thing that you love the most. But what I think is my dream may actually be killing my true dream. Money is not at the heart of my dream, it just surrounds it because we need money to live. If money didn't matter how many of your dreams would change? But we do need money. We need it to put shelter around us, clothes on us, food in us. We need money to buy our car, put gas in it, pay the tolls on the interstate and to do whatever it is we want to do when we get where we're going. I don't write because I need money but I need money in order to write. And that's where the American Dream is killing the real dream.
Did you ever wonder what Dickens would have written if they hadn't been paying him by the word?
As much as my dream is to live a life where my only professional focus is writing, if I spend all my time trying to write what I think will pay the bills what I thought was a dream could turn into a nightmare. The money is secondary, the work is what matters. Writing stories that matter is what makes me come alive. The need to earn money harshes that quite a bit but it's not going away.
the question is, which need am I going to let lead me? I can let money be my guide, put aside writing all together or focus my writing on subjects and characters that have the best chance at being profitable. OR I can accept the fact that in order to fully embrace my dream of writing what matters I have to let go of this idea of profit, of using my words like one of those toddler beauty queens. My real dream, what truly makes me come alive, is writing what matters, putting stories out there that effect people, help people, change the way they see themselves and the world. Am I really willing to sacrifice that for a cushier life?
So, maybe I can't quit my job and run off to Tahiti or disappear somewhere in the Scottish Highlands but I can stop waiting for the world to hand me the life that I want. I can stop defining my successes and failures by how much money I have in the bank. I can go to work and do my job and bring home the paycheck I need for food and rent and car payments and I can stop making myself miserable for not having written a New York Times Bestselling-soon to be major motion picture-retire off the royalties book. If I write one person's favorite book I'll be living my dreams. Even if I'm living in debt.