Two reminders

There are two monstrous excuses out there that keep us from doing what we always wanted to do:

  1. I’ll have plenty of time to do it in the future.
  2. What if I fail?

This week I’ve been reading Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.”  Randy, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon, was in his early 40s, happily married with three young children aged 5, 2, and 1, and had a very successful academic career.  Then Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has a 20% one-year survival rate and a 4% five year survival rate.  He died less than two years later.

Randy gave an actual “Last Lecture” in which he shared his life’s dreams from his childhood.  The book builds on these stories, and it is part reflection on his own life, part sharing what it’s like to be a terminally ill patient, and part stand-in for all the lessons he hoped to teach his children in their lives, before he found out he was going to die.  It’s impossible to read the book without reflecting on how much time we all really have, and that this time, someday, will come to an end.

We’ve no choice but to live life as if we’re going to live forever, but every so often it helps to be reminded that we won’t.  The other day I was talking to someone who admitted that he’s so focused on the things that are urgent that he’s pretty sure he’s not giving time to the things that are important.  Put another way: it’s easy to spend a long time being busy and then one day discover that you missed the chance to do what you really wanted to do (because you don’t have the skills or the flexibility or the guts or the time).

Not so long ago, when my wife was thinking about shifting careers, I gave her a little metal block for her desk that said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are capable of great things.

We all will fail along the way, and none of us will live forever.  But we have a chance, if we choose, to live as if the time is NOW and that, if we put in the work, we can do that thing – we can live that life – we’ve always dreamed of.

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