When I was in second or third grade, a children’s author came to my school to read from her story and talk to us about what it was like to be an author. From that point on, I knew I wanted to write. I had always written little short stories and poems before, but after hearing this woman (who, unfortunately is a mystery to me as I can’t remember her name), something clicked. If I had to name my biggest dream and goal in life it is to write a best-selling novel.
However, I have many dreams, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty good at accomplishing some of them. In fact, some time last year, my mom gave me this old sheet where I had written 10 dreams of mine. I had completely forgotten about it, because I think I had written it some time in high school and that was nearly 10 years ago. But what was really neat, was that I had actually completed half of the items on that list without even knowing the list existed! Sure, it had to have existed somewhere in my mind, but I was surprised nonetheless. I mean, I’ve always been driven and a little too spontaneous so I guess it made sense that some of those items were crossed off.
Yet, I still haven’t finished that novel. And recently I’ve felt the urge to really start pursuing that dream, and consciously start crossing off more bucket list items. I think this is because, I have been forced to think about death a little too often in the past year and a half. My uncle unexpectedly passed away in January of 2014 at age 61. A second cousin passed that summer. I wasn’t really that close to her, but she was younger than me and that also came as a shock. Then, my grandmother passed at the end of that summer, a family friend passed in January of this year and most recently, my aunt lost her battle with cancer. Needless to say, my family has seen better times.
When my aunt passed, something inside of me changed. I think I had had enough of all of this death. She was only 59. And while I mourned her loss, I also knew it was coming. Everyone did. I was able to mentally prepare myself for losing her. What I didn’t mentally prepare myself for were those screaming thoughts bouncing around in my head, reminding me how temporary life is and bullying me into corners where I would crouch on the floor, beating myself up for being 27 and still not having figured life out yet.
So, on the day of her funeral, I booked a trip where I would complete a zipline course in the mountains, and go white water rafting—two things on my bucket list. Her death taught me to live. So I did. And this is why.
1. We are not promised tomorrow.
We never think about how life can end at any moment until we’re faced with death. We never think about how temporary things are. With these recent deaths at relatively young ages, it has caused me to realize just how short life is. We aren’t promised a tomorrow, so why not live like there isn’t one?
2. We only have one life.
While I mentioned previously that we should live like there is no tomorrow and I do stand by that, we should also not be so reckless to the point of ruining our chances for a tomorrow and many tomorrows after, because we only have one life (that we know of). But on the flip side of that, we only have one life! So while we should be responsible, we should also not live our lives with tepid reservation.
After I finished white water rafting, I read a t-shirt in their souvenir shop that said something along the lines of, “you can fall off a cliff, or you can get pinned under a class 5 rapid, or you can fall off your couch.” I’m not sure if that’s the exact quote, but it was definitely that message. This shirt’s purpose was to persuade people to live a life of adventure. As I stood there, reading that shirt, I realized in that moment that I would rather tell my children (if I ever have any, that is) about the time my nerves had my hands sweaty deep inside my protective gloves while I was just about to let go and glide down the line high up in the mountains. I would tell them, that I was so afraid to let go, knowing that it was only me, a harness, and 1000 ft. of braided stainless steel cable, but I did it anyways and felt more alive than ever.
3. We could get stuck (It is possible to get so stuck in a rut with your dreams that all you do is talk about them and not do them).
Where ziplining and whitewater rafting are exciting and adventurous, they don’t really require a lot of work. All I had to do, was schedule the times and pay, and when I showed up, I had to be courageous. But writing a novel does require work. And for years, I’ve done a lot of talking about my novel and not a lot of writing it. I think I have actually started three different novels since high school, and once I get to page 30 or so, I quit. I don’t know why I quit. Maybe I lose momentum. Maybe I start second-guessing myself. Maybe it’s writer’s block. But at this point in my life, I could have had a novel written already. I could have had it revised. The problem is, I have gotten stuck in the rut of talking about it, rather than doing it… until recently. Recently, with all of these reminders of how temporary life, is I have realized that I’ve been sabotaging my dream, but talking about it, so I’ve started to write, and it feels amazing.
4. The more we do now, the more we can do later.
After I completed the zipline course and went white water rafting, I told my boyfriend that we were completing two of my bucket list items, he simply smiled at me and told me that now I have to add two more things to my bucket list, because once I complete them all, I’ll die and that’s simply how it works. Of course, he was joking, but at the same time, he was on to something. Not that I’ve just scratched off two things on my bucket list, I have time to add two more. By adding things, I’m more likely to pursue more things and live a life of adventure, so that when I’m old I can look back and see my life was full and exciting. I don’t want to have regrets.
5. Excuses are never really valid anyways.
Up until recently, I feel like I would make excuses for not pursuing my dreams. One of my excuses was that I don’t have enough time to write my novel, but I have to tell you, as a teacher, I have wasted the first half of my summer. I watched Netflix. I lounged at the pool. I relaxed. While that time was much needed, there was still time in the day for me to use that time to write. That very “time” I always complained about not having enough of. My excuse was a cop-out to my laziness.
With only a few weeks left of summer, I am not going to waste it. My boyfriend gets up early to go to work. I used to sleep in. Now, I get up in the morning when he does. After he leaves, I drink coffee at my table, and I write. When I’m satisfied with my progress, that’s when I relax.
Another common excuse is not having the money to follow dreams. While that is valid and has definitely been an excuse I’ve used in the past, if money is an obstacle and we are not putting money back from our paycheck to go toward pursuing our dream, than we need to stop complaining that money is the problem and do something about it. Maybe the first step of pursuing that dream is attaining the money to support it.
It has been hard to lose so many loved ones in such a short time frame, but it has taught me the value of life and to not waste my time. There is an old classic rock song that says, “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” I feel like for a long while I have been living my life in chains, but recently, I’ve taken the key, and I have to say, I have not regretted it. It has unlocked my sense of adventure. It has unlocked my ambition and drive. It has caused me to pursue my dreams.