Stop Wasting Life Away and Create Meaning Instead
When we follow the advice of others and the all-too-prevalent encouragement of western society, instead of giving credit to what we really want in life, we end up wasting it. Although we don't have much choice when young, as time goes on and we start accumulating experiences of our own, we acquire enough wisdom to reevaluate––to decide for ourselves what serves us and what doesn't, to determine for ourselves our own meaning of life. It's important to take that step, however uncomfortable, if we want to have a life well lived.
When we're young we're vulnerable to the pressure of parents, movies, ads, schools, corporations, churches, that all lay expectations on us constantly––little of it economically frugal:
- Get a good education, good job, marry, have kids, buy everything you want.
Strive to get ahead always, improve yourself financially, follow the rules, invest.
Get a loan to buy a car, then another to buy a house. Send the spouse out to help (in addition to cooking, caring for kids, laundry, and cleaning up).
Get a better job, a bigger loan, a better car, a better house, more "stuff." Take your family on vacations to exotic places.
Get a 2nd (or 3rd) mortgage, expand your house, save what's left for the kids' education (after loan repayments). Get another better job (like it or not), a bigger house and a better lifestyle.
In addition, lots of sex . . . with sequined gowns and suits, flowers, champagne, banquets, jet set trips. Yeah! That's the life!
Ever wonder why so many of the jet set are in therapy? Alcoholic? Addicted to drugs and/or sex? Spending thousands to stay young, chased by the press, craving attention, betraying each other? Pretending to be someone else, not really knowing who they are inside? Wasted lives, all. Wasting time, wasting money, wasting opportunities. Letting the direction of their lives be dictated by others. Committing suicide.
How much time do you spend wandering around the house or town (or at the bar) bored? How much time do you spend mentally rehearsing your way out of arguments you need to heal? Or daydreaming about situations you have no intention of putting yourself into? How often have you agreed to go places or do things you knew you wouldn't like? How often have you scheduled something meaningful, then cancelled because someone didn't like it or you had to work or ran out of money or something else?
Do you enjoy the hours you spend at the work you do? The friends you hang with? We all have trouble with most of these (myself included). If you've never really looked to see, if you're bored often, then most of your time is likely being wasted.
Wasting Money and Purchases
How many things have you bought that you don't need? Toys for the kids they never play with? Clothes, shoes, jewelry you never wear? More cars than you can drive, more food than you can eat, another vacation you don't have time (or money) for, yet another party gift? Is your house too big? How high are your utility bills? How many things do you throw away that could go to someone else? How much alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs do you buy to try to make yourself feel better?
Most people have some way in which they spend that is wasteful. Some time ago, a friend of mine calculated how much money he was spending on booze and cigarettes, and was shocked. Have you ever really looked at how thrifty you are––how you spend money and why?
Wasting Opportunities and Experiences
All your life you've been having experiences, all of which have the potential to teach you something about yourself, to help you grow. Have you ever stopped to really look at them - to see what they have to tell you or do you just keep having the same ones over and over? A certain type of person you always seem to argue with or get "caught" by? Always missing flights or other deadlines? Choosing the same types of lovers and losing them again? Overspending, in debt again, yet another unsatisfying job?
This one thing alone can provide an incredible opportunity to grow, if you'd only take time to really look at yourself. For example, the family I grew up with was always late to events. As an adult I found myself constantly missing flights, being late for meetings and appointments, stressing myself out and endangering others trying to make up time on crowded freeways. I even walked in late to a swank concert, once, generating a baleful stare, as I interrupted the conductor's introduction to the audience. I often felt humiliated.
Take Charge of Your Life Today
Since you're thinking about it now, today might be a good time to start taking charge of your life. If you ever want to live a life of value, you'll need to find out what it is you value––what's important to you, personally. What someone else (or society) thinks "should be" of value to you is irrelevant. They're not in charge of your life, you are. You're the only one with complete control of yourself––your emotions, thoughts, and actions––and you're the only one who has to take the rap for your life at the end of it.
The place where we find our true sense of value is deep inside of us, where only we can see. If you are reading this, you've already lived enough life to be able to discover yourself in it, so let's get started.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Find the Meaning in Your Life––The Real Gold
Find or make a peaceful, quiet hour somewhere you can be alone. Get pen and paper and whatever you want to drink. Maybe put on some relaxing music and pull a blanket over your lap. Cozy up. Now you're going to mine the gold from the life you've lived, so do the following and write down the results:
1––Mentally look back through your entire life and ask yourself:
- What have I done in my life that really felt fun (and still does)? What was best about it?
- What experiences have I had that I would call really valuable? What made them valuable?
- Who do I know that I really do or did enjoy being with? What did I like best about them (or us)?
- What do I like best about myself? What have others told me was best about me?
- If a flood were to wash through my house and sweep out everything I own, except what was most precious to me, what would be left? What things have I bought that I really care about?
2––Take a break to absorb the good feelings, then come back and make a second list. This will be about things you haven't liked:
- What have I done that was awful?
- What are some totally boring, wasted experiences I've had?
- Who were people that were horrible to be with?
- What things do I own that most bog me down?
- What characteristics do I hate about myself?
3––Ick!! Let's move right along. Take each of the items above and flip them over. Clearly you don't want to repeat them, but just as clearly, you can't see awful things without also recognizing their opposites, i.e. what you would have wanted instead.
Write those opposites down. What would you have liked to have done instead, if circumstances were perfect (or what would you do if it happened again)? What would you rather have bought? Where would you rather have gone?
Don't beat yourself up for any of this. You've likely done that plenty already, and it's not the purpose of this exercise. Your purpose is to discover the best in you and what really brings joy.
Note that by taking this step, you are mining the real value of your experiences and now you won't feel like they've been wasted. If you hadn't had them, how would you have known what you really liked? How would you know what more you want in life, if not for the contrast? Finish this step now, then I'll give you an example.
Mining the Value, Living Well
Last year I left a small company I'd been working with for four years, where I had more experience than almost everyone there, including the owners (though I didn't know it then). I'd had to tamp myself down to match my coworkers' capabilities, as I discovered over time that they didn't know enough to support, carry on, or take over the new projects I was creating, as a new business developer. I left that job feeling unproductive, devalued, and depressed.
After I left the company my depression began to lift. I had discovered how numerous and practical my skills were, which I hadn't realized before. I had contacts I could utilize, a deeper understanding of an industry I valued, and I'm now claiming three times the salary as a freelance consultant.
I've also learned to utilize the Law of Attraction––to keep myself cheerful and confident, so that I notice and act on opportunities that take me in good directions. If I hadn't learned how to identify the value of this experience, I might still be deeply regretting having worked there.
“In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
- Abraham Lincoln
Transforming your "Wasted" Life into Meaning
To continue, take your first and third lists to the computer. (Shred or burn the second list, since you're done with it now.) Combine the two lists into one on the computer.
What you're doing now is looking to see what a truly valuable life looks like for you. The past is gone, the future is yet to come, and the present is the cutting edge of change. It's where you make the choices between options that create your future.
When opportunities come up from now on, you can ask yourself questions like these to help you decide which to choose:
- What fits my new understanding of what I want in life––going here, going there, or staying home for once?
- Does this person I know fit into the life I want now or are they of the past?
- Do I really want to buy this object? What can I get rid of to compensate?
- Hmmm . . . there's a lot of stuff here I could weed out. What fits the life I want to live and what doesn't?
The past is gone, the future is yet to come, and the present is the cutting edge of change.
- Abraham Group
Let this exercise start a whole new lifestyle for you––one of gleaning value from everything you do and everyone you hang with, one of making choices for a life you really want to live. Be aware that the only person you really have control over is yourself and, in truth, you are the only one who can control you. Others may try, but their success always hinges on your agreement with them and your willingness to go along.
Your life is your responsibility, not anyone else's, and the deeper and more joyful you can make it, the more valuable you will also be to others. When you're happy (for real, not fake) it makes it easier for those around you to be happy. Since life is always expanding and growing, just as people do, you will never run out of new ways to be happy and others will learn from you. As long as you're mining the value of your experiences and refining your choices, nothing will be wasted. The good life starts and ends with you.