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Never is a long long time

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about life, death, and balance between living for today and preparing for tomorrow.

In the past couple of months, I’ve known two friends of friends who have been in serious car accidents. Both of them are in their twenties. Both have suffered severe trauma and are still in comas.

That news hit me harder than I had expected. I don’t know them personally – but the fact of it is – they were like me. Young and invincible. Maybe armed with a 5-Year Life Plan. Only luck and circumstance separate us.

Joan Didion began in The Year of Magical Thinking (one of my all time favorite books), life changes fast. Life changes in an instant.

You sit down to dinner (or jump in the car, or see the doctor, or get on the plane) and life as you know it ends.

I just read that a lawyer committed suicide in his office after his layoff. I can’t imagine the personal anguish that would cause someone to take his life because of a job situation. I pray that his family is okay.

Retirement / “financial independence” is the Big Goal for most personal finance bloggers. Now MSN informed me that I might never retire. Never is a long long time.

Life is easy when the path is linear. College – job – graduate school – better job. Save and invest and aim towards that golden retirement. But the zig-zags catch me off guard. It’s easy to say, carpe diem! It’s hard, really hard, to be brave enough to do so.

It’s hard to seize the day. Seizing takes effort. Self-awareness. Emotional intelligence. Resilience. How am I suppose to develop all that in my twenties? Can it wait ’til my thirties?

This post is disjointed, but the point of it, I suppose, is this: if I am lucky, life will be both too long and too short. Too long not to prepare for tomorrow. Too short to keep passing up on today.

  • S. - I like to say the days are long but life is short. When you think about it… in junior high and high school a year was like forever, but now a year zips on by.ReplyCancel

  • RenaissanceTrophyWife - It’s hard, but you do it nonetheless– some people never get there, and some make progress despite the challenges life throws in your way. Recognizing that it does take work to develop self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and resilience is most of the battle. Keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to break your own rules.ReplyCancel

  • Sense - Going through this a bit myself. trying to figure out if ALL of it matters, or if NONE of it does. my answer changes by the minute. of course, in the end, the correct answer is both…ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey - This one is always a struggle, but then again, what would life be without challenges? Boring and dull, and we’d never learn anything new or try out new things. Of course when a challenge arises, I don’t always have that positive spin on the situation…ReplyCancel

  • LZ - Huh. I’ve been thinking of similar things. Most recently trying to determine what MY purpose is in life. I’m in the midst of wrapping up a crazy/wonderful/BUSY 16 months that consisted of grad school, a wedding, and moving (not far, just to a new home). Now that I’m about to graduate I’m wondering what to do in my “free time” after a day’s work in my new home with my new husband.

    I have lots of hobbies but have been wondering what means the most to me. I often think once we start a family this won’t be an issue anymore, but we’re not ready for that and until I have another goal to work towards I’m feeling a bit lost. Like you said, it’s easier when life is linear.

    So, I’d be interested in your thoughts (as well as your readers) – What do you feel is YOUR purpose? What drives you on a daily basis? And how do you NOT get consumed by these goals so that you CAN sieze the day and truly enjoy each one, simple as it may be? (Am I the only one who feels like I’m working hard, spinning my wheels to get to point B, only not sure where exactly point B is??)

    P.S. I just kissed my twenties goodbye this year. Happy to do so, thinking that I might find some answers in my thirties. =)ReplyCancel

  • Beth - I struggle with how much to live for the future and how much to live for today. There’s a fine balance there that I need to work out in terms of savings and spending.

    My aunt died suddenly this fall of a brain aneurysm. She was 51. That really put it into perspective for the whole family how very fragile life is. My mom put it this way: She put toast in the toaster, and didn’t live to see it pop up. It was that sudden.ReplyCancel

  • dogatemyfinances - I totally feel this post!!!

    When I was trying to get out of debt, I had a defined goal, and when I got there it was over.

    Now, I have to choose between always wanting more, and never having enough or with accepting the now and not striving for more.ReplyCancel

  • SuperCareo - It seems like this sort of dis-jointed theme of “what do I do?” feeling is happening to all of my 20 something friends now-a-days (myself included). Growing up now, during an economic down turn, makes you grow up faster. You have to be more responsible in so many ways. You can’t mess around on the job because then you’ll get fired and then what? It’s not like jobs just grow on trees! You have to save more of your money to prepare for the chance that you might lose your job. Because money doesn’t grow on trees either!

    It’s tough, I feel you. I try to think happy thoughts, don’t listen to the news (whatever you do, don’t listen to the news!), and keep my eye on the prize (which is … well, it changes depending on the day of the week).ReplyCancel

  • L.A. Daze - I have days where this is on my mind as well. Some days I feel really inadequate thinking i’ll never accomplish my goals, and some days I think i’m on the right path. Then I wonder, does it all really matter?? Why put all the work, effort, and energy into something if it doesn’t pay off in the end?

    And @ LZ, I think having a family doesn’t all of a sudden give your life purpose or meaning. I find it a lame excuse. So many people (i’m not saying you) have families to cover up the insecurities and whatever is missing in their lives…and in the end realize that having a family didn’t make the previous problems go away.ReplyCancel

  • LZ - @ L.A. Daze – I TOTALLY agree…that’s not my way of thinking at all, which is another reason we are waiting until we are “ready.” But, having a family will definitely give me/us more reason to maintain the household when someone else depends on us, instead of just the two of us. It’s too easy to say “eh, we don’t feel like doing (insert chore/etc.) right now.” Plus, when kids are older there will be tons to do and participate in for their sake, things we already look forward to doing.

    When there’s a family there’s always something to do, something that needs done, like it or not. Again, not the answer to everything…but I do think it will be answer to my question of “what’s the point.” Again, eventually when the time is right.ReplyCancel

  • L.A. Daze - @ LZ – :) Good for you for being responsible and waiting until you are “ready”. That’s my plan as well. The only thing i’m really scared of is giving up my life – so many parents (mothers in particular) make it seem as if they never had a life before kids, or that it just wasn’t important.

    Another thing about life being too short or too long…how do we fit everything in? The timing of it all is also really important. Sigh…this blog post has me thinking.ReplyCancel

  • moody - “seize the day” does seem to have this heavy connotation. it seems like everyday we should performing some bold act.

    i think maybe something “live for today with an eye towards tomorrow” is perhaps a better way to think about it. make sure that you are doing things that you enjoy now (these will, of course, change as you change). and think about what the present you can do to help make the future you able do as she pleases.ReplyCancel

  • LZ - @ L.A. Yes – “How do you fit it all in?” THAT perhaps is the bigger question. THAT is the biggest reason why we are holding off with a family.

    @ Moody – So true, if I don’t do something that I feel is notable on a daily basis I feel lazy. My husband has to constantly remind me that we work hard to be able to enjoy lazy days where we do nothing if we so choose…it IS okay every now and then! :)

    I’ve also been wondering WHEN I started feeling like this. Most of my life I’ve been SO geared towards doing whatever I felt was necessary to improve the future that I forget to enjoy the present. I think I’m probably in an in-between stage in my life, having just completed several milestones in a short period. Just need some time to reflect and decide where to go from here. :)

    Wow. This post has sparked some pretty deep thoughts & conversations!ReplyCancel

  • Emma - I “seize the day” by enjoying it, and allowing myself to engage in activities outside of work.

    In fact, I’m heading out shortly for my dance class this evening. It’s not big, but it’s something for me. Soon, I’ll be swimming after work too (once our apartment’s pool opens up).

    Some days, I feel overwhelmed with the choices I have and the decisions I have to make, but in the end, you only have one life to live. It doesn’t necessitate being foolish with what you have, but I find I need to do things for me.

    Outside of my joint expenses with my boyfriend, I have a significant chunk going to debt (student loan), a smaller amount going to emergency fund (I hit my goal for the year already, and am now just continuing to put money away for the sake of it), but also have money planned for me. This could be for movies, theatrical productions, dinners out, clothes, something I want, etc. It’s not a whole lot – but it IS something, and it acts as a reminder that I have more to live for than paying off my loan.

    Reading some of the other comments, I do still wonder if I’m missing out in my life though. I have financial goals (pay off my loan by Dec of next year, 3 years after having started repaying it; save for a down-payment on a home in 5 years; save for yearly vacations). But I’ve realized I’m missing “life” goals. Perhaps I’m too self-centred, but I’m enjoying the “live life for me” aspect of life right now. I don’t want the responsibility of having kids or a home (or even an animal, to be honest). I enjoy being able to make a decision at the spur of a moment and follow through on it.

    However, given that part of my beliefs includes the fact that I feel money is only a means to individual happiness, and not the be-all-end-all of things, I should probably be making some life goals that represent that!

    Thanks for the food for thought :) ReplyCancel

  • Red Lipstick Style - This is really a great post. I love books and will buy the book that you recommended.

    I recently started to give thanks for each day instead of dreading the long drive to the office. Its a small thing, but what a difference in my attitude toward life and everyone I encounter.

    The story of the girl who was raped in New York, and train station workers saw it, is what pushed me into a slump. It disturbed me so much that it just made me completely loose faith in everything. From there, I had to rework a positive attitude, that’s how I began giving thanks for each day. After about 2-month of this, I’m finally ready to seize the day.ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie - My junior-high best friend was killed in a car accident last week and it really hit me hard. I hadn’t even seen her in 20 years, but, as you said, you think that you’re young and you’re somewhat invincible and we’re all going to live to 100 and die in our sleep. Doesn’t always happen that way. That’s why it’s important to find little ways to make life better every day, as the other commenters have noted. We need to save money and all, but at the same time, you have to enjoy life too. And sometimes that involves spending money on things like travel (something that I feel is ALWAYS worth the money!).ReplyCancel

  • Suzy - Profound and important, thanks for writing this.

    I took a class on positive psychology in college (i thought it was total shit at the time, but now, 3 yrs later, i’m a believer), and these are the 6 principles I try to read every day. I suppose this is my “seize” tactic.

    1. Give yourself permission to be human.
    2. Always Pursue the intersection of pleasure and meaning. When that isn’t possible, use happiness boosters to tide you over until you can find this place. (i.e. a coffee, a nap, reading)
    3. Focus on the positive side of whatever you’re contemplating.
    4. Simplify.
    5. Get regular exercise, try to eat healthy, and get sufficient sleep. It covers a lot of ills
    6. Express gratitude whenever possible.ReplyCancel

  • Cami - Today versus tomorrow is the ongoing battle that I find myself thinking about too. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    I too am a goal oriented person who likes a “linear” path. At times it seems as though I have been constantly “living” and sacrificing for a desired future state (ie: being done grad school…. we know how many nights out get sacrificed to study, for example). This tears me up because I’m “giving up today for tomorrow, when you’re not guaranteed tomorrow” sort of mentality.

    At one point, I realized that most of the moments I reminisce about from my past involved the simplest of things – the way the air smelled on a certain fall day; the sound of the train on its track by my place on an early, still Sunday morning, the warmth from my parents’ fireplace in the livingroom after a cool walk outside. These are all things that money can’t buy, but time CAN.

    If I can offer any tidbit of a suggestion, I honestly believe the little things that make life worth living everyday are all around us, but sometimes we get so focused and fixiated on other things that we miss them. So, just SLOW DOWN. Sleep in on Sunday morning, go for a long walk outside, have a few drinks with friends. It’s okay to want to achieve goals and finish grad school – as someone said earlier, life would be boring without challenge and purpose…. but don’t let the “grind” eclipse all the great moments in each day. Make time for yourself.ReplyCancel

  • 30 before 30: personal goals « Well-Heeled, with a mission - [...] May 21, 2009 by wellheeled Because the days are long but life is short. [...]ReplyCancel

  • Squeeze Time Out of Your Day - [...] Time is such a funny thing… if you ask someone what he or she want the most, the answer is probably “time” (or “money”). But whereas money can be made and lost, time marches on. It offers us no do-overs, no second chances. Every second that passes is one less second we have. The days are long, but life is short. [...]ReplyCancel

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