On June 25th, 2016 I lost one of my best friends. His death left a hole in my life and the lives of too many others. Among the grief, frustration, and devastation I continue to feel, remembering he’s gone pushes me to reflect on my own life. The decisions I make, the people I surround myself with, and above all how I choose to spend my time. It’s a shame how we can hear certain phrases a million times but it takes something beyond words for the idea to stick. In this situation the words that keep showing up are ‘live for today, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed’. The fragile nature of life is front and center in my mind. The danger of ‘I’ll do that next year’, ‘I’ll visit in a couple months’, or ‘I’ll see him next time’ is all too real. Those plans we have are not guaranteed and despite the inherent discomfort that comes with this realization, I feel lucky to have gotten the message.
The question now is how do I live a life that truly honors the reality that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed? As I’ve explored this in my mind, I’ve found a tension I can’t ignore. On the one hand I know the importance of living for today, because today is real. On the other hand the world tells me that at times we have to sacrifice to achieve our dreams. If we want to be wealthy or successful, we have to put in the hours and make countless sacrifices to pursue careers that give us that chance. We have to earn our stripes. To my rational brain, this makes sense. My parents, bosses, and mentors all had to make sacrifices to get where they are today. It’s only natural I do too. But the tension I am struggling with is how can I live a life where I take advantage of today if I’m also sacrificing today in hopes of a better tomorrow?
The know-it-all in my head reminds me that I should be able to do both. To find a job (or lifestyle) that I enjoy on a daily basis and is getting me closer to my bigger goals in life. In theory I agree, but at times it feels delusional. In everything great I have achieved, there was struggle, pain, and fear. These three make a mean combination that too often results in a shitty day. So lets say I enjoy the job 60% of the time and it might payoff in the end. Is that worth being unhappy the other 40% of time? What ratio is ok?
As I have mulled this over these past couple months, one idea has stuck with me. The goal is to be happy as often as possible. Along the way there will be times of struggle, for this is a part of life. Some of these sacrifices are worth it, others are not. Our job is to differentiate between the two. And the way to do that is to look at why we are making that sacrifice in the first place. Is it because the potential outcome could be magnificent or will the journey itself be worth it? If you make that sacrifice and never achieve your goal, will you still be happy with your decision?
I believe the important differentiator is the value of the journey, not the end result. We can’t predict what will happen in the future and honestly we don’t even know how much of a future we have left. So I’m pushing forward in life with the goal of being happy as often as possible and an openness to making sacrifices in pursuit of my dreams, but only if the journey towards those dreams is worth it on its own. Because if the dream has to come true for it all to be worth it, you’ve given up today in hopes of tomorrow. And tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.