Countless bestselling books and popular TV shows have been created in recent years to remind us that there are still things for us to do “before we die.” The underlying message is that – although life is short – we should not have to leave this world before we have experienced everything it has to offer, or at least as much as possible.
Giving the “Golden Years” True Meaning
And for this pursuit, there’s lots of help available! It’s all just a matter of smart planning. The best way to accomplish this, we’re told, is to make a list of about a thousand personal goals – such as climbing a very high mountain, seeking enlightenment through ancient teachings or writing a cult novel – and get cracking before time runs out. I understand that this message is not exclusively geared toward the aging baby boomer generation, since making plans and setting goals are important at every stage in life.
I’m all for good planning, especially where it matters. I like things being in order and getting the job done in a timely manner or preferably ahead of schedule. I dislike surprises and I positively hate chaos. Most of the time, I consider these characteristics as assets – and they are, except when the unforeseeable happens and then there is no plan. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.
Twenty-five years ago, I was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness – skin cancer to be precise. I was lucky. The treatment worked and eventually I got my life back, so to speak. Like others who have undergone a traumatic experience of this nature, I’ve been profoundly affected at the core of my being and I never became quite the same person again.
Since my treatment was successful, I was able to move beyond that great divide of life before and after cancer – but only to an extent. There were other changes of no lesser importance, and they did in fact reach deeper than the scars that remained after battling the physical part of the illness. I was changed in my spirit.
I’m aware that I’m by no means unique in this regard. Most survivors come to a point when they’re forced to realize that life is serious business. As frightening as that can be, it is also an experience that one can welcome as a learning opportunity.
When life is challenged at its foundations, significant shifts can take place. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes fear, suffering and loss before we are willing to change our perspectives and adjust our priorities. For me, it was the recognition that I had a new lease on life – not only with regards to my physical health but my spiritual health as well.
In many ways, I no longer look at life the way I used to. Although, I still have great hopes and aspirations left in me, I have acquired a healthy skepticism toward the value of too much planning for the future. I have come to accept the simple truth that life ultimately cannot be mapped out.
I’m not saying these things with regret or resignation. On the contrary, there is something liberating in all of this. Instead of trying to maintain control over my life at all times, I’m now much more open to acts of spontaneity and experimentation. The things that matter most to me often come as gifts, unexpected and sometimes undeserved.
I play more. If planning is focused on the future, play takes place in the present. It was so easy for me as a child to get lost in the moment while at play. Some of that attitude I now welcome back, not out of nostalgia but out of wisdom that comes with age.
Today I know that, after I have checked off every item on my to-do-list, there is life to be lived at every moment and every little thing it has to offer can be savored. This can happen in simple ways and without any further ado or concern that time may be running out.