Life Is An Opportunity Not An Obligation

You are at the beginning of an economic inflection point — where you stand at the crossroads of the perfect storm of ideas, technology and access. Dead are the guardians at the gate who were employed to control who was granted access. Their death has lead to the transfer of authority, to you. You now have the authority to choose yourself. To take the responsibility to become the person you want to be. Your first decision is to decide where you are. The next choice is to decide where you want to be.

What happens in-between those two points is what you will call the journey. What this is not is a predefined trek with well-established routes and fashionable layovers which safely deliver you to your manicured destination.

The journey is a frantic mélange of more failure than success, which is masterfully orchestrated by what author Steven Pressfield defines as the Resistance — that voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough:

“You’re a loser, you’re a bum, a worthless waste of oxygen. Look at you. Do you imagine that someone like you could produce something original, something of quality, something that anyone else would care about? What ideas do you have that haven’t been done a thousand times before—and better than you could every dream of doing them?”

The narrative is diabolically disempowering and relentless in its destruction of your desire to become the person you want to be.

I have allowed the Resistance to govern my life. I allowed the disempowering narrative to convince me that I was a bum, and a worthless waste of oxygen. It’s so easy to give up. All you need to do is surrender to the circumstances that surround you; to the daily distractions of your life. And just like that you are part of what Chris Guillebeau calls the Unremarkably Average.

You know what I am talking about:

  • You spend more time on Facebook than doing the work.
  • You spend more time criticizing than doing the work.
  • You spend more time coming up with excuses than doing the work.
  • You spend more time planning for the work than doing the work.

In this conversation, the work is the thing you must do every day, which gets you one step closer to the person you want to be.

The Crossroads

I received tragic news. My mother calls me and explains that she is being scheduled for brain surgery. Confused, I asked why and she replies, “I have a tumor in my brain." That is the bad news. Here is the tragic story -- the oncologist explained the brain surgery revealed that mom has Group 4 brain cancer — which essentially means that she will die; she has 15 months to 4 years of life left.

The oncologist reassured us that every case is different, and she has patients that have lived has long as eight years. The doctor’s prognosis was encouraging albeit tragic.

I am not sure that I have fully processed the news. Perhaps I am in denial of the proximity of the death of the woman who gave birth to me. Or perhaps I am irrationally hopeful the cancer will magically disappear. Whatever my actual emotional state is, my mother stands at the crossroads. And she must decide on the quality of life she will choose to live:

  • My mother can allow the Resistance to dictate the quality of her life.
  • My mother can disallow the Resistance to dictate the quality of her life.

My mother decided for the latter and to fight for the opportunity to live how she wants to live.

I have never seen my mother happier; she moves through her days with purpose – regimented about her health, choosing experiences over things, deciding to spend time, only, with those relationships that are valuable to her, and making sure that she leaves no financial burden when she finally goes.

Purpose it’s a powerfully inspiring friend.

Richard Leider is an author and executive coach, and he explains that if you don't have a purpose in life then you don't have a reason to get out of bed, you’re not as happy and you're sick more than you are healthy. So having a purpose in your life is the WHY that gets you up in the morning and makes you say "Today I get to do." As opposed to saying “Today I got to do.”

Over the last 30 years, Leider has interviewed hundreds of people over the age of 65, and three themes remained constant through the interviews —

  • If I could live my life over again I would be more reflective -- stop being busy.
  • If I could live life over again, I would be more courageous -- being more authentic.
  • I wish I would have understood my bottom line -- so my life could matter.

Leider continues to explain that all we want at the end of our lives is to know that your life mattered. And for your life to matter you must live it with purpose of designing your life and being a victim of it.

In a sense, my mother was given a gift. The knowledge of when she will die. This gift has forced her to understand that time is finite, and it’s your responsibility to be more reflective, more courageous and make your life matter; to envision your life as an opportunity and not an obligation.

The Choices I Will Make

“You’re a loser, you’re a bum, a worthless waste of oxygen. Look at you. Do you imagine that someone like you could produce something original, something of quality, something that anyone else would care about? What ideas do you have that haven’t been done a thousand times before—and better than you could every dream of doing them?”

These words have echoed sporadically but quietly, somewhere in the depths of my subconscious for the better part of my life. But as the news of my mother’s condition grows older those words have become horrifying chant. Giving birth to a self-awareness that I will die with the regret that I have lived an average life.

So I find myself standing at the legendary crossroads a strangely familiar place because I can see the faint footsteps of where my mother stood not more than a few months ago. But now it’s now my turn to decide my quality of life. And the Resistance is strong, asking me the villainous what if questions:

  • What if I make the wrong choice?
  • What if I take too long to decide?
  • What if I make a rash decision?
  • What if I am not good enough?

At the crossroads is Resistance’s finest hour. Because it will say anything to keep you from pursuing the work that leads you to the person you want to be. And I almost gave into the disempowering narrative.

But something unexpected happened, my anxiety grew into anger. Angry at my indecision. Angry at my lack of faith. Angry that I have added little value to my life. Angry that I have added so little value to the World. Then something transformational occurred, I got pissed. A rebellious refusal to accept my life as it is took root. And at that very moment, I decided, to no longer be a victim of my circumstances. That I will live my life full so I can die empty.

My decision albeit cathartic did not invoke a Big Bang event. There was no ticker tape parade down 5th Avenue. No 4th of July fireworks. No one gave me the keys to the city. But the vision of who I wanted to be became unobstructed, I knew clearly where I was and for the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of my journey.

The First Step, Is The Most Difficult

The journey that we undergo, to get from where you are to where you want to be is unique for each and every one of us. I have discovered that plans don’t work because they presume to understand what will develop on the journey. Life, your life, is peppered with unfamiliar situations, random events, and unforeseen failures so a plan will only serve to frustrate you to the point where you prematurely give up on your dreams. Instead, I have found focusing on your vision and building a strategy is a better course of action.

And that is the goal of this manifesto. To get you to start thinking of your life as an opportunity and not as an obligation. You have greatness within you, and it’s your responsibility to not only share it but to cultivate it.

You and only you shoulder the responsibility of getting the work done. You must take the awesome responsibility to fight for what you want because no one will do it for you. You must begin today without equivocation to do the work that will allow you to become the person you have envisioned.