Here is the prompt for Day 6 of the Trust 30 challenge, offered by Jonathan Mead:
Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.
Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?
Planning to Live
I’ve had a hard time with this prompt. I’ve put in a lot of time and effort to become a goal-setter, a planner, someone who lives life as consciously and intentionally as possible. If medical science cooperates, I plan to live a thousand years. It’s hard to adjust my time horizon to one week.
When I was a young adult, I was self-indulgent and selfish, always living for payday, chasing every impulse toward instant gratification. Somewhere in my 30s I got more serious. I became more strategic in my approach to life. I started setting goals and making plans. I’ve worked hard to create disciplines that have helped me accomplish the things that are important to me. I’ve lost 110 pounds, sold a house that I didn’t want, established a writing practice, and climbed most of the way toward being debt-free. My to-do list is full of projects and tasks about improvement, about designing my future life—balanced against getting as much joy and satisfaction as I can from the present moment.
My younger self was chasing after pleasures of a less subtle kind than the ones that interest me now. These days, a lot of my sources of satisfaction are more long-term, deeper, more “big picture.” Big-picture goals take work that you don’t necessarily enjoy in the day-to-day life of the trenches. But that doesn’t mean that obligations that only serve a long-term goal aren’t worth doing. Now that I’m more of a long-range thinker—and doer—I set goals, create projects aimed at achieving those goals, think through the actions that the projects will entail, and then work my way through those actions to get the job done. Is that “preparing to live”? I don’t know. Maybe it’s relishing life on a different time scale.
All of that having been said, I get the point of the prompt. There are tasks we take on every day that are nothing but resistance to living, nothing but running out the clock.
Maybe I have to think about this prompt in terms of clarifying a distinction between “planning for life” and “preparing to live.” I get the gist of it, I think, which is that you can’t spend all your time setting the table—eventually, you should sit down and enjoy the meal. But I guess the thing is…I’m already enjoying the meal. Every day I sit down to enjoy the fruits of my labor: my independent work style, my freedom to set my own schedule, my ability to choose the clients with whom I work, my choices about what kind of work to do. I get to spend time learning every day—and doing all sorts of things that are important to me.
I like where I’m going. Are there things that I do that fall into the category of “preparing to live”? Maybe. It couldn’t hurt to examine my life—and my to-do list—with that question in mind. I’ll have to get back to you.