I often hear myself say “life is too short” and as a rule, I’m a fan of the phrase. However, lately I’ve been painfully reminded that the phrase isn’t just a cliche! It’s a wake up call.
After all, it’s not that life is short. For most of us it feels like it’s very long and that’s the problem. It means we feel safe to put things off and waste the time we do have because we always think we’ll have more… until we don’t.
As a coach, for the past 13 years, I have seen so many people “enduring” things, or “just getting through” things in their life. They “look forward” constantly to highlights yet to come, such as the weekend, the holidays, the end of this project, retirement… but they’re not really living in between these highlights. They’re just enduring!
And I don’t think enduring things is a problem in itself. Sometimes you have no choice but to endure the “shit-sandwich” life just handed to you. It’s when it becomes a habit, a way of living, that it becomes a problem. Living for the future means potentially missing the now and one day it will dawn on you that you wasted the time you had. If you’re lucky, when you have that wake up call, you’ll still have time to turn things around. Better still… turn them around now.
So, in place of a real wake-up call, take a moment to consider what you would change about your life if you only had 1 year left on earth?
- What or who would you want to spend that time with?
- What would you do that you’ve always wanted to do?
- What or who would you absolutely not tolerate a moment longer?
- What chances would you take that you’d been too afraid to take?
- What really matters to you?
- What doesn’t really matter as much as you thought it did?
My mum and I did this exercise together, when she was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in June 2016 and we were both surprised by our answers. These were the things we realised had to be prioritised immediately…
- spending quality time with people we loved
- expressing ourselves
- having more fun adventures
- nurturing ourselves
- taking more risks
- letting go of worries, hurts, guilt, anger..
- believing in ourselves
I was lucky, because although the changes I needed to make were mostly work-related and seemed a bit scary at first, they were at least theoretically within my power to change. I’m glad to say that a year down the line and just as I turned 40 I feel like I’m really living life on my terms now instead of enduring elements of it. Unsurprisingly, as I made the changes and took leaps of faith, events seemed to unfold in order to help me.
My mum embraced life in an entirely new way after her diagnosis. She embraced NLP and hypnosis and we worked together to make those changes. We formed a deeper mother-daughter relationship, healed past wounds and by working with NLP she changed the way she thought, felt and behaved. She became more confident and in tune with herself. Along the way we created some beautiful memories and we found a level of peace with the situation.
I only wish that she had been able to do all the things with her remaining months that she had wanted to do. Her bucket list included some travel and adventures that her illness wouldn’t allow her to do and her worsening pain affected her enjoyment of things she could do. Despite those limitations, she worked so hard and did as much as she could do, to embrace what time she had left.
Heart-breakingly, my mum passed away a few weeks ago and in all my grief over losing my mum, the thing that still hurts me is remembering the look on her face the day she moved into the hospice for the remaining few days of her life. There was a moment where it really sunk in that she wouldn’t be able to visit her favourite place in Yorkshire as we had planned. I saw sadness and disappointment. A loss. She had unfinished business; things left to do and experience. She wanted more time and in that moment, if I could have given her some of my life, I would have done so in a heartbeat.
It made me appreciate how lucky I was, to have had my first big wake up call when I was 27 years old. I can’t imagine what my life would look like now had I not discovered NLP back then and learned tools to help me change my life so that I could be, do and have what I wanted. To have gained the confidence and self belief to go for my big dreams and not be afraid to fail and try again is one of the most precious gifts I received from NLP… And there are many!!
And the additional gift that my mum has given me, by sharing this intimate journey with her this past year, is that today, although I still set big outcomes, I’m no longer willing to be unhappy or suffer while I achieve them. I’m willing to walk away from things that I don’t enjoy and trust that when I choose to close a door a better one will open. And so far, one always has! This new habit is what gives me comfort that I won’t regret what I did or didn’t do with my life while I had the chance. It helps me put things into perspective!
With this new perspective there is always time to stop and have a cuddle with Nick or Dexter our cat even when a deadline looms! Things don’t get taken so seriously. The laptop and phones get switched off and I will only invest my time and my future into projects that I enjoy. I allow a certain amount of time every day for jobs that need to be done for chores, finances and future proofing and I just try to find the most enjoyable way to do these jobs. But I’m much more likely to question myself now as to whether I really want or need to do something. I’m still happy to take on new challenges and things that scare me, but they have to have a purpose that will fulfill me during the experience, not just at the end of it.
I also firmly believe that just because you’ve put a lot of time and effort into something already, this is not a good enough reason to keep doing it. If it doesn’t enhance your life now, consider whether it ever will. The HABIT of doing things that you don’t enjoy or delayed gratification may enhance your levels of success or your bank account, but it could be a recipe for regret in the long term.
I have got up close and personal with the fear of what it would be like to get to the end of my life and wish I had more time. That is a far greater fear for me, than the fear of walking away from things I don’t enjoy into the unknown.
One of the challenges people say they have is that they feel obligated to keep doing jobs they dislike because they have a family to support. Whilst I would never advise anyone just to walk away from a job and stop paying their bills, I would ask you to question the logic of this in the long term. Children tend to learn by example or experience, so if you set the example of self sacrifice, then don’t be surprised that when they have families of their own, that’s how they will live their lives too! Generations of financially secure but miserable and unfulfilled people… is that the best example to be setting? I’m certainly not advocating being irresponsible!!! I just think it’s worth demonstrating that it’s ok make a change in your life and prioritising fulfillment over security occasionally. It doesn’t always involve walking away or even taking a risk, but if you do fail, then show them how you can fall down and get back up again stronger….
It’s also worth checking in with yourself and ensuring that you’re not using other people as an excuse for not following your dreams. What if the real reason you’re not going for what you want is because you’re fearful or doubt you’d be successful and the obligations are just a convenient excuse? You’re welcome to decide to not follow your dreams, but it’s not fair to blame someone else for stopping you.
After all, living is precious! When I witnessed my mum’s life come to an end, it changed me in my core. I instantly lost my fear of taking certain risks because I realised we are all headed for the same place. I felt like I was on a travelator at the airport and though I couldn’t see the end I realised there was one. And even though I was moving really slowly, I was still moving…. losing time! I could feel time slipping away and however far away it was, the end was getting closer every second. The only choice I had was deciding how close to the end I wanted to get before I started paying attention!
If in doubt, I just consult with my imaginary future self… I want my future self to be loved, wealthy, healthy and wise if possible… so I find the balance between improving her future and enjoying mine today! I know there are some days where my future self saying “WTF?!” at some of my choices, but as long as those days are getting fewer and fewer, I know I’m heading in the right direction.
For the past 13 years I have been helping people find a way to enjoy rather than endure their lives. Some were motivated by a wake up call and some just started with a bit of support and encouragement, but small changes in the way you think, feel and behave, make big differences to your quality of life. Even a small change in perspective can change everything over night! And as the past year has shown me, there are always improvements to be made and it’s worth making them now!
This is one of the reasons why Nick and I love teaching NLP. We get to give people the tools to help them make those changes possible. Our students have already made themselves a priority when they book onto the course and so as they apply the tools to create change, we get to watch them follow their bliss and figure out how to live life on their terms. We see their families, friends and colleagues benefit from their changes too, so it really is a gift that keeps on giving.
In summary, my learnings from this past year are to remember to be present in today. To stop enduring and start enjoying things. To do what I really want to do today. Be the kind of person I want to be today. Practice the habit of prioritising joy… today and every day.
I’m still working towards a long, healthy and financially secure life, but I’m going to follow my bliss while I’m doing it or what the hell’s the point?!
I know my beautiful mum would agree!
Go find your happy before it’s too late.