“Live as if there is no tomorrow!”
Like many platitudes, this one certainly sounds enthusiastic and inspirational. But it has no practical application. If there were no tomorrow, people would be spending what money they have today, desperately trying to fit as many pleasant experiences in what few hours we had left. We’d have no regard for consequences or the state of the world around us because hey, it’ll all be gone tomorrow anyway, right?
In reality, tomorrow does come, rent will be due, and you have to be at work on time. Telling people to live as if there is no tomorrow is like teasing a draft horse for not breaking its bonds and racing off into the great wild outdoors. Our existence is not free of consequence, and no sane person would live their life as if it were.
“Live each day as if it were your last.”
Closer, but still no cigar. At least by now we’re already admitting that the world around us and the people in it will still exist tomorrow. That means murder is off the table. Still, if we knew for certain that our lives would end by tomorrow, we’d be spending all our money partying late into the night. In reality, the alarm clock is going to go off at 6 o’clock tomorrow and you’ll hate yourself if you stay up too late.
Rephrase it like this: “Live so that if today is your last day, you’ll have no regrets.” Unfortunately, that probably won’t fit on a T-shirt.
I like this phrase better because it’s close enough to our daily reality to actually be of some use in shaping our lives. It acknowledges the fact that daily live isn’t going to stop and wait for you. Instead, this phrase invites a thought experiment. Imagine yourself at the end of today, finding out by whatever means that, unbeknownst to you, today has been the last day of your life. Imagine yourself sitting on your bed after hearing this news and reflecting on your life. What do you regret doing? What do you regret not doing?
Now it’s very easy to say that you regret not hopping in a plane for Tahiti this morning. But that’s not the point. This morning you had no idea that today would be your last day, so there is no way you would have done something that extreme. The point is to look back at your life as it has been up to this point, not to compare it to a Hollywood movie. Your life has come to here. Is this the place where you wanted to end up? How much of your life has become this way by your choices? What might have been, if you had made different choices?
In my experience from having reflected on my life throughout the years, what I most often regret is wasted time. Time spent idly watching TV when I could have gotten more enjoyment and satisfaction by doing something creative with my time. Like writing a blogpost, pursuing new interests, gaining new knowledge and skills.
I gain important insights from reflecting like this. I learn where to direct my time and energy so that I can gain the most happiness in my life. I’m going to get up tomorrow and go to work. If tomorrow turns out to be my last day, I won’t regret that I went to work. I’ll regret it if I went to work I didn’t enjoy doing. I’ll regret not having fought more often to make my own dreams a reality. I’ll regret spending the evening watching re-runs rather than writing something interesting or building something useful.
I don’t care about fame or legacy. But I do care whether I leave behind a world that has become even marginally better by my having been here. If there are handful of people out there who can do their work easier because of some program I wrote, or people who smiled more often because they came across some content I shared with them, then indeed I have no regrets.