"Just as a well-filled day brings a blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” -Leonardo Da Vinci
What’s incredible about this quote is its simultaneous simplicity and profundity. There’s a good chance that, if you’re reading this right now, you’re alive. That very fact holds you accountable to having a philosophy for your life, and living it out as best you can. And I don’t mean that in some weak-mannered, in-the-clouds, Joel Osteen “Life Your Best Life Now” type of way. I mean literally--have you taken ownership of your life? Or would your experience be best depicted as just floating from opportunity to opportunity? You were born, you pursued whatever your parents had the means for you to pursue, you went to college, or you didn’t, you got your first job, you learn more about who you are and what you want, you become continually self-aware and change jobs accordingly, or go to grad school, etc. Maybe you were bold enough to start a business! Or move across the country to start your dream career. Or something.
Or maybe, everything crumbles.
Your parents weren’t there for you, the career you’ve been chasing doesn’t quite pan out how you envisioned, your business fails, the people you love abandon you, and for some reason, you seem to have to learn EVERYthing the hard way. Whether you’re in the first or second camp, or some combination of the two like most of us, you need to decide what philosophy is guiding your life. Or rather, fueling your life. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says we have two choices--we can either operate out of the first script already written for us by our families and our experiences growing up, or we can create our own second script: the script we consciously choose to be informed by. Have you created your second script? Have you decided to live according to that second script? Or have your prior experiences conditioned you to expect that things will just never work out, or that they’ll be easy, or that you should do your best to limit all risk in your life?
Many of us are byproducts of a first script that says, “my quality of life is a direct result of my circumstances.” How reductive, untrue, and limiting. Many of us have employed that very philosophy, and our poor quality of life isn’t a result of our circumstances, but of that poor philosophy. Hear that. Your quality of life is not a result of your circumstances, but your perception of those circumstances. Remember what Shakespeare said: “Nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Now, I want to take a second and be really, real. Some of us had terrible circumstances growing up. Single parents, absent parents, financial disadvantage, exposure to abuse or addiction, etc. Don’t mishear me. Those are deeply unfortunate circumstances, and you should do your absolute best to remove yourself from them as soon as you are able to. If you grew up in a toxic environment, never return to it. That is, unless you can help that environment in a way that doesn’t damage your psyche.
The problem of circumstance I’m talking about, though, is when those situations, that first script, continue to negatively dictate how you pursue your life once you’ve become self-sufficient. At this point, you are the only person responsible for your life—for its quality, for its meaning… It’s just you. Personally, it wasn’t until I stopped resenting my parents for their absence that I really experienced a breakthrough. But remember this--it doesn’t matter if your parents were present, or absent, or if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or literally on the streets.
What matters is that you were born.
Via whatever circumstances, you were born. Because of that, you have an obligation to live a life in such a way that people who come after you are glad you lived. I’m not saying you have to be prolific, but I am saying that you have to live a life that honors you and those around you. Let’s break that down. A life that honors you is one in which you’re living up to the potential that your giftings and efforts have set forth. A life that honors others is one in which you’re regularly taking opportunities to love and serve. Calling friends. Putting in that extra effort at work. Lending a helping hand to someone who needs it.
Put simply and cheesily, own your corner of the sky and light it up. Pursue people, and pursue what you’re good at (i.e. where your abilities and opportunities meet). We’re alive, we’re breathing, and thus, we are responsible.
“If there is breath in you, persist,” a wise person once said. And persist as well we can. That's a philosophy of life worth choosing.