Today, one of the most beloved humans in the world died.
My favorite movie featuring Robin Williams is Dead Poets Society. Like many Americans of my generation, I didn't learn the meaning of the Latin phrase "carpe diem" until this movie came out. Every time I watched the movie I felt inspired and I could feel a little wind in my imaginary sails but this was always a temporary sensation. A couple hours later, I'd be back to my unremarkable existence doing my best to be responsible but not living life to the fullest.
"Living my life to the fullest would be selfish, irresponsible, and foolish."
That's what I heard in my head for many years. The few years after college I also didn't know what would make me feel like I'm living life to the fullest. It took some experimentation with different jobs to figure out what kind of work would make life meaningful for me.
Now I know what I need to do to really carpe diem in my own way. This year I started to pretend that I would not live past the year. I asked myself the following: if I knew that I would die on December 31, 2014, what are the things that I would want to accomplish, attempt, or make before that date?
This has been a really great way to help me prioritize the different people and things in my life. I ask myself, "is this something I want to accomplish or attempt before I die?" or "do I want to spend more time with this person/organization before I die?" If the answer to that previous question is YES, I do what I need to do in order to start or complete it. If the answer is NO, I find a way to stop or go a different direction. Maybes are put on the back burner.
I think that actually following one's dreams always seems impossible because there are so many perceived obstacles, including financial ones. I know that I have friends that say, "well of course I can seize the day and go on that dream trip around the world if I had a million dollars!" Or, "if were younger/older" or "if I didn't have responsibilities" etc. I think that most of those are just excuses. If traveling to 100 countries was an important thing I wanted to experience before death and I am not an oil tycoon, I can start by planning a shoestring budget trip to Canada or Mexico. One country at a time, one can live that dream. On December 30th I think that I would feel pretty good about my life by having gone on one small trip to Mexico rather than if I had worked every day that year trying to save thousands of dollars for fancy vacation that didn't happen.
Today, before I heard the sad news about Robin Williams, I got my first two tattoos. I wanted tattoos all my adult life and finally I got them. As I left the tattoo parlor I had a flash of panic that lasted about 1 second. My old self flinched but my new self is relieved that if I die at the end of this year, I would die having done one of the things I've wanted to do for a long time but never had the guts to do.