For years, I lived in the unknown.
Now I stood, peering outside the dark tunnel.
I took a step forward. And felt the light on my face. It felt good. Scratch that, it felt fucking great. For a second. Then it was gone. As fast as it came. Disappeared back into the unknown.
Oh such is life.
You live to reach the end of the tunnel and wonder…
“Is this all there is to it?”
I never liked that question. I heard it too many times.
But still, I kept quiet. And simply observed.
I couldn’t believe what I would see.
Friends from high school, dropping dead. Not literally, but mentally. And physically. Letting themselves go. College graduates working dead end jobs. Living for the weekend. Adults struggling to get through the day. Living for vacations.
I remember listening to my grandparents speak. They would use defeated language, saying things like “whatever it takes to pass the time.”
Pass the time? Huh? What?!
I didn’t get it. Here I was trying to run a race against time, trying to make use of every minute. And my grandparents were talking about “passing time.”
Is this what happens when you reach the end of life? You live to pass time? Doing whatever it takes to get through the day? Patiently awaiting death?
I would wonder.
The questions kept me awake at night. I didn’t want to pass time.
Not now. Not then.
I wanted to live with boldness. And passion. And relentless drive.
Use time. Exploit time. Till the end.
Could I do it… or… was this just the thinking of a young, naive kid?
I didn’t know.
And I hoped I would never find out.
But yesterday I did.
I was browsing through emails. And I stumbled across this question on Quora:
The question messed with me. But the top voted answer stung me. And woke me up, leaving me to question everything.
I tried to go back and find it. Paste it here for you to see. But it’s gone, deleted. Like so many dreams left behind in lifeless bodies.
Still, I digress.
Because the answer was the one thing I’ve been fighting my entire life: Mediocrity.
To sum it up, it basically went like this…
“Childhood is over. Adulthood is here. And adulthood brings forth pain. You soon start to realize life isn’t all that special, it’s not all that meaningful. You’re just here to wake up, do your thing, and then go to bed. Consider yourself lucky if you get to play every now and then. Each year brings forth more pain. And more pain. Life sucks out of you the things you valued the most. The pursuits you cherished the most. Gone… with each new passing year. You become a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the person you once were. Until it’s time to die. You seem to have reached the beginning of this point. Deal with it.”
I’ve never been a believer of pessimistic thinking. But was this pessimistic thinking or a reflection of reality?
I didn’t know…
But my brain kept buzzing, going off in every which direction. I thought back to the people I grew up with. I thought back to my older cousins. I thought back to the people I went to school with.
And it was true.
These people were now living in ruts. Stuck doing the same old thing. Living the same day on repeat. Each year of their life appeared to be getting worst. And worst. At least, that’s how it looked to me. From the outside, peeking in.
Then I thought about other people…
A different breed of people. These people were old, much older. But something inside their veins kept them going, looking young. And full of life.
What was it?
I didn’t know. But I would find out.
What started out as a pleasant long weekend, ended with me struggling to find the answer to this all consuming question.
Here’s what I concluded:
First it starts small, the difference between those who feel alive. And those who are slowly, but surely dying inside.
But over the years…
The difference grows larger and larger… until you can’t believe these two parties began from the same starting line.
And here’s why:
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” – Steve Jobs
One party chooses to influence it, to live a life of adventure. The other party chooses to live within it, to settle for a life of safety.
Choose the former and each year becomes better than the last.
Choose the latter and life becomes a chore, something you have to put up with.
How can you choose the former?
I don’t know.
But the people who feel alive, the people who make each year of their life BETTER (and not worse)… ALL believe and abide by the following principles:
1. Be An Individual
The greatest lesson I ever received came from my grade 6 teacher. In my yearbook, she wrote: “break yourself apart from the pack.”
At the time, I was hanging with the low lives. The troublemakers. The people who didn’t care for tomorrow. You know the type?
Then I took her advice. And broke free. It changed everything.
If you’re not an individual, your life is only going to be as good as those around you. You’ll make the same money. Look the same. Live the same. And be pretty much the same. Anything they do, you can do. And vice versa.
This doesn’t end too well.
In fact, it ends with mediocrity staring you dead in the eye. No way to live.
The first step is to break away from the pack. And breathe on your own.
2. Choose Your Own Story And Create Your Own Ending
The beauty of being an individual is you get to choose your own story.
No longer are you limited by…
Dogma. Other people’s thinking. Group-think. And society’s expectations.
This is where real freedom lies.
So ask yourself…
What type of life do you want to lead?
Think about it. Deep and hard. Choose your own story. Make your own movie. And pick your own ending. Then live hard and fast. And move towards it. Each day. Each month. Each year.
You may never reach it.
But you’ll find happiness along the way. I promise.
3. Grow or Die
The one word I live my life by is: Grow.
I want to grow. My health. My wealth. My mentality. My business. My relationships.
1% improvement is what I strive towards. Each day.
Doesn’t seem like a lot. Does it?
But compounded, it makes a world of a difference.
I used to fall in ruts. I used to grow complacent. And satisfied.
Make a little money. And take my foot off the gas pedal.
Put in a couple months of 12 hour days. And retreat to the couch.
Improve my health. And go back to doing the same ol’ things.
I felt like crap.
Hamster caught on the wheel, travelling in circles. Over and over again.
Then I broke the cycle.
I made the decision to grow. It destroyed complacency forever.
Years later, I remember watching Leonardo DiCaprio. He painted an upward line. And said, “my life has got to be like this. It has to keep going up.”
That’s exactly how I feel today.
Each year of my life has to be better than the last.
There’s only one way to make it happen.
And that’s by waking up and fighting the person I was yesterday.
To grow is to kill the old you.
Real growth doesn’t come from being stretched out in front of the television.
Real growth comes through the mud, the gym, and the trenches.
It takes blood, sweat and tears to grow.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s stressful. But it’s oh so worth it.
4. Keep Learning
To learn is to be curious.
Nothing is impossible to the curious mind.
As a child, we’re all curious.
Remember how you would ask your mum a million questions in 30 seconds?
But somewhere from then till now, you lost touch of your curiosity. And quite frankly, I think the school system hammered it out of you.
It sure did a number on me.
In fact, it wasn’t until the tenth grade that I started to get curious again. (If I hadn’t, who knows where I would be.)
I started by picking up books. I would read. And read. And read. Until the sun came up. Until the sun went down. Books on business. Psychology. Philosophy. Strategy. Warfare.
Then I would watch documentaries. About everything.
Then I would talk to random strangers. What can I learn from this person?
Then I would travel.
And I came away with unique perspectives, thoughts, and experiences.
No two days were the same.
Each day was a story waiting to be written.
Each day was a movie waiting to be created.
And it was all made possible by the curious mind.
Sure, I fell off the wagon.
I would make false assumptions. I would make bad moves. And life would start sucking again. Every time this happened, I went back to being curious. And life would magically improve.
I haven’t stopped. Yet.
And I hope I never will.
5. Fall In Love With Adventure
A normal life is boring. A life without adventure is a waste.
Risk. Danger. Chaos. Challenges. Uncertainty. Thrill. Excitement.
When was the last time you did something that raised the hair on your arms? And filled you with nervous tingles?
Been a while, I assume.
Go do it. Now.
And make memories each year that are better than the last.
Bonus: Optimism. It matters so fucking much.
I fell in love with life.
And watched my troubles fade. Worries disappear. And world get lighter with fun and adventure.
This isn’t about jumping out of planes. This isn’t about going bungee jumping.
This is about a mindset. About getting up. And living life like a movie. Taking on new challenges. Pursuing risks. And trying to make the improbable, probable. You know?
Do this each day, each week, each month. And each year of life seems to get better. You grow richer, healthier, wiser, and get to experience new precious moments with people you’ll never forget. That’s what it’s about. I think.
Most never reach this point. They choose safety. And pursue a conventional life. Reach it. And then wonder… what the hell am I supposed to do for the next 40 years? How am I going to get through it?
Life isn’t a chore. It’s an adventure.
But most never realize this.
I hope you do, Tej.
The weekend is coming to an end. The sun is going down. Another week is sticking its head out, right around the corner. Will it be another bore? Another sluggish week spent at the water cooler, bitching and moaning? Or will it be the week you finally come alive?
But here’s what I learned:
People blame a lot of things on age. Living well. Embracing fun, growing stronger and taking on new pursuits has nothing to do with age. Growing older and entering adulthood is not a death sentence. It can be a beautiful experience. A beautiful adventure… if you choose to live it right.
At the end of the day, it has everything to do with the decisions we make. And how we choose to live our life.
Most of us choose the safe life…
And let ourselves go.
There is no fun to be found in safety.
The fun exists at the edge of the cliff…
Yet most are too scared to walk towards it. But those who do…
And if you’ve ever reached it, you know why.