self-employment

How to live like you’re dying.

climbers-live-like-dying-courage-mortality

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

~ Psalm 103:15-16

When my daughter Louise was 15 years old, she decided she was ready for all-night coed sleepovers. This led to loud, dramatic discussions in which I was labeled as “unfair” and “overprotective.” Exasperated and out of options, I was inspired to explain my position in a different, more visual way.

I got out a piece of poster board. On it, I drew a long line width-wise. I labeled the left “0.” The right, I marked with with “80.” I explained to Louise, “This is a timeline of your life if you live to 80.” I placed a tick mark at the center of the line and one to the left of that and explained “Here is you at age 40, and you at age 18.” Then, I put a mark at 15 (her age then) and, using a red marker, connected the marks from 15 to 18. “This small bar represents the amount of time you have here before college; three short years.”

Finally, from 18 to 80 I drew a bright green bar. “The green bar represents all the time you have left in your life to do whatever you want. You’ll be on your own and there’s nothing I can do about it. You can be a stripper, a heroin addict, or a prostitute, if that’s your passion. So, how about you let me be your Mom for the next three years and not fight me so much?” She was silent as she took it all in. Things calmed down a little after that.

Numbers are powerful things. They do not lie.

At age 50, it was with my own timeline in mind that I considered quitting my corporate day job and becoming a jazz singer. On one hand, I could cruise comfortably until retirement, with good pay, benefits, and a pleasant job; on the other, take the incredibly scary leap into my lifelong passion. I contemplated the likely balance of time left to me, realizing I most certainly had less time before than behind me. My life was startlingly finite. So, I jumped.

I know a guy who toils at a barely tolerable day job. He is in middle management with a team of 11 and reports to a disinterested boss who was promoted to the position my boss should have received. Day after day he fades a little. Though he delights in his garden when he comes home, he does not have time to fully enjoy it. He’s too tapped out for friends or hobbies. He’s tired of his life.

His husband also works a job he would like to leave. His passion is selling used items on ebay and he’s brilliant at it. He buys low and sells high. He makes good money. With my boss' organizational skills and his husband's sales ability they could probably both quit their day jobs and make a killing in the re-sale market. Fear keeps them stuck.

I want to show him the timeline before it’s too late.

In my Buddhist practice I am instructed to ponder my own death during meditation. This is not morbid. For Buddhists, it is an exercise designed to remind us of the fleeting nature of our lives and to live meaningfully, mindfully, with purpose. It is over all too soon.

What is the nature of your life?
You are but a wisp of vapor
that is visible for a little while
and then disappears.

~ James 4:14

A few years ago, Tim McGraw sang a hit song titled “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it, he encounters a man on his deathbed who describes how his terminal diagnosis changed the way he lived:

And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.
And he said “Someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dying.

It is funny how pondering my own demise and the change it inspired has made life so much more vibrant and joyful. I have never been more engaged, excited, and fully alive than when pursuing my passion. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning.

It turns out, death is a great motivator.

 

In the woods; then and now.

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I am five. I am in the woods in front of my house on the south side of Grand Island, NY. It’s winter and the forest is hushed with a muffle of snow. The trees are black and bare, like spiders against the pewter sky.

I am captivated by the silence and intimacy. It’s like a church, but spooky. I am intoxicated with freedom and independence. This is what is good about a large family. I can sometimes get lost and not be missed.

Crunch, crunch, go the sticks and dried leaves under foot. I hit a smooth hard surface, brush away the snow with my brown vinyl boot and discover a pane of ice. Underneath it are rotten leaves and black water, a glass paperweight.

I can skate! I run, and zoom on the smooth surface – my own private ice rink. In the middle of the pond I hear a cracking, the ice groaning and buckling under my feet. I try to run, but the ice traps my feet. The brackish sulphur-smelling water pours into my boots. It is only a foot deep, so I am safe, but shaken. I slosh out of the pond and make my way home to stuff newspaper in my boots, fairly sure I will not receive a scolding; one of many adventures.

I am fifty and have left the comfort of a good job. The possibilities loom large. The silence of my home office is rarely broken. My time is my own. I am both exhilarated and terrified.
I make phone calls to prospective clients and meet with rejection. Press kits go out unnoticed. Calls to bars and restaurant owners result in tepid recollection.

I trudge on, practicing, creating, calling, writing and planning. I am shaken, but believe I am meant to be here and will find my path.

Never let the odds keep you from pursuing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.
~ Satchel Paige