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This, Or That

3 min

We want it all. But it's exactly what we let go of that gives our lives meaning.

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We want it all.

The car, the family, the house, a fulfilling career, work-life balance, a tidy home, a toned and attractive body, mental stimulation, total intimacy, a clean conscience.

That might be why we're so obsessed with longevity - there's a lot to do.

There's a certain pressure that rises up when we stop and contemplate how much we've got left to do...

And a certain anxiety that emerges when we take stock of how much time has already gone by, how little progress we seem to have made.

If only, we think, if only I had more time. Then, I could truly have it all.

Truth is -

You can't have it all.

You can't have the body and the house and the family and the career and whatever else is on your life.

I will tell you, right here, right now:

There isn't enough time.

You are going to have to choose.

You're going to have to pick from that list.

You're going to focus on some things from your list and give up, forever, on maximizing others.

And it is exactly that choice - that limitation -

That gives our lives meaning.

Imagine you were immortal.

You've got all the time in the world - literally. You won't die, you won't grow old, there's no rush.

What would you do?

We'd like to think that we'd set about conquering the world, achieving all our goals, and becoming the best we could possibly be, but...

I don't actually think so.

Think about the tasks in your life with no deadlines, no pressure, no expectations. How do you handle those, now?

That junk drawer that needs to be cleaned out...

That pair of shoes that needs to get washed...

That shirt with the hole in it that you've been meaning to donate.

For most of us, these tasks exist in a permanent limbo - occasionally popping up in our conscious awareness before floating away, perpetually in need of attention they never receive.

You may be familiar with Parkinson's Law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

We've all had the experience of having more than enough time to do something simple...only to then finish it in a panic at the very last available moment.

Without the constraints of limited time and resources, we lose our willingness and motivation to focus...and without focus, nothing of worth is achieved.

As Viktor Frankl put it in a series of lectures he gave less than a year after his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp:

"If we were immortal, then we could postpone everything, but truly everything. Because it would never matter whether we did a particular thing right now, or tomorrow, or the day after, or in a year, or in ten years, or whenever. No death, no end would be looming over us, there would be no limitation of our possibilities, we would see no reason to do a particular thing right now, or surrender ourselves to an experience just now—there would be time, we would have time, an infinite amount of time."
"The fact, and only the fact, that we are mortal, that our lives are finite, that our time is restricted and our possibilities are limited, this fact is what makes it meaningful to do something, to exploit a possibility and make it become a reality, to fulfill it, to use our time and occupy it. Death gives us a compulsion to do so. Therefore, death forms the background against which our act of being becomes a responsibility. "

I absolutely love that phrase:

"Death forms the background against which our act of being becomes a responsibility."

The fact that we have to choose - that we can't have everything on our list - isn't a's the very thing that gives our choices weight, gives them meaning.

Our choices define who we become.

Without those choices we are everyone...and, at the same time, no one at all.

What tortures us about our life choices is the fear that we might "choose wrong."

We wonder what we might have done, what our lives might have looked like, if we had picked a different partner, moved to California for that job, picked a different field of study.

In our obsession over potential we denigrate the actual.

But part of life is learning to let go of those lives never lived - those other "you"s that might have been.

Accepting that there is without constraints - without limitations - life loses all momentum.

It is exactly that which you let go which gives your life meaning.



and Let go.



Cool Stuff To Read This Week:

A very nice companion-read to this week's email:

You Can Have Two Big Things, But Not Three.

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