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How to Live a Better Life

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013 | One Comment

Around this time of year I like to spend some time reflecting and sort of planning. I like to assess the previous year, figure out what went well, what didn’t, and what changes I could make.

Out of sheer luck, I recently stumbled upon an article from the Washington Post about genealogist and author Karl Pillemer. The gist of the article was an excerpt from his book that consisted of a compilation of data from interviews with the elderly. Pillemer interviewed over 1000 folks over 65 to figure out what wisdom they could impart on younger generations.

Is there a better methodology to figure out our priorities and use as a framework for life reflection?

Here are the 12 and my current take on each.

  1. Marry someone you like. Check. Shelly and I share nearly identical outlooks on life and routinely fuel each other’s personal growth. The author of the article notes being married to someone with a different approach to life is far more difficult, and I couldn’t agree more. If marriage is difficult, you”re doing it wrong. Or with the wrong partner.
  2. Stay connected. Check… sort of. I got the “always be learning” part down, but I’m not great at setting specific goals. I find concrete goals don’t help me accomplish more, they just cause me to miss opportunities. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
  3. Act now if you need your body for the next 100 years. Hmmm… I’m relatively physically fit, but many of the fitness choices I make are somewhat damaging. And I still eat too much candy, fast food, and drink too much beer.
  4. Say yes to opportunities. Check! This has always been difficult for me as I’ve had a tendency to let fear hold me back. I’ve made a conscious effort to say yes to new experiences by default. For example, Shelly and I volunteered to man an aid station for a naked run. It was awesome! I would not have agreed to do that in the past. To prevent over-committing, I tend to say “no” be default to anything I’ve done before that no longer offers opportunities to learn or isn’t especially exciting.
  5. Be able to look everyone in the eye. Check. I learned this lesson from Shelly- be honest and put yourself out there. Most of us live behind a facade that hides our true self. I used to be one of the worst offenders. While it’s a constant struggle, I’ve made huge leaps and bounds with developing the ability to be completely open and honest.
  6. Send flowers to the living. Well… this one is still a struggle. I routinely communicate my feelings of love and appreciation to Shelly and my kids, but I could definitely do a better job of telling others around me how much I appreciate them. I recently received a harsh reminder that we often don’t fully appreciate the people in our lives until they’re gone (not death-related, but very sad nonetheless.) I need to do a better job with this one.
  7. Travel more. Check! I can’t count the number of times I woke up and had no idea where we were over the last year. When we made the decision to abandon many elements of our suburban lifestyle for the opportunity to travel, I was concerned the benefit wouldn’t equal the cost. As it turns out, it was FAR better than I would have imagined. For me, travel has been a powerful self-learning tool.
  8. With adult children, YOU usually need to compromise. Since my kids are little, this one doesn’t directly apply… but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. However, it does remind me that we’re the adults, thus the guides that should be working to give our kids the skills necessary to navigate life.
  9. Share time with your children. Check… and then some. Shelly likes to quote some dude she saw on a talk show: “If you’re not yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them.” Oh, how true this is! We’ve pretty much spent the last 18 months living in a 300 square foot trailer with our three kids. Needless to say we’ve become VERY close… for better or worse. We really took the idea of not missing out on our children’s childhood to heart. Yes, they drive us absolutely crazy. Yes, we jump at the opportunity to escape them. Have we been able to give them the latest electronics, play expensive sports, or enroll them in an elite private school? No. But we also haven’t been stuck at a desk into the wee hours of the night trying to figure out how to alleviate the guilt of being away from them.
  10. Find freedom. Check! Purpose and autonomy… two of the most important things you can have to lead a fulfilling life. And we have heaps of both. My ‘purpose’ is put on display on a regular basis here, on Fcaebook, and on my other blogs… I’m trying to change the world for the better. A major part of that is a journey of self-learning, which I accomplish by engaging others. Another part is sharing the ideas to help give others purpose and autonomy. As far as personal autonomy, this is a major reason why I’ve started the BRUcrew. I’ve realized we’re our own biggest threat to our own autonomy, and fear often leads us to dismiss our hopes, dreams, and desires. Fear causes us to settle. Life’s too short to let that happen. Surrounding myself with like-minded people that want to conquer fear helps me become increasingly autonomous.
  11. Take advantage of the time you have. Check. This one is THE reason there’s a sense of urgency to everything I do. We give a lot of lip service to the idea that we’re going to die and should take advantage of the time we have, but how often do we really do this? We all get caught up in the minutia of life; I’m as guilty as anyone else. Still, this is something I come back to at least every other day. It more or less forces me to avoid…
  12. Wasting time worrying about growing old. Check. I don’t excessively plan for the future (see gaols comment above.) I also don’t think about growing older. In a recent job interview, I was asked where I saw myself in five years. My response: “I don’t know where I’ll be in 20 minutes. A five year plan is nothing but a guess that would blind me to opportunity. You don’t explore uncharted territory with a train.” Recently I’ve revisited the value of mindfulness, or paying attention to the present. All too often we look to the future to pretend we’ll be happy some day. The wiser approach is to look at what we have in the present that makes us happy. Not a lot to be happy about? That’s when you need to take action. Still, I’m not going to worry about growing old. When the elderly say “Don’t worry, it’s good to be here. Enjoy what you have now”, I’ll trust them.

So what do you think about the list? Go through each one. Actually spend time contemplating each bit of advice. How does it apply to your life? What can you change to make that happen?

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1 Comment

  1. Karl Pillemer
    January 3, 2013

    Glad you liked the information from my book! Thanks for spreading the word.