A couple of weeks ago, just before Thanksgiving, one of our family’s closest friends was standing in his home. He had just spoken to his wife and was standing there for a moment when, all of a sudden, he collapsed to the floor. His heart had stopped.
His wife immediately started CPR on him, almost instinctively. First responders arrived within moments, followed shortly by an ambulance. The first responders managed to restart his heart, but he was quickly taken to the hospital.
He had a severe heart attack, one that almost killed him. It was uncertain for several days whether he would survive or not, and uncertain for several more what the long-term damage would be.
He survived, thankfully, with relatively minimal long-term damage. In fact, he was able to make it to his daughter’s vocal concert just a couple of days ago.
During those days when our friend was in the hospital, we watched their children quite a lot and took them to school activities. You see, not only was that friend of mine roughly my own age (he’s a little older, but not incredibly so), he’s also a father of two children that are very close in age to my own children – so close, in fact, that they play together quite often.
Worrying about our friend, watching the news updates from the hospital from his wife via text, trying to keep the children cheerful as they alternated between seeming normal and somber and almost hyperactive… it left us with a great deal on our hearts and minds.
The experience has filled me with a lot of reflections on my own life and my own choices, financial and otherwise. I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you.
Life is too short to waste. My friend thought that this was just a normal day like any other. Then, out of nowhere, he almost died – and very easily could have. He spent many days in the hospital and still appears quite frail.
This could happen to me. Today. Tomorrow. Who knows?
What things do I not want to leave undone if that happens to me today? What things will I regret not having done if I’m laying on the floor, feeling life exiting my body?
Why am I not doing those things, right now?
Life is too short to waste on things that don’t really matter.
An awful lot of things don’t really matter. Many people translate the “life is too short to waste…” idea into meaning that you should never plan for the long term and should focus solely on the short term.
My take is almost the opposite of that. The reality is that almost everything I could choose to do in the short term doesn’t really matter in terms of impacting the lives of those I care about the most. In fact, a lot of things I could choose in the short term would have a negative impact on those lives.
I spend too much of my time and too much of my money and too much of my energy on things that will be of little consequence to anyone within moments and of virtually no consequence even to me within a day or two. Sure, such a choice might feel good in that moment, but that moment passes, and if you’re left with nothing – or with an even worse situation, even if that situation is just a little worse – it was an awful choice.
Those things are bad choices. Life is too short and too precious to waste it on those bad choices.
I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to have my affairs in order. Eventually, my life will end. I don’t know when it will happen or why it will happen, but it will.
When it happens, my loved ones are going to struggle for a while. They will miss me. They will have to figure out the new contours of their lives.
I don’t want to leave the people I love the most in the lurch during one of the most trying times in their lives. I owe it to them to have my affairs in order when I pass. They shouldn’t have to deal with the messes I left behind.
So, over the last few days, I’ve started working on a few things. I’ve assembled a document that lists all of the insurance companies and people that need to be contacted if I pass and put it in a place where Sarah can easily find it. I’m downsizing some of my excess possessions. I’m organizing and cataloguing some of my other possessions, along with advice on what to do with them should I pass. I’m making sure that my estate documents are in order.
Obviously, things can’t be perfect, but they can be far better than they are. I want to leave behind the smallest burden I can for my loved ones.
I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to be in a healthy financial state. This mostly revolves around my family. When I pass, I want to be as confident as I can that they’ll be in healthy financial shape. While I feel that this is currently true, it also provides reason for me to avoid falling into the trap of overspending and lifestyle inflation, particularly for things that don’t bring me or my loved ones long term joy.
In short, I’ve learned that genuine lasting happiness isn’t built through spending money, and reflecting on my own mortality just reinforces that. Spending money to attempt to buy happiness now just undermines any sort of stability that my loved ones might have should I suddenly pass.
I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to improve my physical, mental, and emotional health. What can I do today to make sure that such an event is less likely to happen to me tomorrow or the day after or the day after or in the next year or decade? What can I do today to make sure that I’m in a good mental and emotional place with my relationships so that I don’t undermine them?
I need to watch my diet, particularly my calorie intake. I’m actually spending time right now researching sensible dietary approaches.
I need to keep bumping up my exercise. Perhaps most importantly, I need to adopt some better work-related routines. I am going to convert my desk into a standing desk and I’m considering putting a treadmill under it so that I’m walking about a mile an hour while writing.
I need to stay in touch with my mental and emotional health. For me, the practices that help the most with this are a daily meditation routine, daily journaling and reflection, deep reading of books and participation in hobbies that challenge me, and quality social time with people I care about. Those three factors are incredibly beneficial for my mental and emotional health, but sometimes I slack off on them when I get too busy (particularly the socializing with other adults besides my wife). I need to make sure those things are a sacrosanct part of my daily and weekly routines.
I need to keep reinforcing the relationships in my life through attention and quality time. I do this well, but I sometimes feel like it’s not enough. I need to simply put aside as many distractions as possible when the key people in my life are around and focus on them and the shared experiences I have with them and not let myself get distracted by my phone or by other convenient distractions. I need to listen, and not just think about what I want to say next.
Note that these changes are in line with the earlier reflections on my own mortality. All of these things are ones that provide long-term benefits without tapping my own finances.
I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to spend my time and energy in a meaningful fashion, whether to improve myself or to make meaningful connections with them. More than anything, what happened to my friend is a call for me to spend my time and energy in meaningful ways. Things that largely just waste time must have a reduced presence in my life.
I’ve purged a ton of time-wasting apps from my phone. I’ve tightened up my daily schedule a bit and added some focused blocks for things like family time, in which I turn off distractions and just do something with my children and my wife, and more social time, such as more dinner parties and community events, which are deeply important to me.
I need to use my time and energy to either improve myself and extend my own life and my own quality of life, or to use what talents and attributes I have to impact others in meaningful ways. Sitting in front of my phone reading humor sites or simply browsing through Netflix looking for something to watch or reading news sites without any real reflection doesn’t cut the mustard.
Yet, in the end, these things are joyful. As I think about all of those changes, however, I don’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t feel sad. Instead, I feel joyful.
I feel like every change that I want to make is one that’s going to create a better life for me and the people around me over the long run, and even in the short run it’s going to put me in situations where the things I do are meaningful but not miserable.
That joy should come front and center. I might be choosing something a bit harder right now, but with it comes lasting benefits. My life is better because of that harder choice. Beyond that, even the choice itself has joy within it – the feeling of one’s body after exercise, the feeling of really connecting with another person, the feeling of being both mentally and physically tired as you roll into bed. Those are good things.
Perhaps it is unfortunate that it took such a sad moment to remind me of these things, but the guideposts to a better life sometimes pop up in the least expected of ways.
I certainly hope that twenty years from now, my friend and I are both still around, both with happy and healthy lives. Now is my time to do my part.