Are you living or simply existing?
Of course I’m living I thought. To not be living would mean I don’t love my life and of course I love my life. End of story. But, as many things do, it left me thinking. How do we know if we are merely existing?
Dr. Phil says existing is instinctual; it is involuntary, reactive self-preservation, with the primary goal of just getting from one day to the next without regard to quality. Living, on the other hand, is the exercise of certain learned skills, attitudes, and abilities that you have acquired and honed to a sharp and focused edge. Living is waking up excited each day and looking forward to the known and unknown the day may bring.
A large component of simply existing is fear. Fear of making a change, fear of the unknown, fear the grass is not greener. Because of this fear, we do the same boring routine every day, we stay in dead-end jobs we don’t enjoy, we stay in toxic relationships that are no good for us, and we put off our dreams. To change feels too hard and too scary. We settle and make excuses to not live the life we truly want to lead.
Kimanzi Constable published a book called Are You Living or Existing? 9 Steps to Change Your Life. He explains the difference between living and existing this way…
“The difference is realization, attitude and action. You start by realizing that time is one resource we’ll never get back, so we can’t afford to waste it doing things that won’t better our life. Then have the right attitude towards everything you do, viewing opportunities as a blessing and not another task on your to do list. Action means not wasting your life away watching the latest prime time shows. It means getting out and creating amazing experiences. At the end of your life you won’t remember all of the stuff you got or shows you watched. You’ll remember incredible experiences and times you impacted the lives of others.”
So how would you even know if you’re someone who exists or lives? Steve Jobs did something that could provide some guidance. Apparently he used to wake up each morning, look at himself in the mirror and ask himself the same question, “If I was to die today, would I do what I am about to do?” If his answer was no too many days in a row, he would make a change. I think this is a good starting point for figuring out if you’re just settling for mediocrity. If you’re not getting excited or happy most days with what you’re going to do, you may need to take action and change something. This goes for every area of your life.
After being brutally honest with myself, I had to admit, although I’ve done my share of living, I’ve also done my share of existing. I decided that needed to change. But where to start? It felt right to start from Constable’s explanation of living…realization, attitude, and action.
I decided the first step was to take control of my life…to be fully responsible and accountable for my own happiness. It is not the job of my co-workers, husband, children or friends to make my life meaningful, it is mine. I decided to stop being a spectator to my life and instead, fully participate in each day. At 45 my life is probably more than half way over and any time spent existing is just not acceptable anymore. Time is precious and I don’t want to waste another minute.
Secondly, my attitude has to change. I must begin to count my blessings and not my problems. I must begin to see obstacles as opportunities. Most importantly for me, I must stop my perfectionist ways. I have to learn to be ok with failure and not be afraid to try new things. I also have to accept the fact that living life to its fullest is not a destination, it’s a journey. A journey I will be on for the rest of my life. This step will be a work in progress for me and probably the hardest step of all. The idea of change brings me much anxiety!
Finally, I must act. I’m a great planner and a not-so-good follow througher. I decided to really think about what I feel passionate about in life, what I enjoy doing, and what makes me feel good about myself? I’m embarrassed to admit how difficult it was to identify things I feel passionate about or enjoy doing. I’ve never been a big “hobby” person and my life has revolved so much around my kids the past 17 years, I realize I’ve sort of lost myself along the way. I am realistic enough to know I’m not ready for huge changes immediately so I’ve outlined some baby steps for myself in all areas of my life to push myself in the right direction. I had to take a deep breath and dig deep, but I’m excited about some of the possibilities I’m investigating. Remember, even small steps can lead to big possibilities!
How about you? Do you need to take this journey with me? Do you find yourself simply existing more days than you are really living? Or are you someone who lives life to the fullest and wakes up excited for what each day holds? Either way, I’d love to hear your story!