If you had a chance to sit down at a Starbucks with your 99-year-old self, how would the conversation go? If you had a chance to unload all of your dreams and worries, successes and struggles, what advice would your 99-year-old self have to offer?
It’s a fascinating activity I encourage you to try. You might be surprised at how wise you are (the 99-year-old version of you, at least).
Sometimes I have audience members spend time thinking about this during my speaking programs. After a few minutes of silence, I ask for insights anyone would like to share. The other day, an accountant in Milwaukee surprised me with a comment I’d never heard before.
He shared, “My 99-year-old self said, ‘What am I doing here?! If I’m still here at 99, you haven’t done a very good job living. You haven’t taken enough risks.’”
Common knowledge believes that if you make it to 99, you’re a success. After all, you’ve cheated death longer than most people who have ever lived.
Longevity means very little if your life was just one long stretch of average.
Accountants have a reputation for playing it safe. Justifiably so. Reckless, free-wheeling accountants are the kind who end up in jail. But what this man was hinting at applies to more than accountants. It’s always easier (and much more comfortable) to play it safe, avoid risk, and resist change.
Life is a beautiful, wonderful gift. The will to survive is strong within us. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to avoid death. We research cures for cancer. We purify water. We invent seat belts.
But it’s possible to stay alive for 99 years without ever really having lived.
Thomas Edison said that if we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves. And that scares the crap out of us. Because if that is true, what opportunities have we already missed? What talents have we already squandered? If you believe you are average, it’s easier to settle for a safe life without regret. It’s easier to justify night after night sitting in front of a television watching great stories while yours tragically goes untold.
Living a great story is scary. Frankly, if you accomplish all that you are capable of, your life will change — and are you ok with that? How will your friends and family react? How will your relationships be affected? How will you handle the newfound responsibility that success will bring?
As afraid as we are of death, I believe we might be even more afraid to live. Indeed, most of us act as if it is more important to make a living than to live.
I have always loved the following slogan: “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO what a ride!’”
The biggest challenge in my life is not figuring out how to make a living in a bad economy, how to be a good father to a toddler, or how to interpret what a woman really means when she says something. Most of the time, my biggest challenge is actually giving in to the child inside that says, “Wouldn’t that be cool?” when the Adultitis in me is screaming loudly, “No, it’s ridiculous, now shut up!”
“Life’s greatest adventure is waiting just beyond the limits of carefulness.” — Michael Yaconelli
Today, do something risky: try being uncareful.
Do something that makes your inner child jump for joy and the inner adult wickedly ticked off.
Something that just might make your 99-year-old self smile warmly and, with a twinkle in the eye, say, “Way to go.”