Friday, August 19, 2011

The Meaning of Life, Straight from the Mouths of Experts

Last Saturday, I had lunch with a friend, who had just had an experience he wanted to share. I found it so significant, that I'm making it the topic of my blog today.

My friend had just been at the gym, chatting with one of the random guys there. This guy, a hard core weight lifter, starting talking to my friend about how he was a salesman for oncology meds. For those of you lucky enough not to know, oncology meds are cancer drugs.

Anyway, this guy started talking about how he spends a lot of time in cancer wards in the course of his job, and he has spent a lot of time talking to the people in them, people who are not going to get better, people who are staring right at the end of their time on this earth, in these bodies.

And he said that when he asks them about how they feel about dying, without exception, every single one of them says their biggest regret is that they wasted so much time in life stressing, worrying and being miserable, instead of appreciating every moment that they had.

See, here's the thing, the insight that these folks have come to realize. Your kids are going to get potty trained. Dinner is going to get made. The people that love you are going to love you no matter whether you lose those fifteen pounds. Money will eventually show up, or it won't. You might get fired from your job, or you might not. The bill collector might call you, he might not. You might sell a book, you might not. That cute guy might call, he might not. Things happen, all the time.

But if you spend all your time worrying about it, then that's what you're going to notice, and when that day finally comes when it's your turn to die, whether you're 30 or 60 or 102, you're going to realize that all that little stuff really didn't matter. It all worked out, one way or another, and you spent so much time stressing about it, that you never took the time to simply breathe in the moment. Not a moment here or there. EVERY MOMENT. You missed out on life and now your time is up.

Time's going to pass. You're going to die. We're all going to die. But while we're here, we've got a choice about how to deal with all the things that aren't so hunky dory. We can choose to accept that life will throw us twists and decide to just stop worrying about them and roll with it when they do show up. We can decide to relax and enjoy the moment that we're in without depleting the moment by worrying about what might be coming down the road. Or we can consume ourselves with worry and stress, always looking ahead for the elusive time when we solve all our problems and we can relax.

Guess what? All our problems will never get solved. There will always be something, right up until the moment you die. So, are you going to spend the time you have letting things get to you, or are you going to take a deep breath, say, "You know? Life is too short. That really, and truly, just doesn't matter," and then just let it go?

I'll admit it. I'm a worrier. As a single mom, I stress about paying bills. I stress about making the world right and safe for my daughter. I worry about my health. I want people to like me. I stress when people are unhappy with me. I let things bother me.

But after this story, I've had a really, really different week. I have made a conscious effort, when I feel my mind start to gravitate toward the negative, to shift my thoughts. I take a deep breath, I think of the enormity of my life, and I realize, "It doesn't matter. Life is too short."

Here are some examples of some moments I had this week:

**A friend sent me an email that suggested she was a little annoyed with me. I started to get upset, then a little voice in my head said, "It doesn't actually matter. If one person in the world decides they hate me, does it matter? No, it doesn't." And I let it go. And, it turns out, she wasn't even mad anyway.

**It was late, and I was too tired to give my daughter a bath. Her curly hair was crazy, and I thought, if she goes to camp like this with such crazy hair, will people think that I'm a bad mom? Then a little voice in my head said, "What does it really matter if someone thinks I didn't keep up with her hair? Really? Does it matter?" And I realized it didn't, and I let it go, skipped the bath, and got her to bed right on time. She went to camp with crazy hair, and she was happy as can be.

**I had to write an article for a magazine, and the topic was generating no inspiration for me. I started to stress about writing it: what if I couldn't come up with something interesting? What if they didn't like my article? And then I realized, "Will it really change my life if I write something no one likes? Does it really matter?" And I realized it didn't, and I let it go, and just decided to write whatever I felt like writing and to have fun doing it. And it ended up being very fun to write!

**I was driving my daughter to camp, and worrying about the traffic that was going to make us late, and then I paused and realized: why am I making the camp drop-off the goal of this moment? Why can't the goal of this moment simple to appreciate the fact I have fifteen minutes in the car with the coolest five year old on the planet? So, I stopped worrying about "getting to camp on time" and just enjoyed lively banter with my daughter. And it was perfect. Did it really matter when we got to camp? Yeah, not so much.

I've had a hundred moments like that this week. Sometimes it's easier to let it go than others, but each time I do, I can feel my body physically relaxing as the stress floats away. After a week of doing this, I can feel a difference. I see beauty in moments that I never saw before, and that is an incredible gift. It's not easy to shift my thinking, but I'm doing it, and I already feel better. My life feels brighter, even though it's the exact same life I had a week ago. I'm just seeing it differently, through new light, through new eyes, through new joy.

I'm going to die someday. That can't be helped, so it's time to stop worrying about. But I'm here right now, and I don't want to be facing death before I realize that life is too short to get bogged down in the small stuff. Those people in the cancer wards are the experts, and I'm going to believe them about what it feels to look back on the life you've had. As of now, I'm going to let it go and remember that life truly is short. I'm going to remind myself that all that crap, ALL OF IT, really doesn't matter. What matters, all that matters, is appreciating the ride, every minute of it, because I don't want to miss a minute of it.

Life truly is short. And all that stuff? It really doesn't matter.   


MarnieColette said...

I just wanted to say thank you. Your blog post couldn't have come at more appropriate time in my life. I will admit it made me tear up because I stress about all those things and more and the direction my life has been taking isn't one I want of late.

This post made me think and I have read it 3 times. I am going to try to not worry and when my end comes (hopefully in the triple digits) to be able to say I have no regret.

Thank you.

Stephanie Rowe said...

Hi Marnie

I'm so glad that the blog helped you. That's why I wrote it, because if I could give anyone the relief that that the story gave me this week, then that is a beautiful thing. Good luck letting go of the worry. I know it's not easy, I really really do.


Christyne Butler said...

Well said!! The last seven days have been quite crazy for me too starting with a right hook to the career field (not the writing career, but the day job) that I honestly never saw coming, but in the grand scheme of's okay. It's going to be okay.

Found myself flipping through the tv channels a few days ago and came across my favorite Disney movie "Pollyanna." I decided to take the movie's advice and "look for the good" in people...and in life. Being finding it ever since!

Laura B said...

Thank you for this. It made me cry, but I really needed it right now. I'm always stressing about something, so it was a good reminder of what's important.

Lori VanGilder said...

Thank you for an amazing post! A fantastic reminder for all of us to remember to let go of all the little things.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your blog today!!! Sometimes we do forget how time flies and how so many little things get in the way of enjoying life. This made me remember my mom and my sister (both victims of cancer) and the many times and ways they told me to ENJOY LIFE!

Thank you for the reminder,


Deidre Knight said...

Stephanie, this is a very powerful post and an important reminder. All we have is today. Today is a gift. Thank you for this beautiful and eloquent blog post. Deidre

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for posting this. I am a total worrywart and definitely waste too many precious moments feeling stressed so I am bookmarking this for those days that I need a reminder. Thank you!

Sheila Seabrook said...

This is a terrific reminder to appreciate the moment we're in. Thanks for the great post, Stephanie.

Tianna Xander said...

Thanks for the awesome post. You're right, life IS too short to stress over the little things. And everything else is little when you're faced with the end of your days. That is the way I felt when my dad passed. Nothing mattered more than being able to see him, to let him know I loved him. We can't get that time back and we shouldn't waste it. Make your bucket list, everyone and go out and LIVE.

Martha Ramirez said...

What a BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL post! Thank you so VERY much! It's such a great renminder.

Anonymous said...

This was so perfect for me today. I'm going to write it on an index card, I think: Life is short. What really matters? Maybe I'll write it on several cards. One for my purse, one on the wall next to my desk at home, one on the wall next to my desk at work. B-r-e-a-t-h-e.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Absolutely Stephanie! We mustn't miss the Now! The past is a fading shadow, the future doesn't exist, Love is right here in our hands, in the Now.

Lisa Kessler said...

What a beautiful post!!!

Thanks so much for sharing that...


Angie Fox said...

What a fantastic post. And exactly the message I needed to hear today (well, everyday, really). Thanks, Stephanie!

Kori said...

I do something similar. I think to myself: "If this doesn't get done, is it going to physically kill me or someone else? No, so why am I stressing about it?"

Now, sometimes, with my job, people could get serious or fatal injuries if something isn't maintained or done correctly. Those are the things I always worry about, and for good reason.

It's good to be reminded of this way of thinking every now and then. Thank you.

Sarah said...

I agree that worry is a generally unproductive emotion, but I'd also encourage a level of compassion for oneself. Though you can make the decision not to worry, you won't always succeed and in those moments you have to be kind to yourself and not get caught up in having failed. Also, worry is productive if you are present and aware of it happening because it can reveal the underlying cause of the worry - in many of your examples your worries seem based in a sense of not being good enough at x, y or z in your life. If you get to the root of those feelings, understand where in your past they stem from and resolve them, there might be less worry and personal growth!

Mary Lou Wilson said...

What a fantastic post, Stephanie! And a beautiful reminder to us of the brevity of life.

Thank you!

Wendy and Carolyn said...

i am totally going to get a tattoo of this entire post and read it every day. thank you, you little cutie pie, you! xoxo c

MaryG said...

Thank you for this thoughtful post. Stepping back and realising what life is all about slips away from us during these hectic days. It takes effort but that's good, we can appreciate the true beauty of life.

Sharon said...

I adopted this outlook a while back because life was really getting me down. I've let go of a lot of things. Now I just need to get the rest of my family to do it! It is hard to watch others waste so much time on things that just don't matter in the long run.

healthquester said...

Stephanie, a heartfelt thank-you for this post. I have been battling medication resistant clinical depression for 10 years.

I lost my professional license, my position and really it felt like my life was gone.

I have been attempting to write a blog about how I use nutrition and exercise to combat this illness.
At times I get lost in the stigma mental illness imposes. Other times I do not write what I truly feel so as not to burden my family and friends.

Here is what your post has done for me.

I have informed my family that I will be creating a website that is a forum for how I survive depression. The tools of which are food, exercise, music, journalling, and reading. They may choose to come to the website and read any or all parts of the site.

I will no longer automatically email the posts to anyone.

I will no longer accept responsibility for others choices.
I will no longer impose societies discomfort and shunning of all mental illnesses on myself.

This was the original impetus for starting my blog to get in the swing of writing and sharing thoughts, experiences and what is working for me and what isn't.

I allowed myself to get caught up in worrying about everyone's reaction to the ugly reality of some of the poison thoughts inflicted by this cruel disease.

So I have a goal, I will be the forum where anyone can tap in to read, share, laugh,and cry about the journey that is surviving clinical depression.

So World, Family, I will no longer make the choice to worry about what you are thinking or feeling about what I write and how I cope.

A bit long winded I know.

Again Many Thanks.

Sincerely Mar

healthquester said...

And I will change that 10 year old picture of a grinning Mar to one that more accurately reflects today.

Wow words really do have power.

Ta Mar