Recently I was talking to my partner about my place in life and whether I'm living my best life when the realization hit me that there are fewer years ahead for me than what I've already lived. I've always known that fact on an existential level, but the truth of it hit me in a way it never had before.
My death is imminent. That's a sobering thought to ponder. And ponder it, I did.
What I discovered is that death doesn't scare me. This life is just a single part of a grander existence, and honestly, I envy those who've already passed on from this life. Not to sound morbid, but I'm kind of bored of this life and looking forward to seeing what's after. It's got to be better than this, or at least that's what I tell myself. But, as I was plumbing the depths of why I exist and for how much longer, I found myself desiring to live my remaining years with more passion, focus, and intention.
Is this a midlife crisis? I don't think so because a midlife crisis is a transition period in a person's life when they experience the truth of growing old and make changes to their life to re-experience their youth. Ok...that sounds a lot like a midlife crisis, but honestly, I'm not interested in reliving my youth by getting a hotter, newer or faster model of anything in my life. In fact, quite the opposite. I want to keep what I want and want what I keep.
So, how does one tell whether something in life is worth keeping?
Que my personal mantra: "Does this add value to my life?" By asking myself this simple statement, I am able to cut past any sentimental but unnecessary attachment to things in my life. I even teach my clients how to use the evaluative statement, and I've never had a client yet tell me it didn't work.
If you don't mind, I'm going to share with you three personal examples of how I've applied (and still apply) this statement to evaluate the value of my stuff, my religion, and my health in my life today. I'll start with my stuff.
I was talking to a friend recently who said, "The richer I've become, the less happy I am." That made me think about my young adult life with my new wife (29 years ago...Happy Anniversary, My Love). We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and slept on a mattress on the floor. Our first Christmas tree was slightly better than Charlie Brown's tree, and our most expensive item was a new television. My wife and I reminisce about those days often. We had so little but lived life so much!
I look around my house now and I'm in awe over how much stuff we have and how much our lives have changed. I'm not rich, at least not according to US standards, but man I have a lot of stuff. And you know what? I can't say my happiness has increased any. "Does this add value to my life?"
Recently I went through my closet and donated or tossed years' worth of clothes that I no longer wear. I ended up with so much extra space in my closet that I was able to rearrange what I chose to keep and even find stuff that I thought was lost forever. Every item in my closet I want to keep and it gives me joy to have. I even tried to get rid of unneeded books from our family bookshelf, but my wife overruled me. But soon, very soon. :)
A few days ago I drove by a church that I used to work at and really admired at one time. As I stared at the church's impressive architecture and neatly manicured lawns, I floated in a stream of fond memories of working with mostly good people and doing good things. What I did while working there not only added value in my life but I like to think it added value to others' lives, too. Unfortunately, a change in leadership within the highest ranks led to a change in direction which resulted in decisions being made that conflicted with my personal and spiritual values. Religious trauma is a real thing, so I had to ask myself: "Does this add value to my life?"
Without regret, I left that church after being on staff for six years and a member for 13 years. I miss some of the people I worked closest with and those whom I served, but I no longer support organized religion and its faith-for-profit business model.
Lastly, I've kept a close eye on my health recently and noticed that it has been years...yes, years, since I've ridden my mountain bike. Back in Colorado, my bike was attached to my hip, or more accurately, my butt was attached to the seat. It is too damn hot to ride in south Texas. Just saying. But I've used the weather as an excuse for too long and I've decided to start riding again. Fall and Winter are (somewhere) around the corner and the temperatures are becoming reasonable once again. Unfortunately, I accidentally bent my bike's rim and a new one has been ordered. So, in the meantime, my bike and I exchange glances in the garage. But I will be riding again, soon, because when I ask myself, "Does this add value to my life?", the answer is an absolute YES.
For me, riding a bike feels like freedom and adventure and it also helps me feel better about myself. Ultimately feeling better is what self-care is about; it's finding those things that make you feel better about yourself. So, asking yourself whether a specific person, place, or thing adds value to your life puts you back in control of yourself, instead of those things being in control of you.
Don't be afraid to look at your life with a gentle and nonjudgemental eye in order to examine whether something adds value to your life or not. Life is too short to be concerned about the trivial bullshit that the media and society think should be important to you. You get to decide what is important and have the right to reevaluate that importance at any time. If something adds value, keep it. If it doesn't add value, get rid of it! If you're not sure whether it adds value, give yourself permission to evaluate it again and trust your instincts whether to keep it or trash it.
I challenge you to be radical about this even as you're gentle and nonjudgemental with yourself. Be unapologetic towards those things that need to go and cherish those things that you decide add value. Live your life. There is no redo. Let go of any regret and move forward in your life.