“How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements — how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying before your time!” ~Seneca
“Just say no, Susan,” I’ve been told more times than I can count. I’ve certainly written about it, and I have encouraged others to protect their time. As I continue to consider my goal of persisting this year, though, I realize that saying no to too many activities is only one choice I can make to live a more meaningful life. Grieving lost opportunities instead of celebrating those I have, making life more about what things we wish we could have and less about making do with what we have, or spending my days amusing myself with social outings that bring little value to my life (or to someone else’s) are things that will, as wise Seneca states, waste the life I have.
Reading through old journal entries, I came to one that caught my eye and might have brought a tear with it, “Presenting Beth” was the title. Being reminded of the event was nice, but what brought the tear to my eye was remembering the choice we made to fill our days with people like Beth, to participate in their lives. There will always be ‘meaningful’ social gatherings, but investing in the lives of those passing through our door has been a right choice for me.
My friend came to me with a project that she would just walk away from if I wouldn’t do it with her. There was no pressure on me. I could choose. Even though it would be a large project, it was an easy choice to say yes to sharing a bit of my life with someone I love. Someone else asked me to join them in a venture that a thousand others might do if I said no. It was easy to walk away.
If you struggle with which activities, things, and people should occupy your time, grab on to Seneca’s words — ‘how little of your own was left to you’. Leave a lot of life for you and those you care about.
I imagine life as something like a train with car after car full of items, rolling along the tracks. If the cars are too full there will eventually be problems. Overloaded, they can become unstable on the curves and will end up derailing. Overloaded cars aren’t much different than overloaded lives — filling our lives with people we’re not crazy about, things we’ll end up not caring about, and activities that leave nothing for ourselves. We might think we’re one powerful engine to pull those heavy cars, but eventually, our train will derail, the cargo of people and things crashing to the sides of the tracks.
How do we not overload our train? We make a conscious choice about what goes in the car and what does not. I can’t decide for you any more than you can decide for me what is of value, and that’s the most important lesson, I think. Persisting doesn’t mean pressing on regardless of what other people put on my load. Persisting means pressing forward as I choose what will be coming with me — people, activities, things.
There’s a lot of ‘wonderful’ in the world — worthwhile opportunities to help others, relationships we ‘should’ enjoy, shiny toys that give us a little ‘wow’ factor, but I’m one engine with a limited carry weight, and only I can decide what that weight is. With the uncertainty of life’s length, I really don’t want to lay to waste another minute trying to make everyone else happy if it means little of my own is left to me. I’m carefully loading the cars so my train won’t derail.