Making The Most of Life

The very first tattoo I got was of a yin/yang sign. Growing up in the conservative Midwest, I never thought I’d get ‘inked’ but after earning my 1st degree black belt it felt right. The concept of beautiful co-existence of light & dark, good & bad, male & female, ebb & flow, all resonated deeply with me…enough to put it permanently on my body.

Some people view the ups and downs of life and think in terms of volatility. And to be sure, there are times life throws you a serious curve ball. But some other perspectives include that of life’s inevitable vacillations yielding a natural balance. Too much of anything, even something seemingly only good like water, can ultimately be bad for you. Work out (something good for you) too hard and your body breaks down; you need rest. Spend too much time at work and your relationships suffer. And so on. There is power and beauty in balance.

Another perspective to the notion of why we must suffer as humans is that of the growth, the profound change, that can come from the challenges we face. How many times have you heard someone say – even (if not especially) someone who has suffered a tremendous tragedy, how in retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Often the greater the challenge, the more profound the change. People who get fired from a job, suffer through a terrible break up, or even lose a limb, often emerge from the experience as a stronger, better person for it. “I wasn’t really even living until I got and survived cancer,” someone will say. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

In the moment these experiences can be very painful. It is important to own the emotions rather than to push them away, or worse yet as many do, attempt to mask them with destructive behaviors like drinking alcohol or doing drugs. I like to say that the truth ultimately rears its beautiful/ugly head (look at the situation with someone like Lance Armstrong – it took over a decade, but eventually veracity prevailed) so why try to push it away artificially? Rather, embrace the emotions. For years as a kid I would get nervous before a major sailing competition or musical performance. One day, when working with a sports psychologist, I was able to flip these feelings around and embrace them rather than trying to flee them. I became thankful for them, as in feeling them meant I had put myself into a situation where something significant, something great, was at stake. I was deeply engaged in life. The yang to the yin of performing a piano solo in front of a large crowd, or to winning a world sailing championship, was a tremendous feeling of nervousness. So I started embracing the feeling, being thankful for the opportunity to be in the game. And when I didn’t achieve my goal of getting first (which was typically the only goal I set as a kid), I understood over time that the feelings I had of disappointment – of darkness – would make the moments of victory even more gratifying and joyous. These times of light and dark certainly beat a perpetual grey of sitting on the sidelines.

Whether it is trying to win an athletic competition, striving for a big promotion, entering a new relationship, or anything else in life that entails risks, go big, engage fully, give your all. The Universe has been around for about 14,000,000,000 years (plus or minus), our time within it might be 80 or so years. Many of us have used up nearly half of those or more. Do not fear the pain associated with going big and failing; be afraid, be very afraid, of a life unlived to the fullest.

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