Every once in a while, I hear a familiar song from my youth on the radio and find myself enjoying a guilty pleasure. I take a little time and daydream about being able to go back in time to 1992. That was 24 years ago and I was 20. You've seen it in movies enough...you know the fantasy.
I imagine being my 40-year old self in a twenty year olds’ body back in San Diego where I grew up. I think back on all the time I wasted on the wrong things, all the opportunities I wasted and all the moments that I wasn’t present for, thinking about the future or thinking about the past. I think about the risks I didn’t take, the imagination, confidence and courage I lacked and the adventures I didn’t say yes to.
So, I imagine going back in time, buying a crap load of Apple and Google stock and then goofing off in grand style. I think of all the cool things I would do, the car I would buy, all the girls I’d hit on, and all the wild times I’d have. I think about taking classes in painting, political science, art history, and anthropology, traveling to Italy, biking across the country and getting in better shape while my body was younger. I imagine I’d spend more time with my Grampa Bill. I’d apply myself even more in school. I’d worry a lot less and enjoy a lot more.
Of course, in my little daydream everything seems so much simpler, manageable because I'd know the future. So the world feels smaller, safer and like one I could dominate. I would go meet Steve Jobs just to say I had, I’d see Kurt Cobain and talk him down, I’d head to Wall Street or Hollywood and make my mark because in the past I’d be like some sort of superhero knowing what I know about the future.
Then I come back to the present. I remember I should probably not long for the past and I feel a little guilty for dwelling on it. But there is a powerful lesson in this exercise and I’ve learned how to harvest the insights from this commonplace fantasy to turn it into a powerful life changing activity. Here’s the insight that makes this exercise a useful one:
I remember that one day, many years from now, I’ll be 60 years old and if I’m not careful I’ll be thinking the same thing about being 40(“How could I have wasted my youth? How could I have squandered so many opportunities? Why wasn’t I MORE bold?”). So, I ask myself, what should I be doing NOW so that twenty years from now when I look back, I’ll admire myself even more instead of feeling any regret?
Step One: Enjoy the daydream. Think about all the things you’d do.
Step Two: Make a list of activities and what needs they speak to (travel, love, risk, diligence, education, expression)
Step Three: Imagine being 20 years older and looking back on your life now - your conscience should tell you about what you know isn’t working or isn’t helpful. You know what you need to fix, you just need to tell the truth.
Step Four: Make a list of mountains to climb, people to fire or reconcile with, goals to chase or time to spend being present.
Make the commitment and allow yourself to get scared enough about the passage of time to get moving. If you need an extra dose of reality, remember you might not even have twenty years. gulp.
Here’s the point: Carpe Diem. Time’s-a-wasting, You know RIGHT NOW what you should be doing. Life is short so go live the hell out of it.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “
Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic"
Delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910