Recently, my wife Jill and I were traveling home on the subway from a New York Knicks basketball game. Jill was sitting, and I was standing in the crowded subway car when a young woman, probably in her mid-twenties who was sitting, looked at me and said: “Sir, would you like my seat?” With a smile (even though my head was about to explode), I told her she was very kind but I was fine, thank you.
Holy Shmapoly! “Would you like my seat?” I was so taken aback you could have knocked me over with a feather. Seeing the look on my face, Jill enjoyed a wonderful laugh. Thanks, honey!
The great baseball player, Satchel Paige, once said: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
Prior to my subway experience, I would have answered 35. And, truthfully, I still would. But I must say, hearing this young lady’s question certainly hurt my ‘ole ego.
Taking a step back, though, there is a great lesson to be learned from this freakin’ episode: Don’t put off your needs today with the thought that they can be taken care of tomorrow. Regardless of how I feel, I am not 35 by a LONG shot, and time does fly by so it’s important that I seize the moment and seek personal joy NOW. And the same goes for you.
Please know, I am not suggesting you become a pleasure-seeking hedonist, focusing solely on yourself and ignoring the needs of others. But, what I am saying is that all of us—especially family caregivers who have so many tasks to juggle on a daily basis—should not put our lives on hold and put off seeking personal joy. Because the truth is, we only have a certain amount of time on this planet.
I was made acutely aware of this a few years ago when I read the book Five by Dan Zadra. The author offers a simple equation to figure out how much time you have left on this earth (to learn how to calculate it, check out this blog I wrote).
According to his equation, I only have an average of 5,110 days left! Are you kidding me? I find this stat incredibly sobering, and it certainly changes the way I look at putting off personal joy.
As sobering as it may be, quantifying things helps me visualize and better understand the consequences of a situation. Zadra’s equation has offered me a set “number value” that enables me to better understand the potential consequences of my actions and inactions.
Put another way, identifying the number of days I have left vividly demonstrates the fact that my life runwayis not unlimited. And, let’s not forget, as we get older, our life’s runway isn’t just shorter—it’s also a tad beaten up, making smooth takeoffs a little more uncertain.
I can hear you saying, OK, OK Victor, you are really bumming me out, and I get that. But if you really think about it, this information is actually liberating! Acknowledging that our time on this planet is limited gives you permission to seek out moments of joy—big or small—whenever they present themselves. And once you start noticing these moments, you will be surprised by how many of them pop up every single day. You see, liberating!
Just to let you know, the first time I calculated how many days I have left I was 63. Since then, I have consumed 730 additional joy-seeking days. Realizing this, I asked myself: “Did I do a better job grabbing my daily joy during this period?” Gang, I cannot say this has been the case. During this time, I did not focus on my needs and personal joy because like so many of us, I put it off for tomorrow.
Focusing on me-time joy may sound easy, but it takes practice. And if you are a family caregiver, you are all to familiar with the drill. Between caring for a loved one, tending to family responsibilities, and ensuring work requirements are completed, chances are, placing your needs on the backburner may very well be a habit.
So starting today, let’s all take the first baby step to begin taking better care of our lives so we can be more joyful. This is a good place to start: Right now, write down just one thing you could have done differently today that would have made your life more joyful. Let me give you an example:
For me, today was a beautiful day in New York to enjoy a nice walk. So, I decided to walk 30 minutes to an appointment.
Great, easy smeasy. But not so fast. What about the errand I told a good friend I would take care of this week? I have time now, so why not just get it done? By saying this to myself, I created a self-imposed, responsibility conflict. Now I had to choose between taking care of a non-essential task, which while nice could wait, and enjoying me-time, a take-it-all-in relaxing walk.
Because I feel this incredible sense of responsibility to be there for others, I chose the errand and a subway ride to my meeting!
Even though the choice was completely in my control, I let joy slip through my fingers. Self inflicted? Yes. Did it make a real difference in my friend’s life? Hardly. Was I happy afterwards? No, I was actually frustrated. Can I enjoy a good walk tomorrow? Not certain. Who knows what could happen? AND, THAT IS THE POINT! Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Now is!
Now, the question is: Did you let joy slip through your fingers today?
If so, starting TODAY, let’s all do a better job! And, remember, I am not talking about doing something drastic, like telling mom to walk to her doctor’s appointment because I have a golf game (just kidding, mom!). Start with baby steps—small instances that will bring you a heartfelt smile. You will be amazed by how much better your life will be!
Help yourself. Help others.