Forgive me while I put on my philosopher's hat for today, but I recently began something that has dramatically shifted the lens through which I view life - in a good way. I shared it with a few good friends of mine over the past weekend, and it made me realize that many of you reading would benefit from it, too.
I started keeping track of my life using a Memento Mori sheet, and Wow, has it helped me keep my life in perspective. What is it? Well, to give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Craig Weller, a former member of Naval Special Warfare and also a founder of Barefoot Fitness. Here's what he says about it:
"Since I was about eighteen years old I have been maintaining a tally on this piece of paper. It's 52 blocks wide and 80 blocks tall. On the top left corner is my birthdate, and on the bottom right is the same date, 80 years later. Every week I mark off a block.
I don't write anything or make any kind of notes. I just black it out. The only thing left is the memories I have of that week and reality of how it has affected my life. In the end, the only things any of us have are our actions and our memories.
Doing this keeps my life in perspective. Each time I fill in a block I briefly consider what I did with that week. Sometimes I do so with a feeling of satisfaction. I want mine to be a life well lived. Other times I look back and realize that I frittered away most of my time on things that didn't really further my life, didn't make for any remarkable experiences, and didn't really make me happy.
I don't think that it would be possible to maintain a list like this and work in a cubicle for twenty years. Or even twenty months. Imagine that: 80 blocks filled in with no memories other than a gray wall and the occasional lunch at Applebees.
In fact, most people probably wouldn't want to do something like this at all. It would be too uncomfortable. Self awareness is a pain in the ass when there are so many entertaining reality shows on cable. And excuses are easy. You probably get used to the blinders after a while and eventually don't even know what you're missing.
This weekend I filled in the 25th row on my sheet. The last block in a row always leads me to do some self-assessing. Am I happy with what I've been doing with my life? Have I been wasting time? Why? Where could I be right now if I hadn't? What will I do to make sure that one year or five years from when I fill in the last block on another row I can look back with nothing but satisfaction and happiness? Do I know exactly where I want to be at that point?"
I recently printed out and began filling in blocks on my own memento mori sheet. As I blacked out the first 24 rows on my grid, I was filled with nostalgia as memories long lost over the past years swarmed in to my brain. Some of them were great and filled me with satisfaction and a sense of joy, accomplishment, and fulfillment; others of them...not so much.
There is something very powerful about blacking out that square, and seeing - in a bit more tangible way - what it looks like when just one simple week of your life passes by. Here is my sheet (I just took a picture of it):
Filling out this sheet makes me glad (to put it mildly) I decided to become a strength and conditioning coach. Growingup, I was always a math/science geek, and so I began my college life by majoring in Engineering Virginia Tech. After two years of engineering, I decided that I didn't want to make a career out of it (even though the grades were there). I just couldn't see myself stuck inside an office building all day, chugging away at math equations and/or putting together an algorithm for a particular project. Don't get me wrong: I'm not oblivious to the fact that there are some pretty cool engineering jobs out there, and that there are countless engineers (probably some of you reading this) that are enjoying your jobs. If this is the case, more power to you. However, I didn't see engineering as something that would provide a sense of fulfillment to ME PERSONALLY.
I feel that there are countless people out there living their lives in the same, mind-numbing circuit of events.
Wake up --> Go to a job you can't stand --> Return home --> Eat --> Watch TV --> Sleep --> Wake up (more tired than the day before) and repeat the same thing. Over and over again.
As Craig mentions, I don't think it would be possible for me to maintain a life like that while keeping a memento mori chart, blacking out the squares as the weeks/months pass right by me.
I did not choose a lucrative career by any means. I don't have a lot of extra money to throw around for whatever I please. It was a fairly "risky" decision for me to leave engineering behind and enter a field that sets very few people up for early retirement.
Screw early retirement. Why would I want to sit around playing golf all day, or sitting on a beach all day, year after year? I'd like to look back on my life, knowing I helped as many people as I possibly could. For me personally, this meant becoming a strength coach to help people (athletes and Joe/Jane alike) to improve their quality of life via enhanced physical well-being (which often improves one's mental state as a by-product.
I LOVE my job. I look forward to waking up every morning to start my day (as much during the week as I do on the weekends). I mean, how cool is it that our clientele voluntarily wake up before 7am on Thanksgiving Day to lift with the coaches?
I HIGHLY encourage you to try something like this. It will put your life in an entirely new perspective.
Been putting off that trip overseas? Just do it.
Scared to ask out the attractive barista at the coffee shop? Blacking out another square on your grid should help give you a jump start to action.
Blood pressure rising because someone cut you off in traffic? Pissed off at an annoying coworker? Angry because the person in front of you at the grocery store check-out is taking forever? It's not worth it.
Do you really want the majority of your life's "squares" to be filled with boredom, monotony, and/or frustration?
Glued to your smart phone as you walk out of your office? Take a moment to simply stop. Put your phone away and breathe a few times. Look around outside.
Instead of watching TV all day on Sunday, how about going for a walk/run on a local trail?
Life is happening all around you, don't miss it.
It's another reason that I constantly advocate following a well-balanced training program. It may not be able to extend your grid, but it will at least help to improve the quality of it.
Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning "Remember your mortality."
I'm with Craig: I'd like to look back on my life and remember something other than the grey wall of an office building and the occasional lunch at Applebees.
Step out of your comfort zone and do something awesome. You only have so many squares.