I hate the phrase “life’s too short.” I use it sometimes, and I still hate it.
Life is the longest thing you’ll ever experience, so if it’s not long enough, what are we comparing it to? It’s one of those things we just say to justify our actions.
“Life is too short to be angry. Don’t ever be angry.” That’s ridiculous. You’re human. Of course you’re going to get angry. It’s one of the many emotions we get to experience.
“Life is too short not to follow your dreams!” Shonda Rhimes gave the commencement speech for Dartmouth’s graduating class of 2014, and during that speech she said “don’t be a dreamer, be a doer.” Her philosophy is that dreams don’t get us anywhere. You can dream about traveling, or you can sell something, buy a plane ticket, and actually go somewhere. You can dream about being a doctor, or you can actually go to medical school. Shonda’s speech resonated with me because after hearing it I realized I spent the last 4 years dreaming instead of doing.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a singer. I was in 2 of my school’s choirs, I played guitar or piano almost every day, and I wrote music all the time. I was happy, because I spent my time actually doing what I loved. In college, something shifted. I got discouraged by the number of people who had written 100 songs when I’d only written 20, and by the number of people who had actual recording equipment when I didn’t even have a microphone to plug into my laptop. I lost my inspiration to do, and I started to dream. I wanted to be an actress, but I didn’t audition for any plays. I wanted to be a singer, and I took voice lessons, but I stopped playing and writing music, and I didn’t really sing outside of my lessons. I dreamed of being a tv writer, but I didn’t write any scripts beyond what was assigned in class, and I wasn’t passionate about anything I wrote for class, I just wrote it to finish the assignment – to pass the class – to graduate.
I did join clubs in college: I joined a sorority, I was on student government, and I attended more leadership retreats and workshops than I can count. I had a job on campus, I took a full course load… my schedule was so heavy that it looked like I was always doing something. And I guess I was, doing something… but I wasn’t doing anything that I wanted. Nothing I was passionate about. I accepted the opportunities that came to me because I was worried that if I tried to do something I actually wanted, it would fail and I would have wasted my time. I longed to be part of an a capella group, but my school didn’t have one. I thought about starting one, briefly, but dismissed the idea because I only had about 4 friends and none of them could sing, so where was I supposed to find people to join the group? So instead I dreamed. About what my life would have been like if I had started that a capella group. About how great my life would be when I graduated and became a tv writer, or a singer, or an actress.
So I agree with Shonda – you should be a doer, not a dreamer. I won’t say dreaming is a waste of time, because I think most great actions start with a dream, but make sure that once you have your dream, you go out and do something about it.
What I want to add, is that it’s never too late to start doing, because life isn’t too short and you have time. Now, perhaps if you’re 40 and you decide you want to be an Olympian, you don’t have time for that, but you do have time to learn a sport. You want to ski? Go take lessons. While you’re finding things to do, you should still be realistic about your actions and your dreams.
If you realize you’re like me, and have spent more time dreaming than doing, don’t beat yourself up about how you spent your time. In the past few months, I was binge watching One Tree Hill. Sometimes I look back on the hours that took me and think, “Wow, Samantha, you really wasted a lot of time.” But you know what? I didn’t. That time was not wasted. I love One Tree Hill, I thin the writing is fantastic and there are so many profound quotes throughout the series that honestly make me stop and think and reevaluate my life. I also enjoy the show because it’s entertaining, and on the days that I chose to sit and watch One Tree Hill for an entire day, I chose that because it’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to relax and not worry about things, especially after weeks of searching for jobs to no avail, I deserved a day in bed, and there is nothing wrong with taking those days. Don’t ever apologize for spending your time in a way that makes you happy.
Read that last part again, don’t apologize for spending your time in a way that makes you happy.
The things I spent most of my time on in college did not make me happy, they just kept me busy, and that is why I feel they were a waste of time. We often have to try new things to know if we like them or not, but if you don’t like your job then start looking for a new one right away. Life is all about balance, because we have to work, but we also need to have fun. Unless you have a job that you really love and actually enjoy, don’t revolve your life around your job. Revolve your life around that church or volunteer group or instrument or whatever it is that you really love. Don’t forget about your job, don’t put any less effort into it, but go home and give just as much effort to that thing that you love.
I have people telling me life is too short to be unhappy, so I need to find my passions and jump on whatever path will get me there. I also have people telling me that I’m so young and I have the rest of my life ahead of me so I don’t need to rush into anything.
Whether you consider life to be long or short, use whatever phrases motivate you to get going. At the end of the day, I think it’s about the journey rather than the destination, so I’m going to stop looking at my life in terms of a career or a family. Where do I see myself in 5 years? I have no idea. I don’t want to know where I am in 5 years, because I don’t want to life for tomorrow, I want to live for today. Of course I will keep planning for things, and dreaming, but the main focus is going to be on doing, and doing today.