When we as human beings reach a certain point in our lives, that point where the road behind seems that much longer than the shrinking road ahead, we’re forced to ask some very serious questions about our place in the world and the legacy we ultimately leave behind. For some, that legacy is a loving family, raised on a basic set of principles that should (hopefully) protect our grandchildren from anything all too unpleasant. For others, that legacy is a catalogue of creative work, remembered both for its contemporary relevance and for its lasting artistic ideal. for others still, that legacy is an empire, built on conquest and military might.
But regardless of where we are in life and what we leave behind, the question must always be answered: are we proud of what we’ve accomplished with what little time we were given? Have we done all that we could to leave our mark on the world? have we made peace with our own mortality? Have we made peace with the mortality of others? Have we accomplished everything that we were sent here to accomplish? Have we conquored nearly enough?
If the answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes”, that final step should be peaceful and ultimately self-satisfied. If the answer is yes, that last step should be a blessing; one final protective veneer on a life well-lived and a legacy well-earned. If the answer is yes, death is no longer a mystery, and is embraced for the closure it provides.
But if that answer is no, there can be no fate more tragic and no end less dignified. If the answer is no, those final steps become perilous leaps across the abyss of eternal anonymity. If the answer is no, only two options ultimately remain: 1) death, and 2) cataclysmic, life-altering change.
If you find yourself answering no…don’t panic! All is not lost. There’s always time to change. There’s always time to discover your true purpose in this world. There’s always time to jump tracks. There’s always time to reinvent, to reinvigorate, to redevelop, to redesign, to redeploy. And there will always be time for redemption. But the second time around, the stakes are always raised. See, the universe may be a patient and generous host, but its patience and generosity are predicated on one simple and unwavering principle: sincerity. (i.e. you really have to mean it to earn yourself a second chance.)
So if you reach that point in your life, the point in the road where the future looks bleak and the past is just a string of superficial actions and shallow achievement, the first thing you should do is take a trip. That’s right: a trip. New York. Singapore. Three blocks over. As long as it’s somewhere you’ve never been before. Somewhere you never even thought of going before. Somewhere completely different. Somewhere so “different” you don’t even know where to look. Somewhere your friends have never been. Somewhere your family has never been. Basically, somewhere you can learn something new; not just about the world, but about yourself. Not just about nature, but about life. Not just about culture, but about history.
Someone else’s history. Someone else’s traditions. Someone else’s legacy. And that’s when your journey will truly begin. That’s when the sum total of all your actions and all your deeds are finally hung in the balance. That’s when your life story gets measured against the others. That’s when your legacy gets its chance to shine through.
And perhaps most importantly, that’s when you’ll be ready to change.
But change into what? And where and when and how? Well the truth is, it doesn’t really matter. The only important thing is that you gain some perspective. Sometimes, that perspective will tell you that you don’t really need to change at all. Sometimes it’ll tell you that you’ve accomplished more than most people will ever accomplish (even if you’ve achieved it under the veil relative obscurity). Sometimes, that perspective will make you think, and reprioritize all those things you once thought were important, but in the grand scheme of things, amounted to so much less than you ever could’ve imagined. And sometimes, that perspective will lead you to value those things in your life that you simply enjoy.
Call them your “hobbies”. Call them your “past-times”. Call them whatever you like! But the truth of the matter is, they’re most likely the only things in your life that you actually do, simply for the pleasure of doing them. Things like cooking and fishing and writing and volunteering and teaching and laughing and smiling and building and growing and loving and being.
And in the end, if you aren’t already doing what you really like to do, then it’s probably time for a change. Because those last few steps might feel pretty darn scary if your legacy isn’t something you’re proud of…or worse still, if it’s somehow less than your true potential.
So get out there already. Start doing what you love to do. Start being who you really want to be. Start achieving what you’ve spent your whole life trying to achieve: securing your own private spot in that pantheon of enlightened souls who actually did what they set out to do, and in the process, helped change the world forever.