The Shortness of Life is The Best Motivation

What makes life rich and meaningful?

Towards the end of his life, an interviewer asked Norman Mailer (American novelist, journalist, playwright, filmmaker, and Pulitzer Prize winner) if he had any regrets. 

One may think he’d list some common regrets: more time with family, less time working, or more time in nature.

Not quite, his reply,

“I have three or four more books in my head; I wish I had written them.”

A few years back, I had one of those wake-you-up, epiphany, life-changing dreams. 

I was already a few years into writing “Blank Canvas” when the dream hit. I was working on the book, but not on the book, if that makes sense.

A memoir, a well-done memoir, is all about the truth and uncovering deeper and rawer layers of that truth. 

It’s about stripping away the superfluous, taking off our masks, and facing the worst versions of ourselves.

It’s uncovering what we don’t want to admit to anyone, including ourselves, and then writing that.

I was writing, but I wasn’t writing that

I was confusing the production of words with being productive.

Here’s the dream:

I’m an inmate (again) at Otisville federal prison. I was awaiting the death penalty – specifically, death by electric chair.

I was at peace with this; I had accepted my mortality and went about my day. 

I walked across the yard, quite casually, I might add, to my appointment with the chair. 

Only to be turned away. 

Apparently, my execution was pushed back, and the man behind the desk asked me to return in a couple of hours (you’ve got to love dreams.)

Frustrated but seeing an opportunity, I decided to fill the time by continuing to work on my book.

I sat at the Commodore 64 on the metal government desk in a government room and began my work. 

Then, with the same speed as a light switch, an overwhelming sadness came over me, a sense of loss and regret. Tears began to pour out of my eyes as emptiness consumed me, my body shaking with mental and physical anguish.

One of my friends, not an inmate, but a friend from the outside (walking around prison somehow – again, dreams), approached me and asked why I was crying.

I began pointing desperately to my, at the time, unfinished memoir and said,

“I’m going to die before I finish my book.”

That’s what was crushing to me and causing tears to pour out and my body to convulse. 

It wasn’t the electric chair that scared me; it was not capturing my truth and finishing what I’d started.  

I was afraid of allowing this thing that was inside of me, that has, in one way or another, always been inside of me, to never see the light of day. 

As sleep slowly left my body and the dawn of a new day took its place, a Wayne Dyer quote entered my mind, 

“Don’t die with the music still in you.”

I woke up with the message fully received. I pursued, with vicious tenacity, my truth. 

I cut the bullshit, and I got to work. 

I have a deadline, we all do, and we don’t know when that is, and that’s the most compelling deadline of all.  

Mailer’s regret and my dream both pull on the same thread, which is interwoven into our shared human experience. 

Whether it’s a Civil War novel, mastering the exquisite art of Japanese woodworking, turning pain into poetry, creating a community, or finally opening your pottery store, we all have a spark begging to be an inferno within us. 

That spark will be our greatest glory or one of our greatest regrets. 

When we finally decide to transcend the superficial lives we’ve been living and seek to discover and breathe oxygen into the spark, we’re rewarded with the glory of becoming who we’ve always been.  

If we ignore the spark and allow the call to go unanswered, if we allow our fears, self-doubts, and the lies of unworthiness and inadequacy to keep us from it, it becomes a regret. 

Our sparks may be buried, but they’re always there, and if we don’t face them, they will be simmering ghosts haunting our lives,

“I wish I…”

“If only I…”

“Why didn’t I take the chance?”

We desperately want to live meaningful lives; it’s inherent to us.

We create the meaning we seek when we embark on the journey to discover our spark, and then we deepen the meaning by taking one of the most significant leaps we’ll ever take—we breathe life into it. 

But how do we begin? What’s the 1st step? 

How does one begin the journey to discover their spark?

We’ve spent the first half of our lives seeking meaning outside of ourselves, in our careers, and in the things we own, when the answers have been inside us all along.

Think of yourself as Indiana Jones or Nancy Drew, and you’re on a quest, one of the most essential quests of your life. 

Our lives, dreams, and regrets contain the clues to what we want to build. 

Sometimes, the universe speaks with a whisper, a gentle tug on the strings of our soul, not seen or heard by anyone but ourselves.

But we feel it in moments of silence when we connect with the sublime. 

We feel it when we gaze upon mastery in motion, at an athlete transcending what we thought possible for the human body, or at art so stunning we stop and stare as the world around us disappears in the background.  

We experience this when we stand before nature’s glory, an ocean, mountain, or star-filled sky reminding us of how small we truly are.

We experience it in the shower or a long drive home when we don’t even remember the drive.

We experience it in moments of sadness or laughter, connecting with others and to something beyond ourselves.

Other times, the universe speaks with the subtly of a sledgehammer, a life-changing dream, a close call with death, prison, divorce, sickness, or job loss. 

And we think, 

“‘Life’s got to change, and it’s up to me to change it.”

And still, nothing changes. 

We may find the answers inside moments from our childhood when we expressed our authentic selves and were told,

“Don’t be silly.”

“It will never work.”

“Get your head out of the clouds.”

You were so proud of what you’d created in your mind. 

You felt alive; you felt incredible.

But, the person you look to for your survival shot you down and crapped on your idea. 

Most of us spend the 1st half of our lives burying that voice because of those comments.

We must excavate the voice we buried to craft our remarkable 2nd act as our authentic selves, and it can be as simple as the three foundational practices I began in prison:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Expressing Gratitude

These three practices allow us to connect with ourselves.

I can assure you that when you begin the journey to discover what’s inside of you, you’ll never feel empty again.

📣 If you’re ready to stand in your power, and unleash your potential the Midlife Mastery Program is for you. Schedule your free call here.