I’m slightly in shock writing this.
I’ve been underground for the past month, both parenting Aurelia and working on my next book Wisteria. The first draft is due July 15. These past few days, especially, finishing the book has consumed my waking hours.
This morning, I woke to the news that one of my colleagues–the agent I conceptualized the book with, and traded emails with almost daily for two months last year–had died. Erik and I had dinner with him and his wife in October, days before Aurelia was born. He was diagnosed with cancer back in November. He died in May.
It all happened so fast, as these things often do. My own mother was diagnosed with cancer in February 2008 and died in December of that year. It was fast enough to make your head spin.
Now that I have Aurelia, death–and more importantly, life–has taken on a different meaning for me.
Things that used to matter to me simply don’t. I used to be crazy ambitious–Lady Macbeth ambitious! But now I just want to live a meaningful life with my daughter at the center of it.
When you stop worrying about the impact of what you do, you can be a fuller version of who you are.
I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review a few days ago, which a popular blogger linked to while explaining why she was throwing in the towel. The HBR article resonated powerfully. It helped articulate what I’ve been feeling about blogging and social media and the self-branding “Notice Me! Confirm That I Matter!” game so many of us play nowadays. This line, in particular, struck a chord with me: “When you stop worrying about the impact of what you do, you can be a fuller version of who you are.”
It circles back to the realizations I had after my mother died: it doesn’t matter if you’re Oprah or the Pope or Bill Gates or Joe Shmoe. You can’t take it with you. Death is the great equalizer. Some things matter profoundly. But most of it doesn’t. And no amount of money, success, power, or fame will slow your personal clock on the ol’ day of reckoning.
When your time comes, let’s hope you’ve spent your days well.
Ever since Aurelia was born, I keep asking myself: how do I want to spend it? The answer is usually not behind a computer screen or on my phone. I want to be with her, soaking up every minute.
I know right now is the time I’m supposed to be Leaning In. But I think back to after my first two books were published, when I achieved a lifelong goal at a very young age, and the weird sort of malaise that set in afterwards. (So you achieve your huge goal. What next?) I think of my mother on her deathbed, and I remember what was viscerally clear, what really mattered…what, for me, seems to be the only thing that matters: relationships.
Study after study shows that–once your basic needs are met–it’s not money, power, or status that keeps you young and happy but personal connections. Wine and laughter with friends. A good book. Meditation. Enough sleep. Exercise. Helping others. Championing a cause. Joining a community. Listening. Loving.
These things can add up to a life of meaning.
None of this is a guarantee of happiness. And it’s certainly not a guarantee of immortality. But for me, I’ve always found a little bit of comfort in death. Spoiler alert: it will happen! So doesn’t that take the pressure off, just a little bit? You can fail. You can mess up. Aim for the moon in whatever you pursue, certainly–but it’s the work that’s the reward, not the benefits you may or may not reap.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your life will be “better” once you reach a certain level or check things off a list. Humans aren’t hardwired like that. We achieve one goal and we rejoice…but then we quickly realize it’s not as sweet as we’d hoped and that we want more (and that it doesn’t make you taller, thinner, prettier, change the fact that you were bullied in middle school, erase that feud with your sister, or make your partner want to come home from the office earlier).
I guess what I’m fumbling around to say is: there’s a lot of noise out there. It’s bright and shiny and it’s seductive, but in the end, that’s all it is: noise.
You don’t know how long you have, and you don’t know how long those around you have, either. Call somebody that’s important to you, and tell them you love them. Show them you love them. Be somebody worthy of love. And then do it all over, and over, and over again, everyday.
Don’t make the mistake of taking life for granted.