“Seize the day, trusting little in the future.” ~Horace
Don’t you hate it when you think of the perfect comeback to someone’s comment way too late? One that really sticks out for me happened a couple years ago.
I was midway through a cross-Canada speaking tour, sharing about my journey with cancer and what it taught me about work-life balance and embracing life’s simple pleasures.
After giving my talk to a Rotary Club in Alberta, one of the audience members approached me.
“You know what balance is?” he gruffly demanded, jabbing a finger at me. “Working hard the first half of your life so you can enjoy the second half. That’s balance!”
Taken aback, my mind went blank. It wouldn’t have mattered. He was out the door before I had a chance to speak.
Strictly speaking, the man wasn’t wrong. In the left-side-equals-right-side sense of things, spending the first half of your life focused on work and the latter half focused on leisure is a form of balance.
It was only some time later, on the long, lonely road to Regina, Saskatchewan that I thought of what I should have said. Sure, the man’s definition of balance might technically be accurate. But it’s also quite a gamble.
As I drove along the Trans-Canada Highway through the prairies, my thoughts turned to a conversation I had with my dying uncle a few months earlier. I was on my way to visit my dad, who had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and the hospital my uncle was being treated at was on the way. So I stopped in to say hello.
It was a short visit, but a good one. Though the cancer had ravaged my uncle’s body, his mind was as sharp as ever.
“This isn’t how your dad or I planned on spending our retirement,” he said.
If my uncle’s death, dad’s diagnosis, and my experience with cancer at age twenty-seven have taught me anything, it’s that life is full of curveballs. And while there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future and having goals, pinning all your hopes for happiness on something “down the road” is risky.
Because whether it’s a drunk driver, bolt of lightning, collapsed roof, or massive heart attack, life can change in the blink of an eye.
Memento mori: Remember that you will die. It’s a Latin expression that some might consider morbid and depressing; one that makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry. I don’t.
Instead, I see it as an empowering reminder of the short time we have in life and an awesome motivation to make the most of it. This video by spoken word artist Prince Ea communicates this idea beautifully.
But sure, you’re thinking, that all sounds well and good, but how exactly do I go about grabbing life by the horns? I barely have time to grab it by the tail and hang on for dear life as it goes charging past me.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every situation and everybody is different. But to get your creative juices flowing, here are ten ideas for how to seize the day and enjoy greater work-life balance:
1. Remember what’s important.
Keep yourself grounded and aware of your priorities with tangible reminders.
That might mean a picture of your kids on your desk to remind you to be home for dinner. Or an inspirational quote you hang on your wall.
For example, next to my bedroom door, I have a quote by Henry David Thoreau that says, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”
2. Take your vacation.
There’s an alarming trend in Western culture (particularly in North America) where an increasing number of employees don’t use all their vacation days. I get it. Sometimes taking time off can feel like it adds more stress and work to life.
But holidays are important opportunities to recharge and spend quality time with loved ones. Check out Forbes’ “How to Take a Stress-Free Vacation From Your Stress Job” for some helpful tips.
3. Mind your “mibs” (the “moments in between”).
Whether it’s stressing about an urgent deadline or brooding about an argument you had with a friend last week, it’s easy to live in your head instead of being present in the moment.
Take time every couple hours to focus on your breathing or to make mental note of five things you can hear, smell, or see in your immediate surroundings. Ground yourself in the moment to appreciate the little things around you.
4. Set boundaries.
In the age of emails and smartphones, the line between work and home life is a blurry one.
It takes strictly enforced rules and discipline to keep your boss’ texts away from the dinner table or your upcoming presentation from encroaching on Monopoly night. Carve out regular gadget-free times and stick to them.
5. Switch off the TV.
Balance isn’t always a tension between work and home. It’s also about how we spend our leisure time.
Don’t let the world pass you by as you watch re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. Enforce screen-free nights and get outside. Nobody on their deathbed ever wished they spent more time in front of the boob tube.
6. Choose fear over regret.
This one may seem odd, but bear with me. For as long as I can remember, I had a personal policy: when confronted with a choice between fear and regret, always choose fear.
Yes, that white water rafting trip seems terrifying. But if I don’t go, will I regret it? Yes? Then hand me that paddle. Will I kick myself for not asking that woman out on a date? Yes? Time to steel those nerves and take a chance.
Fear is fleeting. Regret is sticky. Choose to face fear.
7. Let go of grudges.
Life’s too short to hang onto old hurts. As Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Many people live with the regret of not mending fences with a loved one while they had the chance. Extend an olive branch with an email or coffee date invitation.
8. Find time for hobbies.
Always wanted to write a book or do more camping? Don’t wait until retirement. Start now.
Find an activity that you do just for you and nurture it. No agenda. No purpose beyond having fun. Give yourself permission to engage in a fulfilling pastime.
9. Be clear.
Spend more time with my family. Have a healthier lifestyle. Achieve better work-life balance.
Don’t be satisfied with vague goals. Get down to the nuts and bolts of your ambitions with clear, actionable plans.
Thursday—movie night with the kids; Monday, Wednesday, Friday—go for a run; June 5-12—vacation. Be specific. Make a list of activities and add them to your calendar.
10. Start an “I’ve Never” Club.
As the late great Dr. Seuss penned, “If you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”
One way to seize the day is to formalize it. Start a mini social club with a few friends where you try something new every week. Send out a list of ideas, vote on a favourite, get together, and do it!
Take a cooking class, geocache, hike a new trail, try a new board game, go to a karaoke bar—the possibilities are endless.
By all means plan and hope for a bright and awesome future. But don’t forget to embrace life along the way.
As my experience with cancer showed me—and the road to Regina reminded me—life is full of unexpected twists and turns. So memento mordi, carpe diem. Remember you will die, so seize the day.
Seize the day image via Shutterstock