As I’m sitting on my balcony on a Wednesday night, tired from work, wife already asleep in bed, sipping a glass of wine with my laptop in my lap as I’m writing this, a quote from my late grandfather pops into my head.
“No-one ever told me it would all fly by this fast.”
And boy, I can finally see what he means now.
I recently talked with a good friend, Oliver. We recorded a podcast together, reminiscing about our adventures in Australia. That was in 2016, three years ago as of writing, but it feels like it was yesterday. Life has the tendency to slip through your fingers.
I currently have an office job, working in IT. Luckily, I only live twenty minutes away from work by bike, which means I only have to face traffic with my car when I’m lazy or when the weather sucks. My office has a view over a busy highway. It’s always grid-locked when I arrive at my desk, and it starts to move a little around 9:30. Around 4 in the afternoon, the misery already begins again, and at 4:30 it’s one big cluster-fuck all over again until 7:30 or so.
This is the kind of stuff that gives the idea that hell can be a place on earth merit, especially in winter when the weather is dark, cold, and dreary.
Every once in awhile I need to get into this traffic because I need to be somewhere for work, and I always dread it. I can’t help myself but pay attention to the people around me. It doesn’t matter what people drive, every single person is equally miserable (although the men driving minivans look extra miserable. I don’t care how big your family is, no one deserves to be in a car like that. I can’t think of many things sadder than a man sitting in traffic in one of those things).
Every time I see all these depressed people, I am thankful I bought that one-way ticket and carelessly bounced around half the planet with a backpack three years ago. One of my favorite colleagues at work just handed in his resignation today, and he’s going to do the same thing. I’m going to miss the guy tremendously, but good for him (be sure to follow him on Instagram, he’s a talented photo/videographer).
It was a now or never-moment for him.
Not enough people realize that every moment is a now or never-moment.
Every day that goes by is a day that will never come back. You might live to a hundred, or your story might end a lot sooner; horrible things happen to people for no good reason at all, all the time. If it’s not you, someone close to you will get struck by fate. It’s just a matter of when, and the thing is, we just don’t know. No-one does.
There is danger in uncertainty, but there’s bigger danger in complacency.
We’ve all seen a version of the poor bastard with the bad shave and the bags under his eyes, slightly overweight, probably drinks a little too much, and has been wasting at least half a decade worth of years of his life working this job that he hates. He’s in his late thirties, early forties, but his soul is on life-support.
It’s your moral duty to not become that guy. Sure, we all need to pay the bills; God knows I’ve worked some real shit-ass jobs for real shit-ass money to get by, but situations like that should always be temporary. If you’re not happy about where you are now, you need to take that first hard step to escape from it as soon as you can, and you’re the only person who can do it.
Everyone has different goals that seem impossible. And sure, I’m not going to tell you it’s likely you’ll be flying around the world in a private jet just because you want it (which is why feel-good-about-yourself books like “The Secret” that tell you to “think about things hard enough, and they’ll happen by themselves” are the biggest load of nonsensical hippie horse-shit since the “Self-esteem movement”). But, some of the coolest things you can do in life are closer within reach than you might think.
Going on an 18-month backpacking adventure was something I had always dreamt about. It took three things:
- Being conservative with money for three years
- The willingness to work while traveling
- The willingness to quit my job, sell everything I had, and just take a leap of faith
It turned out better than I could ever dream about. It’s impossible to put a price on the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and the things I’ve learned during that trip. That adventure will probably sit high in my top-10 life-experiences forever.
My cousin Roderik Faasen has always been a very artistic person. He was the drummer in my band when we were in our late teens, he was always writing poems and coming up with lyrics, and one day he started painting consistently. He is now making serious cash as a successful artist and doing whatever the hell he wants. The guy lives a bonafide rock-star lifestyle and jumps on a plane to travel anywhere he wants on a whim. I interviewed him about this a couple of times. I’ve recorded several podcasts with him. He’s smart, hilarious, and a little bit nuts. Check out all his episodes here.
Growing up listening to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Guns N Rose, and Deep Purple (my mom has a great record collection and my uncle gave me CDs for my birthday), I always dreamt about being a rock-star as a kid, so I bought an electric guitar and played on it every day for years. I might not have played stadiums like Slash, but I was in a band that played shows in bars, which was great fun. A good friend of mine in the States managed to take that same dream to the next level and toured around the United States for over ten years. I talked to him about it on the podcast, as well.
All these success stories have one thing in common: focus. If you spend a lot of time chipping away at one single thing, things will eventually come to fruition, one way or another, and even if they don’t, that process teaches you things, and brings you to other places, interests, and hobbies.
These are the steps to take that will help you achieve things you want:
- Define clearly what you really want. Long walks down the beach/through the woods with no phone and headphones will lead to answers and insights.
- Write your goal down in one sentence and put it somewhere you see it every day. It gives you something practical to aim at.
- And the most important part: put a deadline on it. It can be even several years from now, but make it a hard deadline. You will not divert from this date no matter what. It must be an unbreakable promise to yourself.
- Take the next action that gets you closer to your end-goal every day, no matter how small. You want to write a book? Force yourself to write at least one sentence a day. You want to learn to take good photos? Take at least one photo a day. No skipping a day, ever.
- You will be surprised how much you’ll do in a month, because you usually won’t do the self-imposed bare minimum.
Is it easy to set a goal for yourself and go after it?
But it’s not like you have anything better to do, anyway, unless wasting daily hours watching Netflix and playing video games count as “better” (they don’t).
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. So get to work… after reading this article and joining the newsletter to never miss a future article, of course.
As I’m writing this, I’m thirty-two. Life has thrown its fair share of highs and lows at me at this point, which contribute to the patina (I’m not comfortable enough to call it “wisdom” yet) that naturally comes with age and life-experience. I can look at a lot of things in a different kinds of ways compared to ten, or even five years ago.
The funny thing is, I don’t feel all that different from a couple of years ago. My grandmother, who’s almost in her nineties, tells me that also all the time. She doesn’t feel like she’s that old; her core personality is still the same as when she was around thirty. And that’s exactly why you need to pay attention to what you do with your precious time. Since you feel like you all the time, days melt into one another and fly by faster and faster.
The human brain is fully developed around the age of twenty-seven. That’s when the cement has dried, and nothing much is going to change things. Before that, the brain is a constant work-in-progress and it runs mostly on feelings and hormones (don’t you love how science actually has an explanation for why teenagers and college kids have a lot of nonsensical thoughts and horrible ideas? Get off my lawn, you punks!)
Because of this emotional rollercoaster and the many firsts you will experience in your young years, every day feels different. Once you’re fully grown and you have a job, things can easily start becoming repetitive. Your core personality doesn’t change anymore, but you definitely get older, and it does go a lot faster than you think.
The takaway: make the most of your time and set yourself up for days that aren’t predictable. You can go on a backpacking trip like I did, but you can also commit to writing a book, learning photography, getting your pilot license for small aircraft, or whatever you want.
Whatever it is, start chipping away at it now.
Because your time is running out.