Carpe diem is engraved on buildings, used as the motto for institutions and shared on the internet on motivational images like there’s no tomorrow. Only there is—a tomorrow that is. Still, you don’t know you will be part of it. You just assume you will—and rightfully so.
The thing is, you also have to know that time is limited. When you realize that, you will learn to seize the moment even if you still plan on being here a hundred years from now.
Get Off the Train
There’s a movie I’ve watched over and over and over again. It’s called Before Sunrise. In it, Ethan Hawke asks July Delpy to get off a train with him after only knowing her for an hour or two. He has to stay in Vienna until the next morning when he’s catching his flight back to America, but having spent all his money traveling Europe, he hasn’t budgeted for a hotel. So, he just walks around the city, taking in the sights. He could do that on his own, or he could take a chance and invite her to join him.
He risks feeling embarrassed if she says no. He risks finding out she’s a complete bore. He seizes the moment though. He takes a chance—and the results are life altering.
Jesse: Alright, I have an admittedly insane idea, but if I don’t ask you this it’s just, uh, you know, it’s gonna haunt me the rest of my life.
Jesse: Um… I want to keep talking to you, y’know. I have no idea what your situation is, but, uh, but I feel like we have some kind of, uh, connection. Right?
Celine: Yeah, me too.
Jesse: Yeah, right, well, great. So listen, so here’s the deal. This is what we should do. You should get off the train with me here in Vienna, and come check out the capital.
Jesse: Come on. It’ll be fun. Come on.
Celine: What would we do?
Jesse: Umm, I don’t know. All I know is I have to catch an Austrian Airlines flight tomorrow morning at 9:30 and I don’t really have enough money for a hotel, so I was just going to walk around, and it would be a lot more fun if you came with me. And if I turn out to be some kind of psycho, you know, you just get on the next train.
Jesse: Alright, alright. Think of it like this: jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you’re married. Only your marriage doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have, y’know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you’ve met in your life and what might have happened if you’d picked up with one of them, right? Well, I’m one of those guys. That’s me y’know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you’re missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you’re not missing out on anything. I’m just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you’re really happy.
Celine: Let me get my bag.
The question is – will you get off the train when adventure calls? Or will you ignore it? Choosing the “safe path”?
For One Night Only
Going back to Before Sunrise, have a think about the concept of one night. If you had just the one night with someone—be it your best friend, your mother, your dog, or your significant other—what would you do differently? What secrets would you reveal? Where would you go with them? What would you want them to know about you, your relationship with them and life in general? What would be your gift to them?
In most relationships, we start taking people—and even animals—for granted. We expect them to be there when we expect them to be there. We get annoyed with some of their habits. Sometimes we get stuck in being annoyed with some of their habits, missing out on other aspects of the relationship.
Have a trial. Treat someone like you would if you only had one night with them. By all means, don’t stop planning a future with them, but explore how differently you’d view them if you knew it was the last time you’d see them.
As the saying goes: you don’t know what you have till it’s gone.
Do you listen to people, or are you always waiting to speak? Do you do your best to understand people, or are you always waiting for a chance to convert them to seeing the world as you do? Are you present with the people in your life, or are you always thinking of something else when you are around them? Are you worried about how they will view you, or are you living to the full, simply letting them see who you truly are?
Also, pay attention to the now. This moment. Maybe your relationship was once great. Maybe you once earned more money or lived in a nice place. Maybe you want to earn more money, find a new boyfriend or live in a nicer place. Maybe you’re scared you will lose what you have or not achieve what you want. Now is all you have though, so make it count.
Tomorrow is generally not a better day to start. You won’t be less lazy tomorrow. You might, however, be wiser tomorrow. You might be even wiser the day you draw your last breath. That’s not an excuse not to do something now. Planning can be essential, but procrastination is not.
If you want to do something, whether that be write a book or visit the Taj Mahal, take action today. Save one dollar for your trip, write one page, or one sentence, of your book, or at the very least go to bed early and set the alarm for 5:00 am so you will always have time to work on your dreams first thing in the morning.
Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life
Steve Jobs said, “Our time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” He was right. Our time is limited, and living someone else’s life isn’t going to make us happy.
Your life is your gift—your present (no pun intended, though it is a good one). You can do whatever you wish to do with it whether you want to live like a hermit, conquer the world, climb Everest or sit on your couch. It’s your gift and yours alone—until you realize that you aren’t truly living your life, but rather trying to please others.
And just as life is your gift, you are a gift to the world. Don’t be afraid to share that gift.