I turned 50 yesterday and spent some time critiquing myself and contemplating my mortality.
For the last year, 50 has been a shadowy monster lurking in a dark corner of the house waiting for me to walk past barefoot carrying a mug of tea. My dad didn’t make it to 60. The mentor I learned most from in my adult life died suddenly at 51.
But yesterday was joyful. Today will be too. I’m making the most of my dash.
Statistically, as a white male American living in Iowa, I have another 27 1/3 years. An online life expectancy quiz told me I’m good until 97 with a 25% chance I hit 104. Another one said I’ll die September 18, 2048. Or, while walking my pups early tomorrow morning I could see a meteor streak across the sky, strike a flock of geese as they fly overhead, and be killed by blunt force trauma as I’m pummeled by their flaming corpses.
We’re all going to die. Eventually, we’ll all breathe our last breath.
Then, on a hunk of stone, or a brass plague, or a Facebook post, there will be a dash separating the date you were born and the date you took that last breath.
That dash represents the entirety of your life. Every choice, action, interaction, and reaction. Every hug, kiss, smile, laugh, and tear. Every thought, hope, and dream. All the good of you, the bad of you, and potential of you.
We have little control over when it ends, but we do have power over how we live it. Over what we do with our dash. The best we can do is actively work to make the most of it while we’re here.
But that’s hard. It’s so easy to fall into routines that leave us feeling like we’re drifting aimlessly through our own lives. Taking control of your dash is difficult. And no one else can do it for you.
I learned about the importance of making the most of your dash from my mentor, Chris. He died too soon at 51, but it was a well-lived 51 years. He was a teacher and role model to many people. Things I learned from him pepper the two books I’ve written about caregiver burnout. He made the most of his dash–you can too.
But how do you start? Well, what Chris taught me is that you start with your next choice. You make the choice that most reflects the dash you want to live. And then you do the same with the next choice, and the next.
This practice of reflective choice-making will not make life perfect–you’ll still make bad choices and act impulsively at times–but it will help you feel less adrift and more in control of your dash.
Go make a good choice for yourself.