Recently I have been thinking a lot – on the way to and from work, while driving on “autopilot” – what is the meaning of my life and how should I spend it?
I have followed quite an unconventional and windy career path. I was a PhD student studying computer science for quite a while, taking my time to care for my first born all the while. Then I opened a children’s boutique and photo studio from the expanded garage of my home. I then worked in the IT department in my university, after that I worked as a contractor in a small IT consulting company, now I work for a large insurance company. I still wonder if I am making the right career choice, but I know that I need to put the bread on the table for my kids so I know that current choice is necessary.
The reason I am racking my brain so hard recently is because I increasingly feel that life is too short and I really need to figure out what I should do with my precious time.
I opened my photo studio after my aunt passed away. A bold move – considering I had no formal training in photography and had only started to do it for not long because my daughter was born and I wanted capture all those cute moments as much as I could. But having witnessed my beautiful and smart aunt in a rapid decline of health, succumbing in the end to ruthless cancerous growth inside of her body, I realized that people are mortal and we don’t really know what our tomorrow will be like. I asked myself: if I die the next day in an unexpected event what would I be most regretful that I spend my time on? The answer : dragging my feet in the PhD program. I had already passed the candidacy test, all that’s left was to write my dissertation. But I could not find a topic I was interested in and motivated enough to work hard on. I saw no light at the end of tunnel but was too chicken to give it all up. It was at that moment when I determined that it was time to call the quits. A fresh new start, doing what I WANTED to do.
Honestly photography business was hard. Especially at a time most families can afford a decent camera and take their own pictures. Still I believed that we offered more than a snapshot. I had a great experience that allowed me to interact with many young families and document some of the most precious moments for them in an artistic sense. But as a business in a small college town in a rural area, the money was not great.
When my husband moved to a new job in North Carolina, it was not too difficult for me to also find a job in IT sector. It pays better than my photography and store business, and it requires less time on nights and weekends, which had become increasingly precious since I had a family with children. I told myself that I would still do photography, just in a more leisurely way, on my own schedule.
I ask myself this question a lot: “What exactly do I want to do with my life?” My answers at different time vary. Sometimes it’s “I don’t know”. Sometimes it’s “Start a company”. Sometimes it’s “Find a cure for cancer”. Sometimes it’s “Be a stay at home mom”. Sometimes it’s “Become a hacker”. Sometimes it’s “Travel the world and see different places.” But I don’t seem to be able to come to a definite conclusion, I am always wavering. 😉
The other day I read the book “When Breath Becomes Air” in one setting. It was brutal to read about a dying human being to come to terms with the knowledge that his life is ending soon. Reading about Paul Kalanithi seeking answer to his “meaning of life” question, I realized that a lot of times people don’t really think about how unpredictable and fragile a human life is. By the time you are aware, it is often too late. And we are constantly making compromises between ideal and reality. We base our actions on prioritizing short term and long term goals. But often times we are not conscious about how limited the days of our lives are.
I came across the essay “Life is short” by Paul Graham today. It was illuminating. It tells us to avoid B.S. and make room in our lives for those things that are important to us. It says that one way to figure out if something matters is to ask if you will care about it in the future. Because life is short, you should try to get more out of your life and savor what you do have in your life. I could not agree more.
I also think that it helps to find answers to following questions, to know yourself better, to figure out what are the important things in your life. Once you know who you are, it is arguably easier to live a meaningful life.
- What makes you happy? What do you like to spend time on?
- How to be well-rounded yet remain focused? What are your true interests, what are distractions?
- How important is money to you? How much money do you need to make in order to live the life style you want? When are the times you are just chasing money that you don’t need?
- How long do you expect to live? In each stage of your life, what kind of physical and mental states would you like to be in? What can you do to achieve that goal?
- How to be confident yet receptible to suggestions and criticisms?
- How do you assess your success and failure? How do you learn from your past to guide your future path?
- How to balance the needs to take care of yourself and help others that you care about?
- How to have a optimistic outlook of life yet be prepared to handle unexpected setbacks calmly?
- How to stay motivated by the things you want to achieve but be appreciative of the things you do already have?
- How to minimize the time wasted on things that are not important? Maybe it is not as hard or conflicting as you have believed to just stop doing them.
You see, life is such a brilliant paradox, it is beautiful and ugly at moments, joyous and painful, short and long, easy and hard, new and old, boring and exciting, unpredictable and foreseeable, selfish and altruistic. Life has so much to offer, it has so many levels, facets, corners, dimensions, we need the self identity to guide us through.
Life is short, know yourself, don’t waste it.