It used to confuse and fascinate me how so many people with great dreams and great visions of the future can live such ordinary, repetitive lives. But now I know. I’ve experienced it. Doing something remarkable with your life is tough work, and it helps to remember one simple, motivating fact: in a blink, you could be gone. To paraphrase Steve Jobs: remembering that you are going to die is the best way you can avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You really have nothing to lose.
In a conversation with a friend recently, he said he was disappointed that some of his friends had turned out to be not as remarkable as he thought them. He felt this was a flaw in them, something incurable. I disagreed.
For myself, I believe that I am trying to do something remarkable with my life. I also believe that it is in anyone's grasp to do so. Once upon a time, I did believe that being remarkable, unique, different, was something "god-given" (in the philosophical sense), something internal that you could not learn.
Ironically, in hindsight, at that time of my life I was wholly unremarkable. I was one of those people with dreams, living an ordinary, repetitive life.
What changed me was an event and the introspection from that event, both conscious and subconscious. As Jobs put it: remembering that you are going to die is the best way you can avoid the trap. Faced with the prospect of imminent death, I discovered that my life had not been well lived, until then.
It took years for this change to fully make its way through to my actions, but I believe a lot of my best decisions since then trace back to those fateful 45 minutes in a tube carriage.
And so my conclusion: I don't believe that being remarkable has anything to do with intelligence, skill, competence, education, background, etc. It has to do with perspective. Barring terrible luck (if I had not survived that day, I would have no chance of becoming remarkable, obviously), it is within all of us to be remarkable, special, different, unique, to have an impact on the world around us and feel that our life was worth living.
What stops most of us from doing so is not inability. It is comfort and fear, and their brethren, laziness and excuses. But those foes soon fall when faced with a proper perspective of life, and death.
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