At my Grandpa Mel’s funeral a few years ago, my siblings and I each took a turn at the microphone to talk about the wonderful memories we had of a wonderful man. There were tales of picking berries in his garden or building ships out of wood in his workshop. When my brother got up to speak, though, he told us about an occasion that was not from our idyllic childhood, but, rather, something that had just happened a month before. My brother had volunteered to drive Grandpa Mel into town from the lake cabin where we were all gathered for the weekend. Grandpa was in an assisted living facility at the time, and his mind was beginning to lose its grip on this world. Still, he had lucid moments, and the two of these admirable men shared one in the car that Summer day. They had gone to visit Grandma Jeanne’s grave at the cemetery where Grandpa Mel would soon join her. In a thoughtful moment, my brother asked him what, as he looked back on his long life, he would have done differently if he could do it all again. Grandpa said, “I wish I had taken more risks. I wish I would have branched out on my own in business sooner. I just wish I would have taken more chances.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been weeping through the entire evening, but now there was a whole new depth and message to the occasion. It wasn’t just about grieving and appreciating my Grandpa; there was a lesson, too. Don’t squander your days following the herd and playing it safe. Find what makes your heart sing and go after it! Take a risk and follow your dream. Take a chance on yourself!
Of course I had heard this lesson before. It is abound in books and movies. There is that emotional scene where the parent or grandparent teaches the lesson to the protagonist—either directly with their words or by dying and thereby making it clear that life is too short not to go after what you love—who is then spurred to glorious action. We’ve all seen it before. But this was different. This was no book. This was no movie, no fairy tale. This was Grandpa Mel. The guy who taught me how to hammer a nail as soon as I could walk and let me build a house with him before I was out of elementary school. The guy who took me golfing and played catch with me in the yard. My Grandpa.
He had always seemed like the perfectly contented family man. He managed a lumber yard until he retired, and then went on to take charge of building homes for Habitat for Humanity, building his local church, and leading his grandkids in the building of the lake house that continues to be the hub of our family gatherings. He loved these projects, and he was in his element leading the crews. He found something in retirement—after tending to the needs of my Mom and my uncle and then securing a comfortable nest-egg for he and my Grandma to retire with—that he had not dared to search for while in the workforce. He found his passion. He never talked about it. Never complained about his lot. Never was bitter toward his family that ensuring a comfortable life for them had kept him from opening up his own business. He was a good father, a good husband, a good man. It was a good life.
Still, there it was. At the end of his days—in his ninth decade on Earth—he was clear about one thing: “I just wish I had taken more chances.”
I have so many fond memories of my Grandpa, and I know that he has rubbed off on me in ways both clear and subtle. From his life, the lesson I learned was the supreme importance of family. I am so glad that he modeled that every day; it never needed to be spoken about. But it was the lesson I learned in his death that was more poignant than anything I ever learned in books or movies. Don’t wait until you are retired to do what you love. Take a risk in order to live your dreams.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller, The Open Door
Over the last few years since his death, I have distilled this lesson learned at my Grandpa’s funeral into a phrase that really resonates with me: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! You don’t get a “do-over” for all of this stuff. You don’t get to have that moment with the potential love of your life again, that chance to say what is in your heart. You don’t get a chance to raise your kids again: to go to their games and push them on the swings and kiss them goodnight. And you don’t get the chance at the end to find your passion and your purpose, and to live accordingly. This is not a dress rehearsal. This IS the show! You have to do it now!!!
I feel like that concept has been chasing me pretty hard the last couple of years. Perhaps “chasing” doesn’t adequately describe it; maybe “stalking” is better. “Haunting” is accurate. It permeates my every day: This is NOT a dress rehearsal!!! I have watched my mindset and my entire way of life change since this thought took hold of me. I had been of the attitude that, with my kids so young and me so busy, there was no way I could find the time or energy to pursue my other passions. I was sliding by, skating. I was certainly happy, but there was also something missing. That is when, a few years ago, the haunting started. My first move was to get going on The Journal Project, which was an enormous undertaking. As I worked into the wee hours of each night after the kids went to bed, I realized how important it was to me to get my voice out there. I didn’t want to wait years to get my book published. So, “Journal of You” was born. It has been a true labor of love to write to you every week. But even that was not enough to quell the inner chorus chanting “This is not a dress rehearsal!” So, I went back to school for Life Coaching to pursue another passion. And on and on it has gone: writing, school, coaching, consulting–constantly trying to tap into ways that I can be of service in the spirit of my Life Purpose.
I hear my Grandpa’s message trailing me every day, guiding me and motivating me to stay on the task of living a life filled with passion and fulfillment. I know that requires me to take some risks, to get out of my comfort zone, to stop sliding through life. It pushes me to my own greatness, though. It moves me to measure myself by the standard I want my future 90-year-old self to be proud of, to have no regrets about. I am pretty sure that no matter how bold and authentic that I choose to be from here on out, I will probably wish, at the end of my days, that I had done better. That is just how I am. Still, even though I am today nowhere near to having set up the lifestyle and schedule of my dreams, I take heart in the fact that I am working toward it every day. It is on the front burner. I am trying to become the very best version of me that I can be. I hear the voice of Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” reminding me: “Carpe diem. Make your lives extraordinary.” And I feel Grandpa Mel, too, his spirit reminding me that today is my day to claim myself and my dreams, once and for all. No day but today.
How about you? Have you taken enough risk to live the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and be honest with yourself. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you feel about the way you have lived your life? Do you have regrets about how safely you have played it? How closely have you followed the herd rather than your own inner voice? How willing have you been to step out on that limb and have that uncomfortable conversation? How often have you struck out on your own against the expectations of the people around you, simply because you were hearing a different drummer? How many times have you risked “failure” in the service of your dreams or of happiness? What are your excuses? Financial security? Family obligations? Fear of failure or rejection? I like the quote by Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Do you think that by playing it safe now and not taking risks to pursue your passions, that you are actually risking a lot of regret and unhappiness later in life? Which risk is greater to you: the risk to follow your bliss now or the risk of regret later? Leave me a reply and let me know: What force is driving your life?
Make your life extraordinarily yours,