3 Ways To Ensure You Live Life To The Full

Picture of Jet Engine Over The Sea
Conscious, Thankful, Forgiving, How to Live Regret Free

I listened to BJ Miller in his TED TalkWhat Really Matters At the End of Life“, then again in a podcast interview recently. As someone who has witnessed over 1000 deaths, he is arguably one of the best people to share what makes a good life from those at the end of theirs.

[ted id=2325]

We've all read the poem(s) about 'If I Had My LIfe Over – I'd Eat More Ice Cream.” It seems the earliest attribution is to Nadine Stair at age 85.

If I had my life to live over, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

And it is a truth that: “No-one on their deathbed ever wished they'd spent more time at the office.”

Actually I'm not sure I know anyone who wishes they spent more time at the office, deathbed or no. One of the responses you never get when you ask people what they enjoy doing, is spending (any) time at the office. But I digress.

I really like BJ's more nuanced response.

I like it because our lives aren't all on a timeline towards a tidy deathbed in twilight years. Death is a mere car accident away. BJ's response is one that allows us to live a full life, whether it ends tomorrow or 70 years hence. (Or if you're a transhumanist, never.)

Unfortunately most of us don't live a full life. Most of the people I know at best end up in a 'Ground Hog Day' type of grind, at worst are bitter.

And you don't get to live it again.

So how do you live that regret free life?

1. Make Conscious Decisions

You have agency…

…Societal pressure, peer pressure, your parents, your spouse/partner, your job, succumbing to any of these is a choice. Ultimately you either make decisions, or they are made for you. But pretty much everything that describes our life is a man-made construct.

So be conscious about your decisions. Think about how you spend your time, your money. A very simple rule of thumb I've found is “you can make the right decision, or the easy decision.”

If it's a tough decision, because there are many right choices, make the decision that increases your opportunity to enjoy deep relationships and give to others. If that doesn't help, toss a coin and follow your emotional response to the toss. Commit to making this the best decision.

This isn't only valid for the big life decisions: Vocation, Location, or Life Relationship; but the little ones too. Consciously choose the farthest car park so you can increase your walking. Consciously pay for coffee to brighten someone else's day. Consciously tithe and give to charity. Consciously choose the bedtime story over the sales proposal.

As far as possible, don't default to automatic decisions, but be conscious.

2. Live in Gratitude

This morning I commented on Instagram about having to fly in economy, so chose the exit row. My daughter teasingly reminded me this was a #FirstWorldProblem. Indeed she's right. I don't have to fly, I get to.

There is so much to be thankful for. Even the painful gout that reminds me every single step: I can walk, I have shoes, I'm alive. (Much better than the alternative)

Write down every night 3 things you're thankful for. Send a thank-you card to someone every week. Thank the people that serve you, no matter how little they do.

Thank them by name.

Thank your God, or the universe, for the simplest flower, the sunset, the rain. For the incredible times we live in where we can access the wisdom of people throughout the ages in an instant.

When you're tempted to criticise, or complain, be thankful instead. The richest people are not those with the most money, but those who're most thankful for what (& whom) they have.

3. Forgive

Resentment, anger, rage, disappointment these are all cancers that eat you. Rarely the other person even after revenge. The worst is when they're directed at yourself.

This doesn't only make you into a bitter person at the end of your life, but throughout your life. And not only socially, but physiologically. In my late twenties I had Ulcerative Colitis, an auto-immune disease, that is largely exacerbated, if not triggered, by stress. That stress was in a large part due to my inability to forgive.

Acknowledge hurt.


Let it go.

The End

Whether the end is next week, or in your dotage, if you can get there happy with the path you chose because it was the right path, thankful for the richness of your life, and unfettered by bitterness, yours will have been a good life.

If you get there with deep loving relationships, having given to others, and changed their lives; yours will have been a great life.

You get to choose.


RAOK And How To Give Away An Umbrella

RAOK And How To Give Away An Umbrella

Last week my daughter caught her regular train to university under a steel grey sky. When she got off at Redfern it was pouring. Facing a 20 minute walk in torrential rain she realised she'd left her umbrella at home.

Resolutely she set off only to be touched on the shoulder. Another girl, a total stranger, with a massive golf umbrella willingly shared her protection from the elements and the two laughed their way to class.

Miss19 shared the experience on our family WhatsApp conversation, and concluded: “Now I just have to find someone to share their umbrella with me on my way back.”

My response was to suggest she find a convenience store, buy an umbrella, then pay it forward. Give it to a total stranger who needs it. Yes, I know that she's a poor student, but $7 for an umbrella is about the same as a couple of coffees. Sacrificing a coffee (or beer) is a pretty small price to practice generosity and grace.

“Your wealth is determined by what you give, not what you keep. The truly wealthy give freely in the knowledge that there is always more to wealth to grow.”

The following day I rode into the city for an early morning breakfast under a steel grey sky. After breakfast I walked to my next meeting in, you guessed it, torrential rain. I too didn't have an umbrella, and had left my raincoat (bike waterproofs) in my bike top box. So I popped the City Convenience on Harrington Street and bought an umbrella.

Doesn't the universe have an ironic sense of humour to encourage you to practice what you preach. 🙂

On my way back to my bike I tried to give away my umbrella.


To no avail.

The first attempt was to a tourist couple. At least I think they were tourists. Also a couple. They were speaking a foreign language, one of the Romance languages, Portugese perhaps. Looking forlonly at a map on one of their phones. Dripping wet. I offered them my umbrella, to which they just smiled, shook their heads, and returned to their navigation.

Secondly, I noticed a young woman clip-clopping in stillettos, holding a plastic shopping bag filled with books over her head. I had to hurry to catch up to her. “Excuse me,” I called, “Would you like my umbrella?”

“What,” she looked around harriedly, “er, no.” And she dashed off. Damn. She really needed it.

Finally, I was just about back at my bike. The rain had dialled up the intensity to tropical downpour, and a businessman was running, sans jacket with his briefcase clutched to his chest.

Determined to help, I reached out with the umbrella, “Hi, I'm about to jump on my bike and really don't need this umbrella anymore. You look like you could do with one. Would you like it?”

He smiled and replied, “Thanks, but my office is just across the road. I'm a fashion designer and have spare clothes there.” Which is a great strategy for being caught out in the rain.

Just not for accepting a favour.

So now I have a spare umbrella in my topbox and if anyone is in Sydney and needs one, reach out.

Seems giving away an umbrella and performing a practical Random Act of Kindness is much harder than I thought.


The Power of Gratitude

Project 2012: Day 51

When last did you receive a thank-you card from someone. In fact, how many thank you cards have you received in your life. Chances are, in our culture, the answers are: “A while ago” and “less than a handful.”

Now think about how you felt when you received that small recognition. Pretty special I bet.

The truth is that many, many people render a service for us, that largely go unnoticed. If we even do notice them, we often dismiss their kindness as something we expect, or part of their job.

Because of this, one of the most powerful things you can do in your job search is thank people. And thank them with a handwritten card. This is powerful in a number of ways:

  • As mentioned above, the recipient will feel really special that you’ve noticed them, this will set you apart from the rest of the candidates.
  • Chances are they will pop the card on their desk, and others will notice. Now you’re a topic of conversation.
  • This forces you to find a specific behaviour to thank, which increases your knowledge of the people & organisation.
  • Finally your personal tone is one of gratitude, rather than selfishness. This unconsciously sets you apart in the hustle and bustle of business.

Who do you give a thank-you card?

Generally I find there are two groups of people that help “behind the scenes.” First, the secretaries / PA’s of interviewing staff. Those amazing people that manage to schedule an hour in their bosses impossible calendar.

The second are friends or colleagues that have referred you for a role.

Typically it’s probably not necessary to send a card to an Interviewer, although definitely thank them for their time. Also prepend any emails about next steps with a specific thank-you. But sending a card to a potential manager can seem a touch obsequious.

Isn’t this rather costly?

Only in terms of your time. And let’s face it, 2 minutes to write out a thank-you card, or 20 for 10, is still arguably less than you’ll spend on a bus/train getting to an interview.

There are plenty of blank thank-you cards you can buy from an online printer, or a newsagent, that are really inexpensive. Or of course, if you have an inkjet printer, you can buy 200gsm A4 card, and print your own.

Seriously, what do you write?

For this to work, you have to be genuine. People will see straight through someone trying to manipulate them.

The technique for this to be really powerful, is to address them by name. (so yes, you need to know their name), and thank them for a specific activity.

Perhaps you’ve had 4 interviews at one company, or the PA has called you back a number of times to schedule a particularly busy individual.

A simple:

Dear Jan,

Thank you so much for your efforts in organising my last few interviews. I really appreciate how busy everyone is, and your rescheduling other meetings so I could meet with Paul.

All the best

Of course, this makes no sense if the person didn’t have to reschedule calendars. So you’ll have to ensure you observe what people do. Make notes.

How do you remember?

There are a bunch of things, even in this simple act of gratitude, that you need to remember:

  • Name of the individual
  • Company street address (so you can send it)
  • Role (you’re applying for), and behaviour
  • Timing

All of these should already be in your Tracking Tool as we discussed last week.

As for Timing, you want to send the card so it arrives a couple of days after you last saw the person. I’d suggest no more than two. So as with phone calls, meetings, & emails, put this as a contact task in your Tracking Tool.

Isn’t this just manipulation?

Only if you use it as such.

In other words, if you’re using thank-you cards just to differentiate yourself from the crowd, and you really aren’t thankful for what people are doing. Then yes, this is manipulation. And as with any influence skill, it will work whatever the intent.

However, if you use this to genuinely recognise those who have done you a kindness (even if it is part of their job) then no, this isn’t manipulation, it’s just thanks. And I guarantee you’ll feel better for thanking people too.

It’s probably true to observe that many recipients, because this is such an unusual practice these days, will suspect you of manipulation. Especially if your card is not addressed to them personally, and has a generic message of thanks. You don’t want to use a “Barney Stinston Form Letter” here.

The only way you can overcome this, is to continue to be thankful (not obsequious) in all of your dealings with them.


If you want to land your dream job, you have to become the person you want to be. Observing kindness, and showing gratitude changes your outlook, and sets you apart. Thank-you cards are a really inexpensive, and personal way to do this.

Be the change you want to see in the world.