“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
In high school, I remember an event held at a local nature preserve that forever changed the way that I thought about living. Perhaps that was the moment I discovered the value of time and–similarly–the value of life.
It means one thing to be alive, it means another to live.
As nearly anyone will agree, being alive is a good thing.
The unfortunate thing is that, while most people are alive, very few people are living. The wake up every morning and go through life on autopilot, never stopping to ask themselves, “Is this what I really want?”
Instead, they move forward in the same direction as everyone else standing in the same lines, checking the same boxes, living life in a state of default. Sure, it’s safe. Yes, it’s easy. But is that really what life is about? Safe? Easy?
There has to be something more, right? Fortunately for us, there is.
To put is simply, live.
No, I am not referring to the state of being alive. Anyone can be alive. But to live–to truly live–requires that you search within yourself for something more. A passion, a dream, a desire.
Living requires that you use that passion to inspire life and the living of it. Living means digging deep, taking risks and making bold moves, moves that most people would call crazy, stupid or risky. But it doesn’t matter.
In the end, we’re all dead. As the late Steve Jobs famously said:
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Steve was right. You can’t live your life as if you have something to lose. You don’t. In the end, we all lose everything.
I don’t mean that in a negative way. Rather, it should inspire innovative thinking, risk-taking, and new adventures. Living your life in this way is far more fulfilling than following the deferred life plan.
That said, I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind and abandon all rational thought. What I am suggesting, however, is that you look for ways to live instead of ways to stay alive.
Remember: anyone can stay alive, not anyone can live.
All of this ties into the idea of living deliberately.
As an initial reader of Walden, you may be impressed by the fact that Thoreau left civilized life to live like a Spartan in woods. But Thoreau was not as Spartan-like as he led everyone to believe as he took frequent trips away from the woods to visit his friends and relatives–namely his parents.
Everything in moderation.
Despite the fact that Thoreau’s claims were slightly exaggerated, we can still learn how to live deliberately from his example. Living deliberately is not as much about making rash decisions and jumping to extremes as it is about making following your passions strategically.
At the end of the day, we need to stay alive. Sometimes, that means that you have to follow the deferred life plan to ensure that your needs are met. Life is filled with necessary evils. But that’s where the difference between staying alive and living deliberately comes into play.
To live deliberately is to live strategically. And it’s all about the power of intention.
A person 100% oriented toward “being alive” follows the most frequently traveled path. They make no decisions and simply follow orders given. They are a human machine. They lack intention.
By contrast, a person 100% oriented toward “living” follows no path. They make decisions based on their current feelings and have no regard for the future or the consequences of their actions. They are the ultimate free spirit. They lack direction.
There is, however, another option–to live deliberately.
Living deliberately means that you follow a path, but you designed it yourself. You state where you want to go and develop a strategy to get there. At the same time, you welcome change and understand the importance of striking while the iron is hot.
This, I believe, is Thoreau’s true intention behind his wish to live deliberately. To live both freely and strategically. Living this way helps to stabilize your life as you start in new directions.