The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life and a Great Big Thank You

Over the course of the last nine months that I’ve been sharing my writing, I am always pleasantly surprised when old friends and family members tell me they read my blog. I’ve never assumed anyone would. What’s even more is that they tell me they enjoy it! I am so grateful to these people and to my fellow bloggers for reading my work and becoming a part of my story. In honor of this, I decided to re-post the first piece I shared with the blogging community, my friends and family. Once this piece was published, it was Freshly Pressed and helped share my writing with hundreds of people I have never met. For those of you who have followed me from the beginning, I am forever grateful. For those that have begun to follow me over the course of these months, thank you so much! And to my future readers, I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoy doing it. You all inspire me to continue to do what I love. Have a wonderful day 🙂

The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

I had a teacher in middle school who used to say the only thing in life we have to do, is die.

As a kid, it’s unknowingly easier to understand this concept. Rather than do things because we feel we have to, for the most part we do them because we want to. We dream of becoming an astronaut, ballerina, or movie star, and unaware of the “realities” of life, believe that one day we will achieve these dreams.

As we get older however, we’re bombarded with distractions–from the media, our jobs, our teachers, even our families–that make us believe these dreams are made for someone else–that they’re too outrageous and unachievable for ourselves. And before we know it, we find ourselves swept up in the trivial things we do day to day. Waking up on time, getting to class or work, running errands, watching TV, making dinner. Suddenly, it’s easy to believe we have to do these things. But actually, we don’t.

No matter what we do in life, the end result is the same. We die. Death; it’s the great equalizer. The one thing we all have to do. Everything else simply fills the time.

Knowing that this life will end leads me to believe that the only thing we all want, while we have this time, is to be happy.

So we can choose to be happy one of two ways:

  1. By doing what we are told we should do.

OR

   2. By doing what we want to do (and sometimes these things align with what we’re told we should do-like getting a college degree or falling in love, for example).

Choosing option #1 can be easy, falling into the pre-determined track of life that has been laid out before us. Go to school, get a degree, find a job, get married, have kids, and one day retire to an over 55 living community in Florida. I’m sure there are people who do get fulfillment out of leading this type of life, but I know that there are others who do not. And since you’re still reading this I know I’m talkin’ to you!

That’s why we have choice #2. However, choice #2 requires some work. We must accept that we will die, and then strip away distractions to look within ourselves to see what we want out of life right now, regardless of what anyone else may say. It requires being honest with yourself to see what really lies within. I don’t think it’s easy. I think it takes dedication to yourself and the dreams you had as a little boy or girl. Once we acknowledge our mortality, it’s easier to go after the things we truly want in life.

Many of us have ironically read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” in our school years. Frost writes of “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and the narrator must decide which path to take. Ultimately he chooses “the one less traveled”. I distinctly remember my teacher emphasizing how important it was to take this road “less traveled” in our lives and to not blindly follow others in their choices. We were encouraged to make our own decisions, even if they were less popular. I’m sure others who have studied this poem have been told something similar. Ironically however, as I’ve experienced myself, if we do take the road less traveled, or make a third road of our own-by taking time off of school, or not going to college at all, for example-it’s frowned upon. Frost ends his poem by writing that taking this road less traveled “has made all the difference”.

So here’s what I say; let us make a conscious effort every day to be the judge of what will make our lives fulfilling to ourselves. Let us judge our happiness by our own standards rather than others- a kind of “happy relativism”. Let us not allow others to define what will make our lives meaningful. I think it’s something we must work on every day, but eventually it can become a lifestyle. And let’s see just the difference it can make.

yellow wood2

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?

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In a few days (two to be precise) I’ll be moving into Manhattan to participate in NYU’s Writers in NY program specifically for creative non-fiction. I can’t believe that I’ll actually be embarking on this journey for the next four weeks. And because this is going to be one of the most exciting things I’ve done so far in my life, I’ll be using my Wednesday and Saturday posts to document my time in the program. I’m really hoping to have some great stories to tell.

I also think it’s important for me to use today’s post to reflect on what it’s taken to get me to be a part of this program. As mentioned before, (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/why-do-i-write-anyway/) I’ve been writing my entire life. (After I wrote that piece I even remembered the two books I had started writing when I was in middle school. It’s funny how vividly I still remember them.) I always considered writing a hobby of mine, or just a way for me to express and reflect on my emotions—never really considering it something I could pursue as a career. I’ve always dreamed of writing a book but never thought it was possible. At least not right now. I just thought I would write it later, when I had more experience, or something like that.

Over winter break however, I was truly inspired after coming across a TV show (yes, another one!) that I had watched in high school called The Buried Life. Similar to World of Jenks (which I wrote about on Wednesday– https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/) the show is filmed as a documentary. The show is about four guys who created a list of things they wanted to do before they died and follows them as they travel across the country crossing things off their list. What made the show truly inspirational however, wasn’t just watching their shenanigans (they competed in a Krump competition, snuck into a party at the Playboy Mansion, and helped deliver a baby); it was that for each thing they crossed off their list, they helped a stranger cross something off of theirs. With every stranger they met, they asked What do you want to do before you die? When I watched the show in high school I didn’t think about it too much. I never even asked myself What do I want to do before I die? But now that I’ve experienced a loss so close to me with the death of my father, I know that I won’t be here forever and I better make the most of the time I have.

So I decided to make my own list of things to do before I die. As I read over the list, I realized just how bizarre and outrageous some of the things on it were. #48: Spend a day talking with a British accent. #33: Kiss a stranger on New Years Eve in Times Square. #56: Be a nude model for an art class. I scoured the list for something I could start working on now, because I realized that once I had written my dreams down they no longer felt so unattainable. Suddenly, they just became projects to cross off the list.

Scanning the two sheets of loose leaf I had written my list on, my eyes fell upon

#7: Write a book.

 As I sat there, I realized that there was no reason to wait any longer to start working on this dream. Because hey, there might not be a later for me. Who knows? Why not start now?

And as it began to sink in that I could start working on this dream right now I began to think about how much work it would actually take. I accepted the fact that you don’t just automatically sneeze out an entire book in one sitting. I don’t imagine J.K. Rowling sat down one night and started writing “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” all the way to “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” * It’s a lot of hard work. There are a lot of tiny baby steps to creating such a big piece. And so I thought, what’s the first step I need to take?

And with that, I went to lunch with one of my dearest friends, Brian, and posed my idea to him. Just like he had told me the previous summer when I came to him saying I wanted to write seriously, he suggested I start a blog. But this time, unlike last summer, when I had protested the use of technology, I decided that creating a blog would be the best way to start writing regularly and to an audience (something I was absolutely terrified about—the pages of my journal were the only audience I had before). It would be my way of seeing if I really had the chops to write seriously. Would I get writers block? Would I run out of ideas? Would anyone even read it?

Despite my fears, I started this blog with my first piece The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-only-thing-we-have-to-do-in-life/and couldn’t believe the overwhelmingly positive response I got. I’ve been writing consistently since then and I’ve got to tell you, creating this blog was the best thing I could have done. I’ve proven to myself that I have an endless amount of ideas. (And that when I have writers block, I can easily hide it from my readers by posting fiction for two weeks.) And I’ve gotten a great confidence boost in knowing that people read my pieces and actually–dare I say it–enjoy them.

The most important thing I’ve learned however, is that taking the first step toward a dream project is really the hardest part. After you’ve taken the first step, the next ones don’t seem as difficult. After you’ve taken the first step, the dream feels more achievable, not so scary, and you feel motivated to take the next steps, one after the other.

And so after writing this blog for a few months, I decided I was ready to take another step toward writing a bigger work. While my blog has given me experience and confidence, it’s now time to take my writing to the next level and focus on perfecting my craft. Knowing that this was a necessary step toward reaching my dream, I applied to NYU’s summer writing program. To my surprise I was accepted and to my even greater surprise, my grandparents agreed to let me go (with a lot of persuasion on my part). I can’t believe I’m going to have the opportunity to work with professors who are published authors and I can’t wait to see how my writing will change over the next four weeks with all the things I will learn. It’s going to be amazing.

So I’d like to thank The Buried Life guys for inspiring me to finally pursue my love for writing right now instead of waiting until it might be too late. And I’d like to thank Brian for pushing me to start a blog despite my initial hesitation. Without these two influences, I think I would still be searching for happiness even though it’s been at the end of my pen all these years.

So now I open up the question to you: What do you want to do before you die? Feel free to leave your answers in the comment box!

*First and last lines of the Harry Potter series.

Here’s a trailer of The Buried Life for anyone who’s interested!