A couple of weeks ago I lost one of my best friends and furry little kid, Cody. Owning three older dogs, the inevitable was always lurking out there, but having to go through losing one has been so much harder than I ever imagined. For 14 years he was one of my constant companions, as kind a soul as will ever be under this sun. Since then, the outpouring of support from friends, family and even total strangers has been overwhelming and for that, I am deeply grateful. Cody was diagnosed with cancer and within days we had to say goodbye to him. It was fast, which is merciful, but it has also made it harder for me to deal with everything. As I said, with three dogs ages 15, 14 and 13, the inevitable wasn’t a mystery to me, but the emotional side of it is something far different. It has though signaled the start of another chapter in my life, another series of robust and incredible changes that will, I have no doubt, forever change my path forward. It’s during these times of transition that it’s important to take stock of oneself, to know where you want to go or run the risk of being swept along into the maelstrom.
A mandala is a beautiful and incredibly intricate work of art created by master Buddhist craftsmen. The creation of this swirling eddy of color, all made from sand, can take many weeks to complete. Once the painstaking and labor-intensive work has been finished and the glorious work of art is revealed, the monks then sweep the sand away. It may seem shocking to spend so much time creating something to simply destroy it, but that’s the entire point. Mandalas are meant to remind us about the impermanency of life, that everything is dynamic, that everything is in a constant state of flux and that no, not even the most beautiful creation in the world can last. It’s a quietly powerful image and one I haven’t been able to shake since losing Cody. It’s also a great reminder of a life lesson I learned a few years ago, one that has since defined my life and one that I have been dangerously close to forgetting.
Passion is everything, but it can also take any form. I define it as doing that which makes you most happy. For me, it’s all things travel related. Ever since I could hold a book I’ve been fascinated with anything foreign and built my life around experiencing as much of the world as I could. I took the ultimate leap several years ago when I left a stable, non-travel job to pursue travel blogging full time. That was my passion and it was crucial for my own physical and emotional well being that I defined it and then pursued it. But my passion is just that, my passion. For others it may be cooking, medicine or even being an accountant. It’s not for us to judge what makes others happy, merely to encourage them to seek it out and make it a big part of their lives. Passion also doesn’t have to be all consuming or destructive. Following your dreams and passions does not have to mean strapping on a backpack and leaving family and loved ones behind. Quite the contrary, I think that’s destructive for many people. Instead, the changes aren’t radical but they are deliberative. They can be simple actions, from a move to a new city or acknowledging that your current job isn’t stimulating enough. Whatever it is, it’s vital that people identify it, conquer the fear that comes with making changes and then implement those changes. They need to accept that it’s ok to be dissatisfied sometimes, that it can be a positive thing and is what will ultimately drive us to succeed in life, whether it’s on a personal or professional level.
Recent surveys show that up to three-quarters of American workers are not happy with their jobs. I hate that number, but I can also understand that number. I was there, I get it. I was in a profession I hated for 12 years and it finally took fate intervening before I realized how much I hated it. But I’m an extreme example; not everyone can leave a good paying job and take the risk of making little or no money for up to a year or longer. A better example is another friend of mine. He too found himself in a job that while he enjoyed it, the job was taking a tremendous physical and mental toll on him. It was just too much and he worried that his body couldn’t keep up with the constant demands. What he did was to find another job in the same profession, which he really enjoys, but one that has better and more manageable hours and expectations. He left a job that afforded ZERO work/life balance and replaced it with one that allows him time to relax and enjoy life. He sacrificed a little to do this, but it was an important change. He’s following his passions, but not losing sight of what’s really important in life. This perspective is key. You have to be able to look at yourself objectively and tweak your situation in ways that allows you to be happy, productive and passionate about life. It’s not easy, and not everyone will take the time to do it, but it’s vital if you want to lead a happier, healthier life.
Life is brutally short, a fact that has been demonstrated to me in hard lessons recently and I know how important it is not to squander our time on this planet. Be selfish, find a way to start living a purposeful life and in the process I bet you’ll also improve the lives of those nearest and dearest to you as well.
The next year will be a difficult one for me, I know that. Intellectually I understand that even more changes to our curious household will happen, changing a balance I have enjoyed for 15 or so years. That’s dramatic and can even be traumatic and will be as impactful as any change in my life heretofore, whether it’s losing family members or leaving my job to follow a strange passion. It will alter everything that I have become used to and I will have many decisions to make. Before then though, I want to enjoy things as they are, at least for now. I want to also enter this new stage of life open minded and curious. I am prone to bouts of depression and it would be far too easy to give up, curl into the fetal position and wish that nothing had changed. Honestly, that’s how I’ve spent most of the last two weeks. That accomplishes nothing though, instead it is one of the most destructive things we can do. Instead, I would be well served to remember those mandalas, take to heart their meaning, mourn the past but also smile confidently at the future yet to come. Nothing is written, nothing is done, it’s up to all of us to control our own destinies and that’s exactly what I plan to do.