It’s not always easy to tell if we’re on the right path in our lives.
Years can slip by without us acting on deeper callings we’ve felt for a while. We put things off, thinking “now’s not the best time for that,” telling ourselves that there’ll be a better time for it later.
In essence, we’re just sleepwalking. We might look “fine” to the outsiders, but inside, the lights are off.
And other times, we might very well be on the right path—trying to complete med school, getting a business off the ground, raising a child—but it’s a path where palpable results don’t come for years, and gratification takes forever. It can seem like we’re getting nowhere.
No life worth living is exempt from days where we feel like it’s all gone wrong.
But one little test can wake you up real quick and let you know if you’re not on the right path.
Tell yourself you have cancer. And it’s bad.
In fact, you’ve only got six months to live. Because that’s what happened to me not long ago.
I was in the shower one morning and noticed a rather large lump “downstairs” where there’s not supposed to be a lump. Then I noticed there was some blood in a fluid that’s not supposed to have blood. And then, I said a bad word. Many, many, many times. As soon as I was out of the shower, I did what any modern-day Sherlock Holmes would do: I Googled the two symptoms for a diagnosis. (Note: do not do this. Unless you desperately want to send yourself down the Rabbit Hole Of Inescapable Doom™.)
There was one undeniable diagnosis that explained them both: I clearly had testicular cancer.
I’ve got two doctors in my family and about 20 friends who are physicians, too, and they’ve all said again and again that of all the cancers you don’t want to get, you really don’t want to get testicular cancer. It can take you out in months. The only worse thing is pancreatic.
While I realized that this could have been explained by some other diagnosis, I dove straight for the most “woe is me” scenario I could imagine: that my cancer was too far advanced, that maybe I had it worse than any doctor had ever seen in human history, and that I was certainly headed for the grave. I was a tragic romantic hero whose life was being stolen from him and had to make the most of what was left.
And so, how to do that?
Rather than what things I wanted to do, I focused on what feelings I wanted to have, which, simply put, was to feel alive. Because I wasn’t going to be alive much longer, after all. I was a dead man. Gone. (Surely, it would be on CNN any second now).
Now, before you feel too sorry for me, save it. Because sure enough, after a trip to a urologist, some bloodwork, and an ultrasound of my family jewels, it all turned out to be a false alarm. There’s a condition called Epididymitis that presents almost as identically as testicular cancer, but is treatable with antibiotics instead of chemo and surgery, and you’d be fine a week later. Thank, God.
But, for four to five days, I didn’t know this. My lumpy testicle was undeniable proof that I was dying. And soon. But actually, this existential dread is something I think everyone should experience. Because you start thinking about what you want to do with your remaining time real quick. And the missing pieces become quite clear.
So, what was missing that would make me feel alive? I knew I wouldn’t find it on the 28th floor of an office building in midtown, New York City. I made my living in the advertising world as a writer. I’d had a pretty good run of it, working for brands I really believe in, and most of the time feeling grateful to make a living in the creative arts. But the greatest bliss I’ve ever experienced comes from creating music. Particularly in the studio, watching a seedling of an idea spread its wings and take on a life all its own.
While I’d put out four to five albums and even got a song to number 40 once, it had been four years since my last one. I was disappointed it didn’t go as far as I’d hoped (welcome to the music biz, kid!), so I’d been bashful about taking another swing. But the idea that I might be dead in six months without having taken another swing sent a shiver of shame down my spine. It made me realize I was being a chicken.
It was time I sent out another barbaric yawp into the universe—universe’s reaction be damned.
So, while a few days later, I found out I wasn’t dying, and sadly I wasn’t a tragic figure, the damage had been done: I knew I had to go back to the studio. Otherwise, I was sleepwalking throughout my life. I was treading water, but drifting from a deeper purpose, putting off passion in the name of practicality.
And none of us should be coasting along while our true desires lie dormant.
So, many months later, I’m proud to say, that new song is out there. It’s called “Start a landslide,” and it’s the best song I’ve ever recorded. And it’s here if you wanna listen.
But I didn’t let it stop there. I’ve also finally gotten around to writing a full-length book—a memoir about my deceased father and I and our mutual love affair with cars. It’s called The Wheels That Carried Us, and I’m shopping for an agent now.
No more sleepwalking, Mark.
So, to make sure you’re not doing the same, tell yourself this:
You’ve got cancer.
And it’s bad.
You’ve got six months to live, kid. A year, tops.
And any chance to make the most of your time left here has to start tomorrow.
What would you realize you have to finally get around to?
Now, we can’t all just constantly live our lives like we’ve only got six months to live. (It might lead to a lot of credit card debt.)
But if we compare the life we’re living to the one we would live if time were cut short, and they bear no resemblance to one another, well, that’s on us. It’s our moral imperative to bring them closer in alignment.
So, once again, I regret to inform you, that you, my friend, have cancer.
And if like me, the life you’re living doesn’t resemble the one you can now envision, I say this: happy remodeling.
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