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Participate in Life

Be Present and Experience It

Almost 20 years ago, on the day I graduated from college, someone that I knew through one of the campus organizations stopped me as I was about to leave for home with my family. We talked briefly and, as we were about to get in the car, she said something that has stayed with me all this time: “I hope you have a great life.”

I will most likely never see this person again, so what wonderful parting words to deliver, and to hear.

My life has had its fair share of twists, turns, potholes, and obstacles, but it has been a great life for many reasons, not the least of which is because I’ve chosen to focus my resources on experiences, not things. I’ve chosen to participate in life, and not just be an observer.

What keeps us from participating in life?

Are we too busy worrying about what may or may not happen, or about something that has already happened in the past, to be fully present and enjoy the moment?

I remember times growing up when we’d go on a trip and, literally within moments of arriving, my mom would say “oh I don’t want to leave”. We had just arrived, and she was already thinking about leaving!

Are we too absorbed in our devices, or concerned with what the Joneses down the street just bought or did?

Put the phone down! I’m often surprised by the parents that are looking at their cell phones during our kids’ sports games and practices, or when out at dinner or an event. Be present in each moment. Is that tweet or text or post really worth potentially missing your child making a great play during the game, or seeing their eyes light up when they see something they think is awesome? Even our son will get onto us every now and then and say “stop looking at your phone!”

I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking ahead to “when”. “When this happens, then I’ll be happy.” Or, “when I turn 50, then I’ll focus on those activities in life that I most enjoy and have been putting off.” Remember that pilot’s license I’m going to get “someday”? See, I’m not doing so well with it either…

Because what if “when” never happens? Who says you can’t be happy until whatever it is you’re waiting for happens? Why do we think that our best years happen only in retirement?

What are YOU putting off?

Experiences, not things

As far as experiences go, the two things I’m more than happy to spend money on are concerts and Alabama football games. Most of the stubs I referenced in my commemorate post are from one of these two types of events! In this same post, I also talked about trips and memories. My fondest memories in life are from experiences with family and friends.

Last year, my son and I embarked on a self-described “loudest year ever” tour. In March, I took him to his first NASCAR race. In July, for his first concert, I took him to see my favorite band – Metallica. And, finally, in October, we went to see the Blue Angels at an airshow outside of Atlanta. If you haven’t been to any of these events, I assure you that our tour moniker is accurate!

Aside from the time we got to spend together at these events, another great benefit is the collection of memories he’s going to have – memories that he will still bring up from time to time.

What will you, and/or your kids, remember?

I want to share a story from my one and only time of jury duty service – thus far. Being crammed in a deliberation room for a day or two is a surefire way to get to know a lot about a group of people in a very short period of time.

During one of my conversations with another juror, she explained that she and her husband owned their own business and they had an only child. It also somehow came up that they’d just bought a brand-new Porsche Macan. My first thought was that business must be good!

Her next statement is what really got me thinking. She said, “when you own your own business you don’t get to take vacations, so you buy a nice car instead.” Ummm, ok. Now is probably a good time to remind you that, yes, I know personal finance is personal – it was completely up to her and her husband how they spent their money. She may have also been inferring that you’re unable to leave town when it’s just the two of you running the show. But I also couldn’t help but think about that rationale for just a minute.

Based on a quick internet search, the base price for this particular automobile is just shy of $50,000. I won’t even begin to estimate the costs associated with operating and maintaining a luxury SUV. It didn’t really sink in at that moment, but I couldn’t help but think a little while later about how many experiences or trips or vacations you could have for $50,000.

And when their daughter grows up, would she really care that much that her parents drove a Porsche? Maybe so, and I may be completely off-base, but I have to think memories from those vacations that she didn’t get to take would have remained for years after that new car smell wore off.

Closing thought

From time to time at our church, we’ll have someone fill in when our regular minister is out on vacation. It’s generally the same two to three people speak, and all of them are great. One of them, in particular, had a line in his sermon that I’ll never forget. He said, “Yesterday is a cancelled check, and tomorrow is a promissory note; but today is cash, so spend it wisely.”

Try not to get stuck in yesterday (it’s over – you can’t change it) or worry about what tomorrow will bring (tomorrow is not guaranteed). Life is meant to be lived NOW. Experiences, my friends, are the real “cash”, so spend it wisely and make the most of each day.

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