Socrates or one of them other thoughtful Greeks said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” A similar piece of commentary might be, “The unexamined chef’s salad is not worth eating.” A medical parallel would go this way, “The unexamined appendix is not worth removing.” Once you start handing down axioms, there is no end to it.
Getting back to that first piece of philosophy, i.e., the unexamined life. Few of us escape the urge to look back over our allotted time on earth and evaluate what we did with it. People love to compare. David Letterman has his Top Ten list. Time Magazine publishes its yearly compendium of the 50 Best Plumbing Supply Companies. And so on.
But when a person sits down to decide “How well did I live my life?” one then must ask, “Compared to whom? My neighbor? My high school classmates? My parole officer?”
The real sweaty stuff begins with this question, “How well did I do compared to what I might have done if I had really put my mind to it and tried harder?” We should all avoid that question. It can lead us down some mighty bleak alleys.
A query that usually yields more pleasant answers is this, “During my life, how skillful or lucky was I in avoiding potential disasters?”
For example, consider the people you did NOT marry. You should easily be able to list four or five potential spouses who would have lured you straight into hell. But you turned back in time, didn’t you? (I hope so.) Therefore, brethren and cistern, recall that fact and rejoice in it.
You may wish you had been more financially astute. But before you berate yourself for squandered economic opportunities, think about the catastrophes that you DID duck. Such as not lending your sister-in-law the $25,000 she needed to open an Edsel dealership. Today, when you’re feeling inept, money-wise, just switch on your TV’s religion channels. Watch the flannel-mouthed charlatans try to con you into making a $1,000, or a $50 per month, “seed” commitment. Each time you refuse, you will feel like a financial wizard.
As you review your life, do you wish you had possessed verbal wit? The gift of gab? Silver-tongued eloquence? Stop lamenting your lack. Instead, hark back to those miraculous moments when you could have spoken out but wisely chose to say nothing. Such as in 1989 when the National Guard recruiting officer urged you to become a weekend warrior. Or the time at the stop light on Ulmerton Road when that bearded dude with the tattoos snarled at you, “Where’d you get your driver’s license? In a raffle?” Your memories of those golden silent incidents can bring you enduring joy, if you only let them.
My point here (as usual) is simple: What you did with your life was important. But what you DIDN’T do has probably brought you 20 times as much happiness.