What I Learned in 2013: “Mortality is My Diagnosis”

I stopped writing my bucket list and started living it.

For 13 years, I’ve witnessed the ultimate paradox: people my age taking on huge outdoor challenges because they have cancer.

Think about that; twenty- and thirty-somethings 300 feet up on a vertical rock face or getting pounded in the ocean break or charging the rapids in a whitewater kayak because their doctor gave them a life-threatening diagnosis. There’s a valuable lesson in there for all of us that I think I finally learned in 2013.

After working with young adults with cancer for the better part of my life (and losing too many friends to it), you would think I would have understood the value of living by now. But for some reason, it only really crystalized this past year. I attribute the timing to a conversation I had with a long-time friend after her doctors notified her that she was out of treatment options. I stopped by the hospital to say my final goodbyes and it was there, in her stale hospital room over the course of a frank conversation about dying young, that I fully realized she was no different than me. The only reason she was planning her final days and I wasn’t was just plain luck. And while I listened to her talk about regrets and things she had always wanted to do but now would not have the chance to, I started to evaluate my life. In doing so, my focus shifted from what I was going to someday lose to what I still had.

Life soon took on a whole new sense of urgency. I decided not to wait for a diagnosis, but to give myself one—I diagnosed myself with “mortality.” I stopped writing my bucket list and started living it. I stopped talking about what I was going to do in 2, 10, 20 years, and started doing the things I wanted to do right now.

As a result, I have come to know a happiness that I haven’t known since my childhood. I’ve discarded any sense of self-imposed burden and unnecessary responsibility, and stopped wasting energy worrying about shit that really doesn’t matter. I don’t view this approach to life as an opportunity, but rather a responsibility—one that every healthy human has. Leave nothing undone or unsaid. There are no excuses.

This piece is part of a series sponsored by The GAP in which members of the 2013 GOOD 100 share important lessons they learned this past calendar year. Subscribe today to GOOD Magazine and receive the 2014 GOOD 100 edition this coming Spring.