Living fully on borrowed time

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It might have been somewhere between my fourth and fifth solemn swear to get off of Facebook and start writing my overdue guest post that I got a chill up the back of my neck.

“This is how I am choosing to spend my time. My precious time, away from my kids, away from my writing that could help hundreds, even thousands of people. Life is finite, my time here on earth is finite. Is this really how I want to spend it?”

Do you ever have those moments?

Amidst either the frantic rushing between breakfast, school drop-offs, calls, emails, and deadlines, or after a stretch of mindless television or internet surfing, you suddenly realize that time is slipping by.

Some events can jolt you into the present, like hearing from my friend Patti Digh that her husband has cancer, or losing my Bonus Dad, or my dear friend Carlos.

Just yesterday, well after I had decided on the topic for this newsletter, I learned that a close friend’s daughter is critically ill.

I felt sick. And overwhelmed.

What do you do when you are confronted with the realization that your life is finite? And that the way you are spending today really matters in the big scheme of things?

You can choose to panic. Or, you can choose to be grateful for the lesson.

And, you can change.

Read through some of these scenarios and see if they fit.

If you are not motivated to do something, try reminding yourself why it is important.

What is at the root of the task at hand? Why will doing it benefit you, those you care about and the world at large? How will this help you reach longer-term goals that are important to you?

This applies to spending an entire hour playing “I’m the Mama and you’re the baby” with your five year old, or writing a proposal.

If you are not making progress, try changing up your pattern.

I always know when I am going through a significant growth stage because I revert to mind-numbing activities to quell the fear. I read People magazine, spend too much time sharing motivational quotes on Facebook, or watch really bad television. When the pattern starts to drag on for a few days, it is important to change up the pattern.

Find a new way to approach a scary task. Break it into tiny little bits. Work from a totally different location. Ask someone to talk you through an idea so you gain a new perspective and get out of your own head. Go for a walk. Draw a picture of the solution, instead of trying to write about it. Dance wildly to AC/DC or Jay Z instead of listening to your favorite classical music. Anything that will stop the unproductive pattern from repeating.

If you don’t feel joy in the goals you have set for yourself, try changing your goals.

Are you tired of striving for accolades, promotions, or respect in your field? Do you pour yourself into each endeavor with great focus, only to feel kind of hollow when you succeed? Do you chair every PTA committee, go to Lego building marathons with your kids, bake your own gluten-free bread and still feel like a crappy parent?

Maybe you need to go chase fireflies.

“What is life? It is the flash of fireflies in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

-Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

If you are waiting for the perfect time to lose weight, write a book, start a business or find a mate, try starting.

It will never be the perfect time to do anything. You do not have to jump off off the cliff without a parachute, you can take some tiny steps in a new direction. Stop eating donuts for breakfast, and eat cereal instead. Create a Word document with the chapter headings and write one paragraph of foolish nonsense. Put up a really ugly sales page with a two-paragraph description of your service and a PayPal button. Go on a Sierra Club hike (incidentally, that’s how my Mom found Larry after 16 years of being single).

If you are desperately searching for the answer to one question and not finding it, try asking another question.

Questions like “What is my passion?” or “What business should I start?”, create despair in the hearts of many people. Try asking a different question like “What am I thoroughly grateful for today?” or “What can I count on to make me happy, regardless of what is going on in my life? (my kids, my dogs, my Peet’s coffee).

There is no right answer. There is only the opportunity to be aware of the tremendous blessing we have to wake up each day, breathe fresh air, and watch a shadow dance across the grass until it is swallowed up by the sun.

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44 Responses to “Living fully on borrowed time”

  1. […] you sit back and analyse what you are trying to achieve, or avoid. There’s a recent post by Pam Slim on her blog which covers this for me today. These mediaeval dudes sure have a thing about […]

  2. B Waters says:

    So glad I found this site today! I closed my business a couple of years ago due to the recession and decided to go back to the corporate environment. I admit that I welcomed the change of not stressing over payroll and extending our credit. While it took me a few months to adjust to working in a cubicle, I honestly loved having a consistent pay check every 2 weeks and reasonable health insurance benefits. Then, the office politics became more apparent and stressful.

    So, we decided it was time for a much needed vacation. It was a week long trip with the family camping along California’s coast and Yosemite. The time well spent reminded me that there is more to life then 2 hour daily commutes, “TPS reports”, and navigating office politics.

    Having been my own boss, I found office politics to be a stressful distraction and a major waste of time that could be devoted to creating a greater body of work. Needless to say, I am planning my escape from cubicle nation. A life full of simplicities is far more rewarding then keeping up with all the distractions of our daily lives.

  3. We should always make the most of whatever time we have. This post is really amazing and it reminds me to even spend time doing the things that matters to me.

  4. Rob says:

    Very motivational and inspirational, thanks Pam.

    I think the last paragraph summed it up beautifully for me:

    There is no right answer. There is only the opportunity to be aware of the tremendous blessing we have to wake up each day…

    For me, these are the truly important aspects of living and everything else is a bonus. I find bringing an element of ‘play’ to everything can really help break down obstacles, barriers and generally being stuck.

  5. […] asks about time this way: “Is this really how I want to spend […]

  6. Hi Pam,

    This is so timely for me, you have no idea. After my kidney transplant fall of 2010 and after baby girl last year was born, I have this knawing sense of urgency to create a legacy of work. So much so I feel it removes me from being present. Working towards the future so much that I’m missing my now. That is no way to be.

    I am thankful for my second chance at life, for My Boo and baby girl. I’m constantly learning to be present and own my choices, whether that means writing or dancing with baby girl to the James Brown channel on Pandora.

    Your quote reminded me of my youth in rural Virginia, catching fireflies at the gloaming of the day. Thank you so much Pam for this reminder and take care.

  7. Hi Pam,

    I read this post a few days ago and can’t get it out of my head. It’s at once poignant and truthful and inspiring. I’m one who always chooses gratitude, although sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get motivated. This is just what I needed, and I thank you. Off to chase some fireflies…hope you get the chance to as well!

  8. Lawrence Fox says:


    Terrific post today!

    Do I ever have those “time is slipping by” moments? Of course. I don’t think that anyone who has ever been confronted with mortality–their own, or that of family or close friends–can say that they haven’t. The only question, as you so rightly put it, is how we decide to deal with them. Do we get depressed? Or view our place in the universe with in a positive manner?

    My late mother taught me–through word and deed (and I learned through my own personal experiences) that the best way to go through life is to wake up every day and think “Thank God, it’s another day” (and not “Oh God, not another day”).

    How do I deal with those moments? I smile. I laugh. I remember that there will always be time to work (and if I don’t get to it, I don’t get to it)–but that the opportunities to have fun, to grow, to play with my son or spend time with my wife or my siblings will not. No matter what happens in my day, I always remember that I woke up and got out of bed today; I’ve seen the alternative up close and in person and it can wait, thank-you very much. Crowfoot has it exactly right.


  9. […] last night I read a post from Pam Slim that hits the nail on the head in my book: If you are not motivated to do something, try reminding […]

  10. Pam,

    Great post – perfect reading just before the weekend, when I’m less busy and my mind is allowed to wander down all these paths you’re talking about.

    What I do when the “I will die someday” hits? You mean other than pour a big glass of wine? Ha.

    Whenever I’m feeling stuck or off track, I do what you talk about – I take action. Any action, even a crappy, short-term one. And every single time something happens because of it that gets me going again.

    Action is far more powerful than direction, because direction follows from action. Throw enough stuff against the wall and something’s bound to stick.

    Thanks again for the insights!


    • Pamela says:

      I am so with you Deonne – action is so powerful. When not staring at shadows and fireflies. πŸ˜‰

  11. This completely speaks to the shift I’ve made the last few weeks. I took on several large client projects in my business that forced me to sideline anything that wasn’t critical work. I saw how much time I was wasting on menial tasks that felt like I was doing something, but wasn’t worth the time block. As a result of taking on more work, I was actually able to shift priorities, keep my client projects, and create more space to pursue my creative endeavors – a piece of me that had been missing for awhile. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m so glad that I stepped back, realized what wasn’t working, and with honesty figured out how to move myself forward in a better direction. Thx for sharing!

    • Pamela says:

      That is so cool Dana! Isn’t it wild that sometimes when we get uber-busy, we actually get more clear and productive? Good for you for stepping back and making some shifts.

  12. faisal says:

    Best way of motivation, see what others above you are doing, and why you are not there!

    • Pamela says:

      That can definitely help Faisal! Unless you start to judge yourself in comparison to others and feel lacking. It all depends on the day!

  13. Carmelo says:

    Hi Pam,

    Very beautifully written and expressed. Life is the moment we have, isn’t it? Despite the emotions of what happened yesterday or the worry over what might happen tomorrow we are left dealing with the moment.

    Sometimes that’s such a difficult concept to wrap your thoughts around. How do you bring yesterday and tomorrow into your present moment? Sometimes you don’t even think it’s fair to do so when others are suffering.

    But, then again, you cannot live another’s life. And when I’m successful in staying “present” those fireflies and shadows mean so much more. And life is good.

    Thank you! I love your site.


    • Pamela says:

      Thank you so much Carmelo! I so agree, it is a delicate balance to be empathetic to the struggles around you, yet aware of joy and beauty at the same time.

  14. Janine says:

    Hi Pam, kudos to you for recognizing what happens when you feel overwhelmed or afraid, and recognizing how things change slowly, then quickly. I’m excited to hear about your a new book. Your first one was a game changer for me!

    For a lot of cumulative reasons I went through a crisis in my career and health a couple years ago. With all the beauty of hind sight, I saw how I’d let “should” and “can’t” push me off course. When I regained my clarity and reconnected to my purpose, the next steps were obvious and my energy zoomed back up to where it used to be.

    Looking forward to joining you in Scottsdale in October and being part of that forward-focused community.

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks Janine – awareness is always the first step, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

      I cannot WAIT to see you in October!

  15. Very well said. Every time you decide to spend your time doing something, you are deciding not to spend your time doing something else.

  16. Kate says:

    A close friend of mine has been given 3 to 6 months to live. Her journey to this point & this diagnosis has whittled away so much from her leaving a kind of pureness & joy that I have never seen before in anyone. I wish I could come even close to that state.

    Thank you for this post, it comes at a time when I am really exploring what is important to me and how I want to live my life.

    And the quote: β€œWhat is life? It is the flash of fireflies in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

    -Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

    That quote just fills me up with so many warm thoughts. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Pamela Slim says:

      Wow Kate, that must be such an amazing journey to witness with your friend. I cannot imagine it. I am so glad you enjoyed the quote too — I was looking for a strong metaphor, and when I found it, it made me feel so awake πŸ™‚

  17. However difficult it might be, I think that answering the question – What would I be willing to die for? – is very valuable. My honest answer is centered on the well-being of my wife and my daughter, and, so is my life, ultimately.

    Of course, I do care deeply about addressing the needs of my clients, supporting other family members, friends and a number of causes that I believe in. But I try not to lose track of what’s ultimately most important to me.

  18. “It will never be the perfect time to do anything. You do not have to jump off off the cliff without a parachute, you can take some tiny steps in a new direction. Stop eating donuts for breakfast, and eat cereal instead. Create a Word document with the chapter headings and write one paragraph of foolish nonsense. Put up a really ugly sales page with a two-paragraph description of your service and a PayPal button. Go on a Sierra Club hike (incidentally, that’s how my Mom found Larry after 16 years of being single).”


    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this piece. Absolutely rings true in every way. I am constantly asking myself and others, “if not now, when?” We wait and wait and wait for “the right time to do x,” (which, coincidentally, is why I stayed in a soul-crushing profession for 6 years) and before we know it we’ve missed so many golden opportunities. As I work to build and grow my own yoga profession, I will be taking many of these ideas to heart.

    The firefly quote is lovely, as well.

  19. Tina Tarbox says:

    I’ve lived with a chronic condition since I was a small child, and that has certainly kept me mindful of living life with purpose and vibrance. A couple of years ago, I started feeling a disconnect that I had never felt before in my career. I realized that I was no longer passionate about what I was doing and that I resented the time I spent on the job. I’ve resolved that issue now by “escaping” it and starting my own business. And I couldn’t be happier! I appreciate the work you’ve done over the years and continue to do in order to help others to take that leap and to make the best of the time we have on this planet. Even though I’ve never taken life for granted, I have needed reminders now and then that I can make changes that will transform how my time is spent.

  20. Joan says:

    Oh, I so needed to hear this today. I am the same way – when I am worried, I revert to “comfort activities” like reading mass-market romance novels, organizing things that probably don’t need to be organized, the whole works.

    We’ve had some significant health issues among our family and close friends and I can feel myself shrinking back from the world around me to try to process.

    Thank you for waking me up today and getting me out of my shell. πŸ™‚

  21. Allison says:

    Timely, to say the least. It’s about owning our choices.

  22. Andy Pels says:

    Once again, it is like you’re spying on me and know what I need to hear just when I need to hear it.

    It’s funny how human brains are tweaked just enough for us to perceive things like time, beginning and end, but we’re still animal enough that we need to keep refreshing those concepts in our minds.

  23. Tammy says:

    Like Megan, I also find myself in this place. I’ve actually had some extra time at work, and I’ve just been wasting it and feeling bad for doing so. I’d lost all direction and purpose. This is not how I want to spend the rest of my life!

    Bad TV is also a red flag for me as well: I only ever watch it when I’m afraid of what I should be doing … or the goal I was trying to achieve no longer is of interest to me.

    Well, I spoke up to a friend and found that a career that I thought was unattainable just might be possible and I have a plan to make the best leap at that transition. It involves learning a lot (which I LOVE) and fostering connections that I already have.

    I have a purpose and direction and I’m not feeling as lost at sea as I was even a couple weeks ago.

    You are right: Life is to short to let the minutiae become all we have.

    • Pamela Slim says:

      I am so excited about your new career possibilities Tammy! Sometimes we need to be lost for awhile in order to appreciate coming home πŸ˜‰

  24. I like your point about reminding yourself why it’s important. For me to succeed at a long-term goal, I’ve got to have a crystal clear vision that fires me up! Something so awesome I can hardly wait until I get there. Sure, I get tired and have off times, but overall that vision keeps me going.

    And when things aren’t working, I often find that I’ve set a goal I “should” set instead of something I really want to achieve myself.

  25. Dan Meyers says:

    I totally get this and think about it probably more than I should! I love the fireflies analogy. Here’s my tidbit of wisdom on it:

    Time goes by so fast, they say
    You turn around, and it’s the end of the day
    A week, a month, a year goes by
    And before you know it, it’s time to die!
    So enjoy every moment and treasure every breath,
    Because one thing is certain, you’ll never escape death!

  26. Megan says:

    Amazing. This addresses exactly the mental space I’ve been in all summer, touched on a lot of things I’d already been thinking and pointed out more than a few things I hadn’t thought of.

    Also I read the whole thing with a huge lump in my throat. I would say it was exactly what I needed this morning.