It is amazing how time rushes by. 17 March 2015 marks the 2 year anniversary of the sudden death of a dear friend of mine, Abhishek Banerjee.

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The memory of his friendship along with the suddenness and circumstances of his passing away has had a profound impact on my own life. (For more on that see the post A Tribute To My Dear Friend and the post In Memory of Abhishek Banerjee (Bunty))

One of the striking experiences of bereavement is that after the initial shock and disbelief, the shedding of tears and the gradual processing of the pain, how life just carries on.

You return to your usual routines and duties. You know you are changed and will never be the same again, but then there is everything else that needs to be done – projects and deadlines, errands and duties that continue on. And continue on and on, never appearing to end…

With the passage of time the person you have lost becomes an increasingly distant memory. Life has to be lived forward, but it can only be understood with reference to the past.

And yet it is also important to remember that life is a gift and must continue be treated as a gift. The alternative is the risk of a growing cynicism, exhaustion or even as Thoreau says, “a life of quiet desperation”.

Two years before he died, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” (For more on Steve Jobs see Lessons On Life From Steve Jobs).

Remembering I will one day be dead sounds morbid, even depressing.  But if you can work through the initial discomfort it can, as Jobs says, bring enormous clarity as to what is really important and what is just trivial. Trust me, I want to encourage you in this blog post and it will get better!

The reality is most people tend to drift in life, taking life as it comes. On one level we all have to do that, especially in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous) world. The problem arises when that is our only way of living. It then becomes so easy to get carried away by what is latest or loudest or most pressing on our time and attention. Before we know it days become weeks which in turn can become months, years and even decades. We don’t notice it happening, but we find ourselves adrift. Here is how Michael Hyatt puts it:

“Many people get into their 40s, 50s and 60s, look around and realise they have been pulled out to sea. Perhaps their health is failing, their marriage is broken or their career is stalled. Maybe they have lost their spiritual connection, and life seems meaningless and unfulfilling. Whatever the case, they look up and find themselves far away form where they thought they would be at this point in their lives. They have become victims of the drift.”

The sobering reality is that drifting through life without a plan means eventually you will be at the mercy of other people’s plans and agendas.

Some people by contrast rather than drifting tend to be very driven. They set their hearts on a particular goal or destination that they must reach at all costs. They give everything they have to reach that particular destination, thinking that once they reach that goal they will finally be happy and content. In many ways that has been true of me. From striving for academic achievement to wanting to do all that I could to be ‘successful.’ They suffer from what has been called ‘destination disease,’ telling themselves “I will be happy when…(you fill in the blank)”. (For more on this and my personal journey see Podcast #002 Success and related articles)

There is, however, a third way that Hyatt calls the designed life. That designing of my life comes not just from the drivenness of my plans and ideas, but the mysterious dance of listening to and responding to God’s calling upon me. That takes a lifetime to grasp and master, yet it is in the small choices and decisions of day to day, often falling and having to get up again, that is worked out. (See also Discovering Silence And Solitude).

Parker Palmer puts it very well when he says, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I need to listen to what my life life tells me about who I am. What it wants to do with me.” 

That is the start of the designed life. Realising that I am here for a purpose and I am called to work out that purpose. In case you doubt that, then I need to remind you if you are still alive then you must have a purpose!

Michael Hyatt in his book ‘Living Forward’ has powerfully crystallised this into 3 vital questions to ask oneself to start on this journey:

  1. How do you want to be remembered?
  2. What matters most to you?
  3. How can you get from here to where you want to be?

With the memory of Bunty’s friendship, the help of these questions and Hyatt’s book I am more and more challenged to live a life of intention. How about you?