Living with Intention: On the Shortness of Life

Realize that your life is made up of choices. Every morning is a new day full of decisions and opportunities. You get to pick your attitude and your decisions.

How would you change your life today if I told you that in 3 years, you would die?

Look, life is short. We all know it. And yet, we get stuck in the mundanity. We do the same thing day in and day out. 

We hardly ever think, “I won’t live forever.”

In his moral essay, On the Shortness of Life, Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and playwright offers us an urgent reminder on the non-renewability of our most important resource: our time. It is a required reading for anyone who wishes to live to their full potential and it is a manifesto on how to get back control of your life and live it to the fullest.

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And if you’re new to Stoic philosophy here is a bit of background on Seneca: Seneca was one of the three most important Stoic philosophers along with Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. He is also infamous for serving as an advisor to Nero, one of the cruelest emperors. He is best known for this essay but also for his Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium better known as Moral Letters to Lucilius.

Those essays can change the way you view the world…but often that effect wanes.

A few weeks later, we forget we even read the essay and just fall back into our normal routines.

To avoid that, make it a habit to meditate on the impermanent nature of life. In this article, I share some lessons I’ve learned. 

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1. Approach life with curiosity, not fear 

When we are curious about what’s happening around us, we start to see things differently and embrace different perspectives. Instead of always thinking about the limitations and dangers of doing something, think about the good things. That doesn’t mean you have to be careless. Still, go through life with common sense and healthy caution. Just stay curious about new things.

Learn new skills, create art, start a business, read different types of books, meet new people, explore America in an RV, or anything else that’s new to you.

2. Solitude is strength

Silence can be used as a means of introspection to become aware of our thoughts and feelings and improve our self-awareness.

A lot of people can’t be alone for more than an hour. They start getting agitated. “Who can I text?”

How about yourself? Make solitude your friend. That’s a bit like a superpower. You will never be needy or alone. You have you.

Solitude encourages independent thinking. Becoming an independent thinker is one of the most important things you can do in life. When you think for yourself, you’re always open to other people’s opinions, knowledge, and input—but you always form your final judgment. 

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3. Embrace your vulnerability

Vulnerability brings us closer together and helps us connect on a deeper level with others.

This is why it’s so important to be open about who you are and what you’re going through.

4. Acceptance leads to growth

If we want to evolve, we need to be willing to accept things we can’t change.

The things that happened to you. The situation you are in now. The mistakes you made.

We must accept those things. Otherwise, we can never truly move forward. Without acceptance, we merely pretend we’re doing well. But deep down, we struggle inside.

If you want to get rid of that struggle, you must accept everything you can’t change. Then focus on what you can change.

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5. The only limit is the one you set for yourself

We often underestimate our abilities and hold ourselves back from reaching our full potential.

But you never know what potential you have unless you put in the effort to grow every single day. I think most people never even get close to their full potential. 

That’s because most of us don’t believe enough in ourselves. “Oh me? I could never do that!” And that could be anything. Why not? If you already start out saying you can’t do it, then it’s true. But what if you say you can? Go see what happens.

6. Learn to forgive yourself

We all make mistakes but it is crucial to learn from them, forgive ourselves, and move forward.

Otherwise, we waste too much energy. And if you want to get the most out of your life, you can never waste energy. Every moment needs to GIVE you energy. 

This is why you must be good at forgiving yourself. It’s okay to be tough for yourself and not let yourself off the hook. 

If you’re being lazy or you’re not doing your best, go hard on yourself! Nothing wrong with that! You’ll only get better. But you can’t do that with mistakes. What’s done is done. Move on.

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7. Practice gratitude

When we are grateful for what we have, we go through life with humility. We will stay grounded and always recognize that nothing in life is guaranteed.

The fact that you’re reading this means you have enough free time to do it. Think about all the people in the world who don’t have the means to do anything other than work.

Many of us live comfortable lives. Never forget that. You could’ve been worse off.

8. Empathy is essential

Listening without judgment, being able to treat others as we would like to be treated, and respecting their perspective is what makes us human. We need empathy if we want to be a good friend, partner, child, boss, team member, and so forth. Without empathy, we’re just like animals. 

To me, empathy is about always taking other people’s feelings into account—treating them like I treat myself with respect but also not too soft. 

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9. Always have a plan

We need a plan of action for everything. No matter what you want to do, think it through. 

And that starts off with your day. What are you having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What are you working on? When are you going to exercise? What will you do during your workout?

Apply this line of thinking to your days and then extrapolate it to the rest of your life. Look, you can’t plan for everything. 

And life hardly ever goes according to our long-term plans but at least we have a plan. That alone makes you better prepared than people who never plan.

10. Let your decisions be driven by time, not money

Look at everything you do through the lens of the time you spend not the money you can potentially acquire. The jobs you pursue. The city you live in. The people you hang out with. The business ventures you get after.

Once you spend time on something, it’s gone. You will never get that time back. Are you okay with that?

Money isn’t everything. And that’s usually something you say when you have money. But honestly, time is everything. 

You will never get the time you spend back. Just let that sink in.

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11. Live with intention

Living with intention means you are 100 percent content with your choices and how you’re spending your days.

Examine your life. If you detect a minuscule feeling of frustration or discontentment with any part of your life, make a change.

Life is too short to go through life with negative feelings about how you spend your time. You must feel good about what you do.

If you have that type of life, you will feel good even during hard times. 

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One interesting thing

We often search for purpose and meaning in our lives but true fulfillment can only be found through positively impacting the lives of those around us. 

Alfred Adler, the Austrian psychotherapist, said:

“Every human being strives for significance but people always make mistakes if they do not see that their whole significance must consist in their contribution to the lives of others.” 

Your contribution to the world matters, no matter how big or small it may seem.

Worth Pondering…

It is not that we have a short time to live but that we waste a lot of it.

—Seneca, On the Shortness of Life