Existential Psychology

If Not Now When

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We’ve been watching the first few seasons of Seinfeld, and while the hilarity should have made the mood light and carefree I found myself experiencing some discomfort. I couldn’t really figure out why until stumbling upon the fact that episodes I remember watching like it was yesterday are now over twenty years old. The actors from the show, in the prime of their lives then, dealing with the vagaries of young adulthood in the show and their personal lives, have aged considerably and will face old age soon.

When we’re young we think we’ll live forever, that we have all the time in the world, that the biological rules of life and death somehow don’t apply to us personally just to everyone else. But life speeds by oh so fast; existence cares not a whit for what we want, and if we’re not careful we near the end of our lives flabbergasted by the fact that we seem to have run out of time, never having done the things we planned on doing or followed the dreams we planned on pursuing.

The terror and paralysis of considering our mortality is such that it’s probably a good thing most of us seem to have this built in biological mechanism to believe we are personally immune. It helps us accomplish our daily tasks without grumbling too much, sure we’ll have plenty of time to do all the things we want to do. But this fiction is a very bad thing when it lulls us into inertia, letting us off the hook for making the difficult choices and sacrifices necessary to fulfill our unique destinies.

If not now when? Today is the day to put your plan in motion, to move one step closer to what you have always secretly wanted for yourself. Because just like those episodes of Seinfeld, you’ll be dated before you know it. You won’t be able to figure out where all that time went but you will be left with the empty feeling that you didn’t use it very well. A useful exercise that Irvin Yalom suggests trying is to imagine what you want engraved upon your tombstone. Write it down and contemplate the words for a while. None of us know when death will call our number, but even the longest life possible is precious short time to make our dreams come true and create a life we can be proud of. Don’t let yourself be lulled into a false sense of immortality, the myth you have created for yourself to protect you from cruel fate. The true cruelty is knowing exactly what you are supposed to do with your life and never doing it because you always think you’ll have more time.