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How Almost Dying Motivates Me

Back in March I almost died. It wasn’t something expected, like an avalanche or a big fall or something that might have been in the forefront of my mind back in my climbing years. No, this was a sucker punch from the universe.  

“What will you do with this life?” and “Make Your Arc,” are the two main taglines for Conrad Men’s. This has been a huge driving force since I was a teenager. Around 16 or 17 I really started to have to think about my future. Would I go to college, become a landscape architect, park ranger, or artist? Or would I simply experience youth? Even then I knew life was short and I really wanted to make the most of it.  I knew I didn’t want to go to school to just start the debt cycle, be forced to get a job to pay my student loans, and then buy a house, and then have to stay in a job to pay the mortgage. I also knew I didn’t want to be famous (I was extremely shy) or rich. All I really wanted was adventure, and an extraordinary experience with the little time I had in this world.

With the passing of David Bowie, I realized how many different experiences he had with all of the different personas he had, from Ziggy to the Duke. With each persona he played a different part, experienced the world in a different way, and created other experiences for the people that experienced him in this world.

In my short life I’ve already had several lifetimes. I’ve been a climber, an artist, the talent, a CEO. I’ve been poor, I’ve lived in the jet-set life, and I’ve lived somewhere in-between. 

I’ve had all of these experiences sometimes by chance, but often with an idea of the direction I wanted to go. Sometimes I had no choice (or gave myself no choice). When I graduated high school I left home on a Greyhound to Oregon with $600 and a bag of clothes and climbing gear, which gave me just enough time to go west and get a job before the few dollars ran out. I often gave up the experiences of one thing (like a warm bed and good food) to save money to fund my adventures (by living in my van during the winter in Salt Lake and eating tuna and ramen). 

I write this now from Joshua Tree, where I spent a lot of time during my climbing years. Right now I’m on the verge of 40 and the climbers out here are the next generation, and they talk about the generation before me. This might go on for generations, but likely just one, maybe two.

The greatest climbers of their time, like John Bachar, will be known forever because of their boldness, but also because their legacy had been captured in photos, film, and writing. The climbers of secondary or tertiary achievements in their generation may disappear into obscurity, but even the John Bachars of the world will eclipse one day into the abyss of forgotten achievement. The few at the immortal legacy level- the emperors, innovators, revolutionaries, and pharos live on through their accomplishments, monuments, and legends. This is history, but history is really a record of those who wrote it or those who remember it, for good or bad.

So what good is history, or for that matter, what good is legacy to those creating their own?

If you’re doing something important, say revolutionary, are you doing it to be significant or to change the world? Maybe both?

For me I wanted to live an amazing life. I didn’t see any point in living a simple life. I didn’t want to go through life watching the people in movies live artificial experiences for me to artificially experience. If you think about it, even the actors are having an artificial experience -- they are having the experience of being an actor, but they are playing out a fantasy in an artificial creation. They are being paid to play make-believe.

Unfortunately, if you are in a wheelchair, or physically or mentally handicapped, you can’t physically have those exact physical experiences, but just like the movie Avatar, actors can be the avatars of an experience for you.      

For a large part actors are the highest ideal a culture has at a moment for what a hero should be, and his experience should be. If it wasn’t, no one would go to movies. There is a balance though, as movies have to have something somewhat expected, with a few surprises. It can’t be too extremely new, or too extremely predictable. Either one will be disappointing for your average person to experience -- No one wants their avatar, who is living their experience for them, to die at the end and not ride off into the sunset with his great love!

So say you are able-bodied. Say you have a few bucks saved up: maybe enough to go hiking this weekend, or take your partner out to a nice dinner, or buy some paint and create some art. What would you do? Would you do these things mentioned above, or would you turn on the TV or go to the movies and have someone experience these things for you?

When I was climbing a lot, I had to think about death a lot, as I had plenty of friends and heroes die fairly regularly. The funny thing was that many of them didn’t even die climbing, skiing, or base jumping. I knew plenty of people that died in car accidents or other random things that your average person could die from.

So like I was saying, back in March I almost died. I was in a very unexpected car accident on the PCH when I was struck nearly head on by a drunk driver. My car was totaled but I walked away with a sore neck. The thing about the accident that was so shocking was the people that really showed up for me -- when something like this happens, you really see who your friends are, and who will be there when the shit hits the fan. The other thing was this jarring push of motivation: What would have happened if I would have died in the accident, or been paralyzed from the waist down? Would I have regretted not doing something that I’d had on my to-do list? Would I have regretted not calling someone to tell them I loved them as I lay dying in an ambulance? Would I have regretted the way I’d left a situation or relationship in this lifetime?

You don’t have to get in a car accident, or almost die climbing, to get to this emotional state though… 

Tony Robbins popularized the idea of the Dickens Process- reflecting on your life like the Scrooge character in the Christmas Carol, where he is forces to experience his life’s present, past, and yet to come. How are you living your life and how would you like to live it? What would happen if you died right now? What would you regret? How would it make you feel? How do you use that feeling to motivate yourself now to take action?

Would you create a legacy—anything from having a child, creating a painting, or a foundation that will carry on your mark on this world?

Or would you live a legacy, a legacy that you could experience in this life while you were here on this world? Your personal legacy.

You can do both.

You can live an extraordinary, exceptional, or even plain life RIGHT NOW if you choose to.

Or you could turn on the TV and watch someone living your experiences for you.

What will you do with this life?

It’s an important question and something I ask myself every day. What will I do with today? What will I do with this minute, this moment? What can I say that needs to be said? What dream can I live today that I’ve been putting off for, “one day…”

How can you live your dreams today, before you’re gone.

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1 comment

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Beautifully written, and quite inspirational!

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