Imagine that I have a ball of yarn, and it represents time. On one side of me is a pile of unraveled yarn that we will pretend is the amount of time that has happened before us: the eons and millions of years that occurred before we got here. The people and the dinosaurs and the plate tectonics and everything that happened before us. On the other side of me is the remainder of the yarn, wound up into a ball, representing the time that is yet to come. And in the middle is me, holding taut a span of yarn about two feet long, and it represents the average human life span, which is seventy-nine years. One side is millions of year and one side is infinity and beyond and then we have seventy-nine years that we participate in. Got it?
Seventy-nine years is not very long, and obviously some of us get a lot more than that and others get much less. But you know, we don’t really even get all of it. We all know life is short, but when we break it down, it seems even shorter. At the beginning all we can do is kid stuff, and we have to obey grown-ups. Then there is a part right after that when we’re all idiots, and then there is a pretty decent span when we mostly have it together. But even then, what we’re really living for is retirement, when we can stop and do whatever we want. Then we get a few good years, and then we die.
That’s how a movement began to maximize this short life we have, and live your “best life.” Books and blogs and podcasts and magazines and television shows have been created to help us learn how to be our absolute best, and suck the marrow out of every day of life. Carpe diem! Bucket lists! Make the most of every moment! We chase this ideal throughout our lives, thinking that being the best version of ourselves will mean we lived life more fully, and that means we didn’t waste any of it. And I think that’s a really good way to miss your life, because we end up spending most of the short time we have trying to be our best self, our most self, and instead we should just be our favorite self.
Your favorite self might not be your best self. Your potential is unlimited, so who is to tell when you are at your best? We can always improve on what we’ve done, so striving to be our best, well, it seems kind of exhausting. Busy people like to say that good is the enemy of great but good is not the enemy of great. Good is fantastic, and good is really satisfying. Instead of living your best life, I invite you to live your favorite one. And here is why: when you are connected to something that brings you joy – the thing you wish could be your job, the work you would do for free – it cannot be hidden. You cannot pretend that you are not connected to it because you are beaming with joy, and that radiates to others in a really significant way.
When you are connected to a purpose, or a favorite thing, you infect others with the passion that you have, not the stuff you have done. You attract others with the joy that you have, not just your prettiest moments. Science shows that people who shape their lives around their purpose are more productive, less stressed out, less likely to engage in addictive behaviors, and more likely to increase their life span.
What was that? You heard me.
So how do you tell the difference between your best life and your favorite life? Here’s a clue: your best life has a much longer list of things to do, and your favorite life can be satisfied with much less. Here are some ideas that might help you discover it.
Catch yourself smiling. When you notice that you are smiling in a genuine, natural way, take some notes. What is making you smile? Look beyond what you see and see what it represents.
Ask others what you are good at. When you are asked to do or teach something, why are you the one they choose?
Listen to your rants. We all have something that gets us fired up. When you begin to rant and rave, listen to yourself. What are you advocating for? Why is that important enough for you to shout?
Then let the rest go. Cull the to-do list that is taking up your precious life and delete the optional items that are not connected to your purpose. Within reason, of course. You’ll be able to tell the difference between what to let go and what to keep, because the right things to let go will make you feel really good when they’re gone.
Life is short, and it is good. I hope that this week, you catch yourself smiling and it feels good enough to let the rest go.