Most of us have probably had this thought at some point in our lives: what if I could have a fresh start? A do-over, or better yet, a new beginning?
The truth is that we have just one life. As a friend of mine often said, “life is not a dress rehearsal”. I always found this saying particularly interesting as I have spent my career on the stage and in the theater we often say “bad dress rehearsal, good performance”. I can tell you from experience that this is an especially comforting superstition when you’ve had a rough dress rehearsal. At that point and under those circumstances, what you are really looking for is hope...sometimes hope for a miracle, and you’ll believe in any kind of myth. On the other hand, if you have a great dress rehearsal, one tends to forget this line quickly…
I like to say “hope is not a plan”. Life so far has taught me that if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that relying on hope is not the most effective option.
And it was with that realization that I gave myself permission to start over. I decided that life as I had known it was only Act I, and that Act II was up to me. Indeed, we only have one shot, but we can certainly learn from our experiences and consciously decide what we want for our future. This is a process, but making a plan is important, because in doing so we create a map for our future.
A few years ago I sat down one morning and decided to write a list of all of the things I wanted to do before I die. I guess to some the idea of making a bucket list while in my mid-thirties might seem odd, but I thought it would be a fun exercise. At first I found that I wrote down things that I wanted to achieve. Then I realized some pretty simple things like the fact that I would probably want to have a large portion of dark chocolate before dying. But then I started really thinking-what if I knew when I would die? What would be so important that I would regret not having done in my lifetime? What would become urgent? And from there I took a different approach: what if I were to write the greatest story of all-time, what would happen in Act II? As this thinking progressed, I started to dream. I imagined the joy of seeing a tiger in the wild, or witnessing the aurora borealis, or of experiencing unconditional love and contentment.
After reading my list, I folded it and tucked it away. It was laughable. Who the hell would ever write such things? It seemed impossible—wildly imaginative, sure, but completely unpractical.
That was in 2013.
Writing that list may have been the best thing that I ever did. Even though it seemed absurd at the time, I knew that there was truth in what I wrote that day. And from the moment I put those crazy thoughts on paper, I couldn’t help but wonder, am I really living life or just waiting to die? What does it mean to live? A hunger grew in me—a strong desire to feel alive, which I found most often came from 1) helping others, 2) experiences in nature and 3) learning and personal growth.
A year or so after I wrote the list I woke up one morning and decided to dig it up. As I unfolded the piece of paper, I realized this was my map. I had known all along exactly what I wanted to do in my lifetime, but I had been lacking the courage and the confidence to believe I could go after such an unusual set of goals.
I looked at myself and decided that convention should not stop me.
So today I am starting this series of musings from one of the places on that original list: India. Every item on the list that I have been able to check off has filled me with a greater sense that indeed anything is possible. I’m sitting in my hotel room, looking out onto a breathtaking view of the Taj Mahal. In doing so, and on this the first day of 2017, I asked myself the I question-how did I get here? This question made me smile as I knew the answer. It was that list I made back in 2013, when I decided to give myself permission to dream big.
I believe in new beginnings. In India I am told that Hindi people take time to choose the God they wish to worship. Upon learning about this, I have chosen Ganesha, God of New Beginnings. I like to think that Ganesha has been with me this whole time, as the “remover of obstacles”. The animal attributed to Ganesha is the elephant. There is something calming to me about the thought of having a big, strong elephant at my side, removing anything that comes in my way with his trunk, and winking at me every so often.
I’ve been fascinated by India for a long time, an admiration that began with my study of yoga and has continued though my learning of meditation, world music, and culture. Of course, the fact that I love Indian food may have something to do with all of this too!
I am full of joy here, and wanted to share my story with you out of hope. Yes, I do believe in hope. I hope for a better world and a better future. I hope that people will choose to be good.