About six months ago I found myself embroiled in what would be a life-changing thought experiment. After having spent some time with a paper and pen mapping out some big projects that were (supposed) to bring me closer to the precipice of success in life, another question burned across my mind: what would a successful day look like? In other words, how would success be defined in terms of the next twenty-four hours, instead of trying to define it from the nebulous longview of a whole lifetime?
What would make tomorrow a success?
I picked up another sheet of paper. Across the top I wrote, The Ideal Day, and then I started writing: Wake up refreshed. Enjoy some quiet reflection time. Be fully present with coworkers and clients at work. Learn something challenging and mentally rejuvenating. Play with ideas. Enjoy ample margin between commitments to chat with family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers along the way. Contribute to something meaningful beyond myself. Exercise. Relax. Sit on the front porch.
It quickly became apparent that elements of my “ideal day” sounded remarkably different than my grandiose list of designs for a “successful life.” They weren’t necessarily incompatible, but some points were certainly in contention with each other.
I often sacrifice the practices and routines that bestow daily life with value in order to achieve majestic, overarching goals that may or may not truly bring any quotient of contentment. Most shocking was the realization that there was nothing keeping me from living an ideal day tomorrow. There was no barrier in the way except myself. My curse was my own obsessive-compulsive drive to ideologically displace my present self in a conceptually “successful” future, at the cost of living the life I truly want to live right now.
I wondered: what if a successful life is simply comprised of ideal days? What if we have drawn up the front lines in the wrong place, attacking our “plans for success” in a theatre of war that does not even need to be fought?
Instead of ruthlessly abusing each weekday as if it is some blunt utilitarian instrument, what if we leveraged everything we had to make each day stand for itself?
What if our lives really are just the sum total of our days?
What if we considered life by the metric of “purposeful days” instead of surrendering these days to the tyrannous pursuit of a “purposeful life” that perpetually eludes definition anyway?
What if the only way to really account for the meaning of our lives was simply to count the number of days we lived without regret?
This contemplation has had significant ramifications on my life. It has directly impacted a couple of recent career decisions, it has led me to adjust several lifestyle priorities, and it gave me the extra little jolt I needed to launch the Caesura Letters as a part of my own “ideal day” routine.
Every once in a while we come to a clearing in the path that provides a new vantage point on our journey. This reflection may or may not be such a vista for you, but for myself it has felt akin to donning eye glasses for the first time: the moment of clarity when you realize that trees are not just green blobs, but rather spectacles made up of perfectly edged, highly defined, singular leaves.