On January 1st, my family and I woke up at five o'clock in the morning in order to go snowboarding at our local mountain. We woke up that early because we wanted to take advantage of the fact we knew many people would not be up on the mountain when it first opened. How did we know that was going to be the case? We knew because New Year's Eve is one of the most alcohol-infused holidays known to human-kind, worldwide. Sure enough, when we arrived, the parking lot was emptier than I have seen all season. We parked in front of parking lot A, something we rarely have the ability to do. We made our way into the lift lines to find ourselves in the number two spot. While this may not sound like a big deal, the experience forced me to ponder on a phrase we have all heard throughout the entirety of our lives. Ironically, the infamous phrase is a phrase I wholeheartedly subscribed to for most of my adult life. I did not know it at the time, but my voluntary subscription to this belief was horrifically misplaced.
The phrase, you only live once, is historically stated when we are considering doing something we know is not in our best interest. We tell ourselves, we only live once, so we better drink as much alcohol as we can drink, eat as much junk food as we can eat, do as many morally questionable things as we can do, act in ways we may not normally act, or any innumerable other ways of justifying things of which virtue may be in question. When I looked at the empty parking lot at the base of the snow-covered mountain, it became clear to me many people stated the above phrase the night before. You only live once. For many people on New Year's Eve, this meant drinking until they were drunk and passed out. Why would anyone do this? Because you only live once. While this is true, since living alcohol-free I have learned one of the most invaluable lessons of my entire life. We have been saying this saying for all of the wrong reasons imaginable.
In order to dig into this saying a little deeper, let's discern what living actually means. The dictionary definition is not very sexy but let's go ahead and include it here anyway. Dictionary.com states living as having life; being alive; and not dead. Okay, that doesn't offer us much, but it also says: active or thriving; vigorous; strong. Now, this is something we can work with.
In regard to my experience on the mountain, most people who subscribe to the belief, you only live once, took it to mean drinking until inebriated. As a result, their bodies shut down, their minds shut off, and their ability to make sound judgments diminished. Their bodies suffered from dehydration and they presumably slept longer than normal the next day. Then, after waking up feeling like death, they had a short panic attack while they tried to recall the events of the evening prior. Not to mention they felt absolutely uninterested in doing anything until they regained some semblance of physical normalcy. All of this was in celebration of the life they only get to live once.
I, on the other hand, made the same statement the night before, but when I said, you only live once, I meant something entirely different. My perspective of the saying suggested since I only live once, I had better get to bed early so I can wake up and get up to the mountain to take advantage of the fewer crowds due to those who misappropriated the meaning of the saying, you only live once, by drinking themselves into oblivion. I know I will only live once, so I got my family up at 5am and proceeded to live by engaging with the outdoors, each other, and an activity we all love. At the end of the day, I can honestly say my family and I lived very well.
When we contrast the two different beliefs of the saying, you only live once, what do we discover? Going back to the definitions of the word living, it is clear one of the beliefs leaned more toward the first definition, merely not dead. The other belief leaned more toward the second definition, active and thriving. The most interesting question and the reason I pondered this statement while standing in the lift line is this: Why would we take the idea of only living once to mean we should live poorly? If you take a step back and truly think about this for a moment, it is quite baffling. Nevertheless, as you read this blog, you are likely aware of your own mistaken beliefs in the saying at some point in your past as well.
Perception of Living
The only real difference between the two beliefs stated above is perception. How we define living is a choice, and it is a choice we consciously make. Granted, some of the choices we make and the perception we hold of living and our lives may derive from negative experiences out of our control over the years. Nevertheless, at any given moment, we have a choice between two options. We can choose based on our past experience and therefore maintain the status quo, or we can choose based on what we want our life and our perception of living to be. Make no mistake, it is a choice.
When I quit drinking, the perception I held of living and therefore the perception I held of my life changed drastically. I can be honest in saying I remember not only saying the words, you only live once, but believing them wholeheartedly. It was the easiest excuse I ever found to justify the pathetic existence my life had become. Interestingly enough, I still use the saying to justify the way my life is currently unfolding. However, because of my new belief in the saying, you only live once, I have created and am achieving lifelong goals. I am publishing a sober book. I am creating an online sobriety course to help others experience easier sobriety. I am writing a sequel to my first sober book. I am working toward my lifelong dream of writing professionally and working from home full time. I am a more present father. I am a better partner. I am more proud of myself than ever. I am living life on my terms, and I am unwilling to let anything get in the way of my dreams. All of this is a direct result of my adopting a new perspective of an age-old saying.
You only live once.