What Does It Mean to Live On Your Terms?

While in Italy in 2010, I had occasion to be in a car with a man who was driving very fast on a well-traveled road in Tuscany. I mean very fast. Uncomfortably fast. I was pretty convinced I was going to die, so my thoughts went something like this as we neared Florence:

“My loved ones will know I died happy. They’ll have my journal from this very trip to read. They’ll at least have the solace of knowing I lived on my terms, doing what I love.”

Weird at the time, but in retrospect I kind of like that what the moment triggered was validation of my choices.

This memory popped back in my head as I pondered an observation made by a friend over breakfast the other day. She noted that people seemed to be jumping out and trying new things already in this new year. She herself had signed up for a figure drawing class for the first time in more than 20 years. Another friend had taken a tap class. And 2013 was not yet a week old. I sensed it, too.

Was there more of an urgency this year to get out and do? I have already accomplished more on a project this week than I’d managed on it in quite a while. Was this all just part of the same movement that has people signing up at gyms and diet plans in the beginning of every year?

I can’t speak for the world or nation at large, but something about being in the Northeast right now may be contributing to this. Between Hurricane Sandy and the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the last two months have had a raw, precarious feel in this part of the world.

I know there’s a tendency to come out of the gate strong in January, but this feels less like that and more like an unspoken realization. Whether you believe there’s another life or only this one, we can agree that it’s important to live this one to the fullest, yes?

I’d like to think this is about growing awareness. And by that I mean the kind big thinkers like to dwell on and in. Aware, awake people. Maybe more of us are feeling trapped by our choices and understand that new choices can start the shift away from the moats we sometimes construct. Grab a raft or some big ol’ hip waders and let’s go.

Sketch the bowl of fruit. Get on your Ginger Rogers. Let’s move.

Why not? Why the heck not?

Because soon the next question will be, what in God’s name took me so long?

One of the more profound things it took me a while to learn is that what makes my life better doesn’t necessarily make someone else’s life better. Standing in that confidently, well, it feels like it took forever to get to that place. Owning a home, for example, isn’t even in my top 100 of things that are important to me. That makes many people I know shudder.

Which brings me back to the moment in Italy, zooming down the highway and thinking about my life choices. I wouldn’t change any of them. I have no thoughts of, “If only I’d saved instead of doing this or skimped on that I’d have more money in the bank.” I can’t live like that. Carrying a balance on a credit card makes me twitchy, though, so I haven’t gone that route in years. But I know others who couldn’t imagine living in either of those philosophies; they’d feel unstable or deprived.

Do I occasionally wish I could do this or buy that? Yes. Of course. But in a bigger way, no. I can’t be a slave to what my life might be 10 years from now or bemoan what I could have done. Again, I know people who would break out in hives if they tried to live like I do. No one is asking them to.

The key for all of us is, are you living your truth? Making authentic choices? For you. Not my way or “society’s” way or the way the family thinks is best. The point is we all have to live in a way we think best and right now maybe more people are examining what that means. I’d like to think that’s true.

Maybe it’s not the spouse or the parent or the boss who’s holding us back from better choices. Maybe it’s us and we’re not willing to blame outside sources anymore. Sometimes it’s that a pocket in time has opened up or something practical has changed, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case here. I think it’s a shifting group consciousness.

I have no control over weather patterns taking out a subway system for two months or being in a department store on the very day an angry young man sprays it with bullets. Those possibilities are not the reason I’m ‘living’ or making bolder and richer choices. At least not consciously.

But know it must be figuring in somewhere deep in the recesses of my daily existence now. How could it not be? Those kinds of things keep happening.

No matter our geography, we have those times and events that stop us short and reconfigure everything. Since moving to a home a block from the Hudson River 14 years ago, it has been September 11th, the landing of Captain Sullenberger’s plane on the river, Hurricane Sandy and so much in between that has smacked me upside the head.

At base, I suppose I take them all as a sign to keep living on my terms.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.