15 Aug 2016 When Breath Becomes Air: Making Your Life Matter More
I have been asked repeatedly, “What do you want to do?” I want to run We Said Go Travel and make travel videos. The problem is I am not sure it is a good enough answer. I am afraid that I am wasting my talents. As a medical school drop-out, I worry that I should do more with my life and my intellectual abilities. I am “should-ing” myself to distraction.
When I read Paul Kalanithi’s book, “When Breath Becomes Air,” I was mesmerized. After earning multiple degrees from Stanford, Cambridge and Yale and being inducted into the national Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, after years of study and training, he learned he had stage IV lung cancer. After all of his work to be save humans from disease, he found he could be treated but not cured and was dying much sooner than he imagined. All of those years spent learning and preparing to do his important work would not lead to decades of practicing medicine as a doctor.
Kalanithi’s question “is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living…What makes life meaningful enough to go on living? …Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.” He continued to work when he could, to spend time with his family and to fight his cancer. If he knew he would have less days on this planet, would he have made other choices?
We are all going to die someday but most of us do not contemplate our mortality regularly. Kalanithi wrote: “You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget.” With months left to live, he struggles with his daily choices. What is worth his time now that it is so precious. We cannot get back the hours of our day. How do you decide what to do?
I want to use my strengths and abilities wisely. What is the best way to have a meaningful purpose-filled life? Kalanithi tells us “The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?” He answers his own question and tells us, “You have to figure out what’s most important to you.”
What leads you on your path?
What is the role of a doctor? From When Breath Becomes Air:
“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”
We all need a team surrounding us to remind us that we can find our own way even when it seems overwhelming or too short. We never know which day will be our last. I hope you are making an effort to make your dreams come true today. Hug those you love and know that what you do is enough.
Video: Lisa’s SIZZLE reel