What Does it Mean to Live Your Best Life?

Last night, an old friend told me I clearly was living my best life.

He wasn’t wrong.

But the comment started me thinking, because if you’d told me even five years ago–let alone ten, or twenty–that my best life would begin at 50, and that I would be single (read: divorced), an ex-pat, no longer constantly anxious, and living in one of the largest cities in the world, this self-proclaimed “country mouse” would have wondered what you’d been smoking.

And it all began…like many ten-thousand mile journeys…with a single, terrifying choice to set out on a quest, in pursuit of a dream many people would have considered completely foolish.

A small ship on a large sea…

That choice, of course, was the decision to come to Japan and try to climb the hyakumeizan in a single year. If you want the gory details (including confirmation that the choice was simultaneously totally foolish and brilliantly wise) I’ve shared them all in CLIMB, so I won’t say more on it here.

The thing is, living your best life–though a popular meme–is a slippery concept to get a handle on. My life isn’t perfect, and certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is the perfect life for me. I wake up every day in a place that I love. I have a job that pays the bills (and then some) and it’s work that I adore. As I write this, I’m looking out the window at a Shintō shrine, and a snowy white egret just flew by overhead.

Which, I suppose, just illustrates my point that not even the best life isn’t entirely free of egrets.

What’s important is how you handle them.

I spent much of my life wishing I was somewhere, or someone, else. I felt trapped and suffocated, unable to break free. Stepping out of that cage took courage–but it also took the willingness to accept that I’d built that cage myself, and entered it of my own free will, as well as the awareness to figure out what tools (and resources) I had that I could use to set myself free.

More directly: it took looking seriously at what I wanted, and what I needed, making a commitment to pursue those things, and being willing to face the consequences.

And in all of that, the largest stumbling block I faced was my own fear.

You see, I initially chose the cage because the cage felt safe. The great, wide open of my dreams was terrifying. It felt like piloting a tiny boat on a great, big sea.

I made a few false starts before setting sail, and the first year was a white-knuckle ride. More than once, I questioned whether I’d made the right decision, because freedom felt so scary at the start.

That said…I’ve been sailing that little boat for more than half a decade now, and I’ve learned a few things along the way:

  • The sea really isn’t as scary as I expected it to be–let alone as terrifying as it seemed at first.
  • All relationships take time and effort–including your relationship with yourself. It’s hard work, but it’s worthwhile, and in the end you’ll be more fulfilled (and happier) if you do it.
  • Sometimes, “I can’t” and “it’s impossible” are accurate statements, but equally often, they’re just fear talking. Be honest, and take the time to figure out which is true.
  • If you can say “my life would be perfect except for _____” – and what goes in the blank is a relatively little thing? Your life is perfect now.
  • “Living your dreams” is not a one-time choice. Dreams change, and that’s okay.

If it’s only fear that’s holding you back from the life you truly want, I hope you find the courage to escape the cage and set sail for your horizon. It’s even possible that when you take an honest look at what you want, you discover you’re already living your best life (or something close), and simply didn’t realize you were.

Are you living your best life? What would it take to get you there?