Prompt #6:

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

(Prompt Author: Jonathan Mead)


I once heard a motivational speaker claim that he only ever does what he is inspired to do in life. Yes, the statement was a general one, not even pertaining  to just his profession in the context of his speech. My initial response was, “Well that’s a bunch of cockamamie.” Are we inspired to go to the bathroom? Inspired to mop the floor? Inspired to pick up the family room floor for the hundredth time? Seems unlikely, in all those scenarios. Sometimes, we have to get up and just work. You know, abide by a sense of duty and all that. Work can be inspirational, yes, and I was often inspired by my students and my subject and my colleagues in my profession. Yet sometimes work is work, and we are better off when we do it without complaint. I highly respect work for work’s sake, the old farm values I mention frequently. Just because I was inspired to teach my students and loved the busy hum of my classroom, well, that doesn’t mean I was jazzed to be waking up at 5:00 AM every morning in order to arrive on time. That part took work.

We’re missing something in our culture if we stop valuing work for work’s sake. My great-grandparents and grandparents didn’t really have time or the sensibility to consider inspiration. Doing only what we’re inspired to do, or what is comfortable, or easy—those are modern concepts. Those are not the values of the farm. I am going to go out on a limb and say that my generation, in particular, and those that have followed by and large think we’re entitled to constant inspiration. Maybe we are, maybe we aren’t. That is a broader philosophical question about the innate rights of man. What I do know for sure is that we must not lose sight of a hard work ethic. No one can or should be above up-to-the-elbows-get-your-hands-rough work. I’m not—not even with the amazing higher education I was lucky to receive. I do this kind of work everyday. I even have the luxury and privilege of tools like a washing machine and the Internet and a gas stove. If we live only in our intellect, or if we baby ourselves with “This is too hard!”, or even if we wait for inspiration to strike us, we we will lose as a culture the very fundament of what is great about being alive: the ability to do, to do again, and to do again in order to create structures that are grander than ourselves. Waiting for inspiration is essentially a passive stance. It takes ACTION to give birth to inspiration.

I believe, very strongly, that we can choose to be inspired; or, to say it a different way, that we make inspiration. We do not need to wait for it to come to us. We make our inspiration through action. We write and brainstorm and write some more, for example, until—miracle!—we land upon the inner words which finally inspire us to commit to them forever. We toil in the garden, and choose to look at the dirt under our nails as a sign of higher purpose. We work at our dishes, our laundry, our dusting, knowing that we are  contributing beauty and order to our lives and to the universe. We can live life with an attitude of inspiration; we do not have to wait. I believe we are not entitled to anything we don’t actively make or seek. Life, liberty, and happiness…those all take work, and should. It may be our innate right to claim them, yet still we have to stake the claim.

I view “preparing to live” as waiting for inspiration to arrive in a grand carriage. That is not a feeling with which I have much familiarity. I am a “go out and live right now at 100%” kind of person. No, not every moment. Yet whatever I am doing, I am usually doing with all of my heart. Even if my body is tired,  even if I feel fussy, even if it feels like work. We are still present in our work, and we can use that presence to generate inspiration for ourselves.

If I had one week left to live, I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now. Truly. Spending time with my loved ones, writing down my last thoughts, trying to make things of beauty that will last when I gone. I would probably sleep even less and use that time to write final letters of goodbye to everyone I love. I feel like this prompt today has a very straightforward answer for me. I love my life. I love that I have it to begin with. I love that it involves hard work. I love that it embraces inspiration. I love that I have the chance to make pretty memories with people who are dear. I love how there seem to be millions upon millions of beautiful moments–for example, the way the sunlight catches a leaf for just a single second—that take my breath away.