When I first heard the “live the width of your life” concept, I stopped dead in my tracks.
If you’re like me, you’ve been around long enough and have heard enough that nothing impresses you anymore. We have all heard them a million times — the gajillions of pithy aphorisms and motivational quotes that get plastered over everything, everywhere.
“If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.” — Katharine Hepburn
“It is not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.” — Adlai Stevenson
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs
“The best way to prepare for death is to live life to its fullest.” — John Bytheway
Maxims A Plenty:
“I could populate this entire essay with meaty maxims about how and why we should live largely.”
See what I mean? I could populate this entire essay with meaty maxims about how and why we should live largely. So I found my intense reaction to the idea of living the width of one’s life peculiar. How did something break through the clutter of white noise messages that bombard me daily? Surprisingly, this concept made me pause, ponder, and consider a change. And while the concept of living large is not new, the packaging sure is.
A few weeks ago I was hosted on the Live Your Width podcast. At the tail end of the show, the host, Aneta Ardelian Kuzma asked me, “What does living your width mean to you?” It’s a great question, and impactful because I didn’t see it coming. But right there, at the moment, I had to dig deep.
“Living my width means I do it now
There’s room now
Not later on down the path
Who knows what that path looks like”
“there is some sticky science that tells us that delaying what we want has merit”
Overall, I am not someone who waits long for much. Never saw the point in too much delayed gratification. I mean I can hold my own against those four-year-olds from the 1972 Bing Nursery School Stanford University marshmallow experiment. Quickly, for those not in the know, they put a marshmallow in front of small kids (cruel) and told them that if they waited (for some predetermined reason) they would get two marshmallows to eat. A longitudinal study found that those who waited (delayed gratification) fared better in life, as determined by SAT scores, college choices, and the like.
So, yes there is some sticky science that tells us that delaying what we want has merit. And my argument is that four-year-olds have all the time in the world to wait around for that second marshmallow. I, on the other hand, do not.
Delayed gratification may seem like a virtue, but it can also be a curse in disguise. Sure, the kids who were able to resist the temptation of eating the marshmallow right away had higher success rates in life later on. Not to mention extra marshmallows to gobble up. But what about the poor kids who couldn’t resist and devoured that fluffy little cloud of goodness?
Live The Width Of Your Life Always:
“it’s important to enjoy life at the moment and make the most of the time we have left”
Who says you can’t live the width of your life when you’re only four years old? That kid who couldn’t resist the marshmallow was probably living his best life at that moment. They knew what they wanted, and went for it without overthinking the consequences. Maybe they didn’t later score as high on the SAT as the other kids who could delay gratification, but they definitely lived more fully in that particular moment.
Just like the kids in the marshmallow study who had to decide between instant gratification and delayed gratification, we in midlife and beyond are faced with a similar dilemma. The key difference, the reality of this time of life is that longevity is limited. Most of our years have already been lived. That said, we can’t be reckless, we need smart choices now so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor in the years to come. However, this doesn’t mean that we should forgo enjoyment altogether. Just like the kids who savored the marshmallow immediately, it’s important to enjoy life at the moment and make the most of the time we have left. By finding the right balance between instant gratification and long-term planning, we can still live the width of our life and make every moment count, no matter our age.
And while I don’t care much for marshmallows – unless they are perfectly roasted – there is a ton of stuff I do care for and want. So if you are sitting on a stack of uneaten marshmallows maybe it’s time. Roasted or not, start eating.