Every now and then I have what my godmother calls a paradigm shift. An epiphany. Lightbulb moment. Sudden realisation. All my jumbled thoughts come together and form a clear pattern. My busy mind feels quiet, calm, at peace. Every question, every uncertainty, is bathed in light and understanding.
I love these moments. Sometimes I have them in the car, or out walking, or even in my sleep. Occasionally I wake up and whatever problem I have been stewing over is magnificently resolved.
My latest epiphany occurred just before Christmas. I have a diary entry dated 24 December 2014, titled: ‘You only get one life’.
I only get one life. An obvious truth – yet a reality I am only just beginning to understand. Youth is coloured with possibility. As a teenager, I imagined several life paths for myself. My mind overflowed with dreams of the future. It was easy to think that everything I ever wanted, every life I had ever imagined, would just fall into place, like a well-written Hollywood movie.
There is a glorious freedom in being young, in feeling as though you can chop and change your life as it suits you. It’s a creative time. You haven’t got many responsibilities or relationships binding you to one place. You are at the centre of your own universe, the main character in your own storyline. Yet despite this, you are not necessarily selfish – many young people have magnificent ideas about the world, because their minds do not see obstacles but opportunities.
Some people are successful at perpetuating this feeling of youth and possibility well into their adult life. I don’t think youth is about age as much as it is about experience and perception. How do you experience the world around you? How do you perceive your life?
My experiences and perceptions have altered significantly in the past five years. Although I am still young, I often find myself reaching out to my younger self, trying to tap into my youthful spirit – the Jess that believed anything was possible. The Jess that felt free.
Someone once told me that ‘life kind of takes you on a path and sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to stop it’. I agree to a point. All around me, situations are unravelling that are out of my control – yet they influence my life and shape my personality. Life will continue to do that – it’s not something that can be mastered.
But what about the rest? What about the parts of your life that you can twist and shape and influence? What will become of them?
When I was young, I imagined so many different possibilities, but I never thought about the practicalities. My mind was not interested in the how, when or why – it was interested in the what. I was in no hurry.
On December 24, the realisation that I have but one shot at this life made me sit up straight and realise that, now is the time to start looking at the how, when and why. In a few weeks I will be 24, and then I will not get to be 23 again. And that’s how life goes. You move forward and on and there are no re-runs. There is no going back.
Perhaps this realisation came as a surprise to me because I have grown up with my head buried in books. In every book there is a new character, with a new life path, a new history, a new circumstance. I realised that I can’t be every character – I am but one person, with my own set of baggage.
As 2014 came to an end, I felt a strong sense of opportunity once more. But I also felt alert and rooted in the present moment, as opposed to in some faraway dream of an imagined future.
I only get one life. What is it that I want to achieve? How can I incorporate all my conflicting dreams and ambitions? Mind Nomad was born out of a similar question – I found myself wanting to be in two places at once. In the comfort of home, but also travelling the world.
I get the feeling this is going to be a common theme in my life – conflicting desires and compromise. Finding the best way forward out of several possible pathways. Staying true to myself but also knowing when to expand my horizons.
One thing I feel for certain: the time is now. This very moment, the present, this is something I’m never going to get back. Am I using it to take steps towards what I ultimately want out of life?
Not completely. As always, there is compromise – and responsibility and external events out of my control. But this awareness – this bright lightbulb, this paradigm-shifting awareness – has helped me to start putting plans in place.
I feel I have left the boundless freedom of youthful dreams and am instead entering a new phase of selective living. I can’t have it all. I can’t experience every experience. I am limited, yet at the same time I am utterly free. Free to choose what it is that is most important to me. Free to prioritise what it is I want to achieve.
I only get one life. My energy is incredibly precious. This realisation has lured my mind down from the clouds and rooted me in the present moment.
This is it.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver, The Summer Day