A few years ago, while I was working as a grower in a local greenhouse, I had a conversation that has echoed in my mind for years.
I was driving around in a delivery truck with a guy I worked with. We were going to some garden center, or farm with a load of plants and we somehow got on the subject of life and happiness. More to the point, we got to talking about all the things we wanted to do, or places we wanted to go before we died. This was not an uncommon topic with me. I was getting antsy in my life, and needless to say my life’s goal was not to be working for fairly low pay and delivering plants in the ninety-degree heat.
John, the guy I was working with, was a pretty cool, fairly quiet middle-aged guy that I had been working with for a couple years. We seemed to get along well and we had a bunch in common. We were both computer techies, interested in science and space, and a few other topics that would at least fuel decent conversations while we worked during the day. John had a wife, family, and a genuine interest in growing plants on a commercial level, and he had become pretty good at it.
A few years prior, John had left a long-term position working at a car dealership to come work on the farm, and since then he had usually seemed content with life. Me on the other hand, was in my late twenties and completely miserable. To say that I was not creating the life I wanted would be a reckless understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I did like working on the farm, in the greenhouse or out on the fields. I did it for twelve years growing up. It kept me fit, suntanned, and was not a very mentally demanding. The problem was this; I was ready to move on. I wanted a new car, a house, health insurance, and the ability to know what time I was getting out of work that day – not just working until the day’s projects where done. Besides, keep in mind plants don’t take days off. They won’t say “Hey man, take a few days off. We can water and take care of ourselves”. I needed some freedom. I had broken off and done a few other things with my career over the previous couple years, but when any of them failed, I always ended up back working on the farm. I was so ready for change I could taste it. And to add to all that, on this day I was hot, tired, and feeling particularly bitter.
John mentioned to me, and I’m not sure what brought us to this point in the conversation, that he has always wanted to go try a life in Kansas. He said that he thought about it a lot, working on a big thousand-plus acre farm for one of the bigger grower in the country, but never had the ability to go. I asked him why, and I don’t recall his exact words but it was something along the lines of “I have too much going on around here to be able to drop everything and just leave, no matter how much I wanted to.”
I thought about this for a second. It seemed valid, but made no sense to me. I asked him this:
If you had one week to do anything you wanted, anything at all, and nothing would be carried over to the next week, no bills, no regrets, not even any memories of the week you had, just one week to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?
John shrugged and gave me a simple “I don’t know, probably skip work and drive to mountains for a hike?” I frowned. I guess I was expecting something a little more dramatic. I said again “One week man, and nothing would carry over. The next Monday your slate would be clean. What would you do? Think big here…”
After a minute his brain began to work a little and John began to really open up. He began to say things like that he would buy a plane ticket to some far off place and fly there just to experience it. Or better yet, he would take his family to the Yellowstone and see the all the cool geological structures.
Now, to create more energy in the conversation, I joined in.
“Dude, I would sky dive! I mean, if nothing carried over into the next week, I’d know I would be ok. Or, maybe I would bring my guitar to a big festival and play because I knew if I were bad, it would all go away the next week… Or better yet, I would walk up and talk to the hottest girl I saw…” The conversation became fun and full of energy. It was obvious that John’s mind was working now. He was thinking of all these things he would love to do, but for one reason or another never did.
Then I said, in a very “matter of fact” sort of way, “Ok, what if I told you that you were living this “dream week” right now, and that you are already on Wednesday? Would you be concerned that you missed out on the first half of the week and feel like the week was flying by?” He looked a bit confused. I then said, “Ok, think of it this way, what if I told you that you were given one life, to do anything you wanted, go anywhere you want, be anything you want to be, what would you do?”
John just looked at me, as if to say, “Well, that’s different,” but I cut him off before he could and continued. “What if I told you that you were given one life, to do all you could imagine, and once that life is over, your pallet is wiped clean? Would you think ‘Oh gee, I can’t do that‘, or would you live with the same excitement and enthusiasm that you felt a minute ago while daydreaming? ”
I saw the look in his face change, as if he really pondered this. I pondered it to. I pondered it so much that it took me back and gave a little uncomfortable feeling, almost as if I was hearing the words but not speaking them. It gave me a sinking feeling as I came to the realization – I was also living my “one week” to do anything. Even worse, it was already Wednesday and I had not done most of things I said I would do – if given the chance.