People love a good story.
Long before we were born, our ancestors swapped stories as a way to pass time, to explain the strange events of the cosmos, and to keep history. The best stories became legends, and the legends that endured the passage of time became myths.
Time passed, and the world became an older place. Our stories evolved from great recollections of events and hopeful creation tales to stories of love, of heroism, of intrigue. A verbal tradition of storytelling became written, the written tradition became printed, and the printed tradition ultimately became televised.
Enter the modern age. Some stories have been lost, and a great many have been rewritten over and over again. The billions of people alive create new stories constantly. Our stories can be small, little tales that we tell friends and family. They can be the setup for a joke, or a lie, or a new truth. Stories may be created over the course of years, generated as a way to entertain others. We call these grandiose stories movies, and television.
Stories are everywhere. Working for a school newspaper, one’s career is measured in stories — the number one has, the quality of the writing within them, and the impact each story leaves.
For two years I’ve created stories about stories, by reviewing the artistic works of the world as they’ve come. The stories in music, in books, and on screens are often entertaining, and sometimes they leave us with some new perspective or some instruction, a new view that helps us approach our own lives in a better way.
But sometimes stories are a distraction. Not to understate the impact that literature and media makes on the world, because that impact is greater than I realize, but in the long run a story is only as valuable as its impact on your reality. In a world of great tales, with such an influx of new content every day, it’s easy to become lost in it.
The only story that really matters, in the end, is your own. You are not a hero. You are not a villain. But you are the main character in a tale that began when you were born and that will end someday without warning. And when that day comes, you’ll be a story, told in its entirety.
Life isn’t as wonderful as the stories we tell each other to pass time. Life can be senselessly cruel, and boring, and unpredictable. Life catches you by surprise, gracing you with indescribable wonder just as fast as you can blink, filling your days with love, then snatching it all away with a gust of wind. There are no conclusions to be drawn from life’s experiences, no morals, no overarching lessons. The heroes do not always win, or even always go on a quest. There’s no pacing, no focus, no direction to life most of the time.
Life is not a story because it’s the collection of every story. Everything ever written, sung, acted, or said is available all at once. Your story collides with everyone else’s story, histories entwining like balls of cosmic yarn, with infinite connections and infinite possibilities. It’s a mess, and it’s yours to navigate how you choose.
In the world of infinite content, we settle for being finitely content. The world around us is too much to appreciate, so we live without wonder, and our stories become predictable. We rush to purchase the latest goods and to have the best things. In the pursuit of consumption, we become consumed.
As far as we know, there is only one chance to make the most of life. There’s no way to predict when the curtains close, so your time on stage is infinitely precious and absolutely irreplaceable. No second chances, no do-overs, and no refunds. Time is life’s currency, the paper upon which the story of your experience is written. Don’t waste it.
It’s true that time moves subjectively faster as you experience more time, and that the years begin to fly by as we move into adulthood. You’re locked in to the express lane, with the final destination at the end of a road of unknown length, moving faster all the time. Your life, this finite and precious life, is polluted with useless stories and material possessions. Your story is more intermission than action, and that should scare you.
The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that we need to reach some new conclusions fast. Seek a life that gives you purpose, not just satisfaction. Appreciate all that is, and make the most of what can be. Don’t wait for an excuse to start living, because you don’t need one. Fight your apathy head-on each waking moment.
If you have dreams, chase them. If you can’t find a dream, chase meaning wherever you find it. That’s no easy task. Truly it would be simpler to embrace consumerism, to watch TV, and to die, but that wouldn’t make a great story. Make no excuses, they hold no weight against the world.
It doesn’t matter what “life lived to the fullest” means to you. The highest moral authority you are truly required to answer to is your own heart. Choose what matters to you, care passionately about it, and make no apologies to anyone for it. There is nothing else but noise.
Life is not lived alone. Everyone is united by that one basic fact: that we exist, that we’re here together. When your story ends, the people you shared it with will retell it a piece at a time, until your memory becomes a legend. After two years of witnessing some cool stories, all I want is to experience some real ones. Make your story real, make it great, and above all make it count.
People love a true story.