Are You Living, Or Just Existing? ‒ And If You Aren’t Living, What Are You Waiting For?

Imagine this was the last day of your life. Would you be reminiscing about how wonderful it had been, what an exciting journey you have had, how you lived every moment with joy and had the ride of your life? Or will you regret all the things that you didn’t do because you were afraid to take risks, too nervous, under confident, saving for an emergency or when you weren’t so busy at work?

Just stop for a second and think about it – what has been your experience of living lately, have you been saying yes to invitations, planning fun weekends, spending time mindfully with people that you loved and, when you did go to work, feeling refreshed and looking forward to your hours at your job? Or have you been spending your spare time trying to catch up on work, get ahead on housework, or knocking out endless chores whilst feeling irritated with everyone around you who doesn’t seem to feel the need to help?

‘Existing’ and ‘living’ are verbs that both mean the same but are very different – existing is about remaining alive whereas living means to truly enjoy yourself and savour every moment of it. Existing is about getting by and allowing life to happen to you whereas being alive is exploring and appreciating everything that the world has to offer and being ready for any opportunity that comes your way.

This is a topic that has been concerning me a lot lately, exacerbated by lockdown and something that I am hearing more and more again on our RISE Women’s Development programme, women realising with sadness that they feel as if they are simply existing.

Not only that, increasingly in my coaching practice I talk to people who really feel that their life is just on autopilot and they are without direction, drifting through the years without really living. Which may be fine in your twenties and even in your thirties, but the older you get the more difficult it is to reconcile wasted years. That is when the regrets start to hit you, and you yearn for everything you have missed.

So how do you change it? Clearly recognising, expressing and accepting your feelings is the first step – any change has to be fuelled with the desire for something different. Perhaps it is time to take a really good look at where you are, how you feel about what is happening in your life and recognise that it is your choice to change it. And you can do it right now, there is no waiting for a better time. There are many small ways in which you can start to truly live life and below are the biggest lessons I have learnt:

Open your heart to love. I often work with people who have amazing jobs but who tell me that they don’t have time to have a relationship. I translate that to “I am too scared of what may happen if I open myself to another person so I immerse myself in work as it is safer”. You may be busy now but how many more holidays, Christmases, Bank Holidays, Saturday nights do you want to spend alone in the future? Ask yourself, if it was 5 years ahead and I was looking back on the last 5 years I had spent alone, would I feel I had lived fully? You don’t even have to actively look for love, just be open to the possibility and talk to anyone!

Get out of your ‘fur-lined rut!’. Too often we stay in a safe space, being cautious as we are afraid to put our head above the parapet and try something new or take a chance. This is often due to fear of failure (or oddly, even, fear of success). But ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen if you tried something? You won’t be a failure. We may not succeed at something but what we get is some important learnings.

Do things that excite or scare you! Make a list of adventures that you could have, people that you could approach or things that you could try and give them a go. Even doing one or two of them will make you feel more alive.

Get outside – EVERY DAY! There is so much to marvel at and to experience outside, whether that is just amazing plants, wildlife, butterflies or flowers. Fresh air lifts your spirits and even a half-hour walks a day will make you feel so much better (and fitter).

Take pleasure in food – really savour every meal and experience it. We are often so busy that we cram food in on the go and don’t even realise we have eaten it. To say nothing of the danger of mindless eating on our waistline!

Plan your next holiday as soon as you get back from the last one! Ensuring that you have some regular holidays actually booked in and you are looking forward to a break every quarter (even if it is a long weekend with friends) will keep you fresh at work. We often leave it too late thinking that we will just decide in August if we have time to go away and then don’t do it.

Find your calling or passion. If you really feel lost and as if you aren’t adding value at work, take some time to think about your passion and how different it would be if each day you woke up to go to do that work? Now how can you make that a reality, even if you have to volunteer for a while until you can shift full time? We spend far too much time at work to do things that we hate.

Limit socials, TV and video games. Often when I coach people, they tell me that they are too busy to do personal development, go to the gym, spend time with friends – all they do is work, collapse in front of the TV and scroll endlessly (oh the addictive pull of reels and TikTok!) When you add this time up it normally will be over 2 hours per day – what could you do with even two nights of no TV or Socials?

Be intentional. Take some time to reprioritise – ask yourself, what is really important to you? What is your 10-year plan? Set your goals and then start considering how everything you are doing today is contributing to you achieving them. Be ruthless with things that get in the way.

Create a morning ritual that you enjoy. Rather than opening your eyes, picking up your phone to check emails and getting wound up, and then rushing round shouting at everyone to hurry, think about a way to start the day which would give you some pleasure – even if it is for only 10 minutes.

Stop the “If and When” cycle. Often our life experience is encircled around the words “When I… (lose 10 lbs, get a new house, find a partner) Or “If I get… (this new job, house, money) then my life will ‘really start’. What if that never happens? Life is happening now – so grab and and, if or when those things do happen look at them as another enhancement and not the be-all and end-all.

Save nothing for ‘best’. Remember the days of Sunday best and china that sat gathering in the cupboard waiting for someone important to come to tea. Those days don’t exist anymore, so wear the shoes or jacket, dress up because you enjoy it, savour the process of being authentic and wearing what you want to rather than asking for the dress code and dressing down in jeans so you won’t stand out. The whole point of fabulous clothes is to stand out – so do it proudly!

Only spend time with those who empower you and light up your life. We all know those people who are complete drains in our lives, constantly taking from us and being miserable and moany. Just remember, every minute you spend with them is a minute you could have spent with someone who make you feel great about yourself so limit your exposure!

Be in the moment. The power of mindfulness is without question the biggest lesson I learnt during lockdown. Having completely lost my business in March 2020 and facing the biggest period of uncertainty I had ever experienced I learnt to focus on what was in front of me and find the joy in every day. It was truly lifechanging and I keep that practice now to ensure I never waste another minute

Laugh every day. When did you last laugh until you nearly cried? It is too easy to get caught up in the heaviness of life and we lose our ability to see the funny side of things. And if people around you don’t enjoy fun and laughter maybe it is time to reconsider who you are spending time with?

Doing any one of these things can start to turn your life into something very different, and the majority of them don’t cost a thing or even take any additional time. And just imagine what it will feel like in a year’s time when you can look back over the last 12 months feeling fulfilled and satisfied that you have done everything you can to make the most of every single day.