In 2006, I was in Italy, shooting a television show called Project MyWorld. I really had very little experience as a camera operator at that point, but I'd shot a documentary in Brazil on my own and gotten noticed by the company producing the show, so they brought me on as a camera operator and paid me a very low rate, plus per diem - they could have paid me nothing, I was having the time of my life. We started shooting in L.A., flew to Spain, went to La Tomatina festival (giant tomato fight in the streets of Buñol), drove across the Southern coast of France, Nice, Cannes and Menton and were in Northern Italy. We'd just parked the van and were walking through the streets of a very dense old European town and just as I was stepping out from between buildings, a hand grabbed my shirt and yanked me backwards, just then, right where I was about to step, a giant tour bus roared down the cobble-stone, single lane street at forty miles per hour. Had I taken that step, I'd be dead. I have many stories like this.
I'm naturally a pretty fearful person. As a kid, I was slow to try new things. I loved extreme sports, but my friends quickly advanced past me because I was too cautious. I've always seemed to know the stakes if I get hurt. Many people learn this slowly as they age and take steps to protect themselves, as insurance for the unpredictability of life. They go to college and get jobs as investments, put away for their retirement, have kids young and get mortgages on houses in the suburbs. Those aren't bad things, but my argument, is that they aren't necessary things.
I heard an idea on the Radiolab podcast that as we age, we actually experience time exponentially more quickly. When we are 8 years old, Summer feels incredibly long, because those 3 months represent 3% of our entire lives up to that point, whereas summer at 30 years old only represents .8% of our experience on Earth. And as we age, that percentage continues to decrease, making time actually feel like it's advancing ever more quickly. My point is that life is short. My life easily could have ended in that town in Italy 5 years ago, but it didn't. And the last five years have been good. We don't know when we will die, but we know that we will die. Our over-insurance often makes us too timid and we don't take chances we probably should. I'm not necessarily talking about sky-diving and race-car driving, but I'm talking about the "what-if." What if I fail? What if people don't like me? What if people laugh at me? What if I don't know the answer? So what? We are all human and life is short.
As I get older, I intentionally take more chances. I read a Tweet recently that said "right now is the oldest you've ever been and the youngest you'll ever be again." That's only a half-truth. We are indeed subjects to death and God's plan for our lives, but we have freedom over our choices. We can choose to stay physically fit, mentally healthy and happy. I struggle with anxiety. One of my biggest fears is that I will lose a limb, or my sight. I've spent way too much time in my life worrying about being maimed. But you know what? I still have all of my fingers and toes and my eyes work great! What is the point of worrying about something that does not exist? It is truly wasted energy.
Over the past few years, I've traveled to 46 countries. That is a hard figure to wrap my mind around and yet, it's only a small portion of the 193 to 203 of the recognized countries and independent states in the world. I've had the chance to experience a lot, but I've barely had the chance to touch the surface of all there actually is to experience. It's easy to look at the lives of others and wonder "what-if." What if I had that house? What if I had that husband? What if I had that car? What if I could sing like that? What if I were born rich? We don't think nearly enough of what we do have. That is a key ingredient to happiness, looking at what you have and appreciating it.
Enjoy the little things. Tell your friends you love them. Life is a gift.