In the end, of course, you can't. But let’s not dwell on such existential travails this morning. Or, instead, let’s turn our existential questions instead toward the value of existence itself, and the experiences that naturally accrue.
Most experiences are not repeated. Athletes run important races only once. Certainly it's possible to claim that each race is important, that each race leads to the next, especially following successful outcomes of each subsequent competition. But races exist only during the span of time they’re run. Clearly there are months, even years, of preparation leading up to momentous races, but taken individually a race exists only for a few, fleeting moments.
Business deals are like this too. Movie productions. Trips overseas. Vacations. Weddings. Big events do not last for the entirety of life. By comparison, life is long. Bright lights in our lives are short, always.
The challenge is how to bring these experiences forward through life without inevitably tossing them to the side of the road like chomped apple cores. It’s true that we cannot carry the heft and detail of all our live’s experiences with us each and every day or we’d be eternally weighed down. To be obliged to relive all of the vital moments of our lives every moment inhibits us from being fully present right now. Instead the challenge is to find a way to integrate past experience into our present, to connect the races we’re running today with the moments of our past that can serve as race prep.
A colleague recently asked me if a particularly challenging overseas assignment I’d just completed was "fun". I told her that "fun" was not be precisely the term I would use, but that the trip was a vital and an extraordinarily good thing to have done. When I thought about it, it occurred to me that how I benefited from the experience was not directly linear. But I knew this much: the vitality and challenge of the experience would become part of my overall person, rather than simply an accumulated, dust-gathering mental trophy. If the trip were nothing more than a mental trophy, its value would only matter when I showed it off to others. It wouldn’t actually influence who I am or what I can do. The truth is, the trip really mattered because of what it reinforced in terms of my own personal values, and what it facilitated in terms of creative opportunities. (What outsiders will only appreciate if they lean in close is that the trip beat the tar out of me.)
So, “Was it fun?” No. It was not fun. But it was extremely valuable, and having completed it and apparently turned it into a major success, I am better for it. I do not want to forget the adventure, hardship and victory commingled, even as I’m not keen to repeat it. It continues to have a positive influence on my life to this day. I suspect this is a familiar sentiment for any athlete who’s prepared for a big race. The training is not necessarily fun either. Some days it’s agony, but as any serious athlete knows, there are sometimes deeper motivations beyond the pursuit of immediate comfort.
Successful creative work depends on our ability to internalize our lives and then project those internalizations outward into action. When we internalize life so much that we simply digest experience, that they become corporeal without fully empowering our metabolism, we miss their great value. None of us can carry all of our life experiences with us everyday, per se, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create ways to keep track of them. Just like runners arrive at each race through an accumulation of training and experience that leads up to the starting line, each of our lives can only be possible by an accumulation of experiences we choose to regard as parts of a much larger whole. When we break apart the moments of our lives into narrow, compartmentalized good moments and bad moments, we reduce ourselves to little more than highlight reels. After a while, there’s no story for us to consider in our own heads. We just have a bunch of fast edits to mentally scroll, with hardly a thematic thread to hold our attention, even about our own lives.
You can’t take it with you, perhaps, but you can remember that every day of your life is connected to the moments that come before, and have the profound potential to influence all the moments that come after. To pretend otherwise is to lose hold of the tether that’s pulling you into the future. You’re just drifting. On the other hand, to endlessly relive the experiences of your past is to miss the opportunities they facilitate for opportunities you haven’t yet seized.