The first step to create a life of meaning is to truly see your life as the precious, limited time opportunity it actually is. You can make it a beautiful mansion. Here’s how Philip Adams puts it,

“Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.”

I have a client in his early forties who dealt with a serious illness last year that incapacitated him for months. He came to work with me recently because, as he put it, “Getting sick made me realize that I’ve been sleepwalking through my life. I’m awake for the first time and I don’t want to fall back into numbness again.”

For Jessica Yadegaran, the wake up call came in the form of a big birthday. A few months before she turned 30, this reporter for the Contra Costa Times decided to compile a list of 30 things she wanted to do before the big day and write about it for the paper. Her list ranged from things like learning to read baseball box scores and change her car’s oil to learning to be more grateful and ask a man out on a date (she’s still working on that last one!). Reader response to her adventure of learning was tremendous. People from far away as Australia wrote saying she’d inspired them to come up with their own list. “It makes me a little sad,” she says, “that it takes something like a decade-busting birthday to make a change.” Whatever it takes, I say. (You’ll be hearing more about Jessica’s adventures later in the book.)

Your wakeup call can come in many forms—getting fired; the message from your doctor that you are now obese; a milestone birthday; having to declare bankruptcy; reading an inspirational story of how someone started a Bed & Breakfast. However and wherever it arrives, consider your wake up call a blessing. Your life, my life, is finite. It will end, and none of us can say when. Do you want to die in the state you’re in? With dreams unrealized? Negative habits firmly holding you back?

There’s a Zen chant that goes:

Life is fleeting.

Gone, gone—


Awake each one!

Don’t waste this life!

You can achieve what you set out to. As Christopher Reeve, one of my heroes of greatness, reminds us:

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

In one of the last interviews he gave, he exhorted all of us to “Go Forward.” May the example of his life and words inspire you as you journey to your heart’s desire.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.