Likewise, whoever came up with the bright idea that you should live each day as if it were your last has probably never taken this advice. Even the most self-controlled among us might become hopelessly self-indulgent as we faced our final chances—gorging ourselves on our favorite rich foods, emptying our savings accounts for that crazy extravagance we'd always postponed, quitting our jobs, blurting out our long-suppressed dislike for a particular colleague, or confessing our inappropriate crushes to the unsuspecting. What this cliché fails to address is that the day after your imagined last day quickly arrives and transforms your grand exit into an unmitigated disaster. Now you're chubby, broke, jobless, and have really spooked your cute UPS driver. And you're supposed to live this nightmarish new day as if it's your last. You see where I'm going with this—it gets old very fast.
Better advice is to live each year as if it's your last. Pace yourself. Prioritize. Most of all, enjoy the constructive daydreaming it takes to plan your fantasy, because if you don't, you're missing the whole point: Living each day as if it's your last is really about enjoying now. Even if you're not exactly where you want to be yet, there really is a ton of pleasure to be had in stopping to smell the rugosas along the way.
And how do you know where to go? That's easy: Follow your heart. Just remember that a heart is not a GPS, and it can lead you to some pretty unexpected places. For instance, I set off to navigate the eastern seaboard. But I also wound up falling in love, working as a dockmaster, and writing a book. None of these were ports I had planned on visiting, but I am who I am because of them.
Adventure comes with no guarantees or promises. Risk and reward are conjoined twins—and that's why my favorite piece of advice needs translation but no disclaimers: Fortes fortuna juvat. "Fortune favors the brave," the ancient Roman dramatist Terence declared. In other words, there are many good reasons not to toss your life up in the air and see how it lands. Just don't let fear be one of them.
Mary South is the author of The Cure for Anything Is Salt Water (HarperCollins).
We Hear You!