Don’t Finish That Book


Last week a friend of mine went to visit an 81 year old friend at the hospital. Sadly he passed away a few days later. He will be missed. This man was the long time partner of her best friend’s mother-in-law. A philosopher, professor and bon vivant he was as much a friend of the younger generation as he was the soul mate of his significant other (he died holding her hand).

As my friend talked to him in the hospital, she thought about the book she was forcing herself to finish before starting the book she was excited to jump into. She asked her older friend, “Do you finish reading a book you don’t like?” His reply, “No. I used to, but for the past five years, forget it.”

It made me wonder why we wait until the last five years of our lives to stop investing time in things that we don’t enjoy. We risk missing out on what could happen by sticking with the “what should happen”.

Later in the week, visiting the man’s wife, my friend told the story of how she had just gone to the Chinese Ballet. While she enjoyed experiencing a new culture, it was very different from what she expected. Then she shared how the friend she went with hated the ballet from the start. That’s when the older women (the widow) piped in, “Don’t waste your time. She should have gotten up and left.”

Yes you bought tickets and spent money on it…but is sitting through something you don’t like better than leaving and doing what you enjoy?

It reminded me of a past post I wrote about a doctor who left medicine. Everyone asked him how he could leave a career that he had invested so much time and money in…and was making great money practicing. He made the analogy that it was like sitting though a movie you don’t like. You may lose the ticket price but you could also walk out that door and discover the love of your life, see something amazing on the street or do something you know you enjoy. He now is the co-founder of a startup with a billion dollar valuation.

And what about the relationships we don’t leave? A women has written here before of staying in a relationship way too long due to guilt, fear and inertia. Six months after finally leaving her “should” boyfriend, she found the man she loves and 12 years later is still going strong. In her words:

I stayed with something for too long despite being unhappy. I loved him but I knew I was unhappy. I somehow felt obligated to make everything work. But you can’t make it work. There is no reason to be with someone who makes you unhappy…in any capacity. Ever. That person in your life should enrich your life. And make your life funny, more fun, and more awesome, and more great. And that is a hard thing when you are younger because I think you do have this determination to make it work.” — 40-something, wife, mom, designer, Brooklyn, NY

And then there are emotionally taxing jobs and toxic friends. Don’t wait until you are 80 to think about the opportunity costs of spending more time on the shoulds than the coulds.

I don’t know if my friend finished the book…but she gave me this advice, “Visit your friends in the hospital and talk to your older relatives and friends when they can still share their wisdom.”



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