Living Big vs. Living Fully

Third post on the TEDx Bountiful event.  How do you know the event was a good one?  When you can’t stop thinking about it, that’s a pretty good indication.  So well done Mandy Allfrey.

I wrote here about the theme of the conference, and here about how that theme left me a little bit flat.  Since I’d very much like to speak at a TED, this is of some moment.  For those just joining us and too busy to click on the links, here’s the crux of it:

TEDx Bountiful was on living life big (“not living life small” was the actual language).  The speakers were varied, but many of them had a similar theme, that of the comeback story, the moment of realization that they were meant to live life big, so they are now committed to doing this, usually with some program that wants to become the largest nonprofit in the state of Utah, or the nation, or the planet, whichever.

A vast number of things occurred to me as I thought about this.

  1. I don’t have a comeback story.  I’m not the prodigal son.  I never made a mess of my life in the first place.  This probably makes me a poor candidate for speaking at TED, or at least at the TEDx Bountiful.
  2. There are a huge number of people in that room urging all of us to follow our muse, which seemed to mean “have a grandiose dream that you can lead all humanity toward”.  If we all did that, most of those nonprofit save-humanity dreams would come to nothing, because huge nonprofit enterprises need a hundred followers for every leader.  So I found the message a little off.
  3. Most of the speakers meant “living fully” (not being afraid to do whatever you feel is the right thing to do, being joyful and happy) instead of “living big” (having a dream to be a rock star or the author of the greatest personal-progress movement in the history of earth), but the evidence presented (by themselves and by the fact that they composed the speaking lineup) was that living big means having a big worldly dream.
  4. Part of the reason I reacted negatively to some of the above is that, as Shakespeare would say, “I protest too much,” meaning that I really DON’T live life as fully OR as big as I could, or even as I know I should.  Therefore the message produced exactly the reaction it should have; it made me uncomfortable.  I reacted to that discomfort in the classic way; I rejected it and blamed the messenger.

I’ve since sought counsel, both live and from writings from those I trust.  Here’s a smattering:

I think what they meant by “live big” is to not cower. Life apparently isn’t meant to be sitting in a corner waiting for the apocalypse, much as I’d sometimes like to think it would be better. I didn’t want to sign the book of greats any more than you did. But we both did. Likely for different reasons. Part of me believes what you’ve been telling me, even though I live a pretty mundane life myself.

You want to live big? You pack your schedule with as much willing work, family fun, and genuine gratitude as you can muster. You have a fantastic life, with bumps and bruises along the way – and you know it. Living big doesn’t have to mean changing the whole world. I think it means filling YOUR whole world as much as you possibly can. It means not shrinking from the tasks you sign up for. It means taking your responsibilities seriously and if the responsibilities have the ability to make choices of their own, showing them how making good choices can help THEM live big.

I think you’re living bigger than you see.

And:

This couple [I spoke of] would have been the first to say they were not of much importance in this world. But the Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul. He knows this faithful couple; He loves them. Their actions are a living witness of their strong faith in Him.

No matter where you live, no matter how humble your circumstances, how meager your employment, how limited your abilities, how ordinary your appearance, or how little your calling in the Church may appear to you, you are not invisible to your Heavenly Father. He loves you. He knows your humble heart and your acts of love and kindness.

And:

“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

That last from The Great Divorce, one of my favorites.

So I find myself at war with myself.  I have dreams, of course, like everyone, and once upon a time the thought that I would never be a famous singer/actor was unbearable.  Now I can bear it with ease and no wistfulness.  That ship has sailed, and I am happier than I once was.  I still have some things that I want to do, but I find that I have done most of the things I really HAD to do, and the things that excite me the most are optional.  I’ve had most of the core classes.  What’s left is upper-level and elective.

It works, for me, kind of like this:

Before us stands the tree of life.  See it?  Your whole life is there.  If you want the fruit out there on the end of the rightmost branch, you can have it, by shimmying out there and plucking it.  It can be had.  But then go get that fruit at the top?  No.  There isn’t time to get to both.  If a life is long, you can maybe get out to the ends of three or four branches, but no one, no matter what, can possibly get out to the ends of them all.  There is fruit you can’t get to, not without sacrificing other fruit.  You have to choose.

I chose to have a large family and to raise them in a small town in the west.  To do that, I gave up a stage career, if I could have had one, which it’s possible – probable even – that I couldn’t have.  I gave up other things, like being a doctor or a lawyer, to run political campaigns and fish.  Since I have no desire to be a doctor or a lawyer, those things were easy to give up.  But of course there are other things that I gave up that I very much wanted to do.

What I got instead is better than what I gave up, I believe.  Often, I chose to get out on the branch I am on, but there is marvelous fruit I got on the way that I couldn’t have seen from the ground.  There are also branches I meant to climb that I was too lazy to get to.  There are still some I could choose to climb, and that I will.  Living big, as commonly presented, would mean that I went for the largest branches with the most visible fruit.  But I’ve chosen some smaller branches, with fruit that others don’t find very attractive, and I’m not going out on very many of those big ones.  Even if Sir Aubrey de Grey is right and I’m going to live to be a thousand.

I have to choose to live fully, to get the best from those branches I choose to climb, and to get to that fruit that is meant for me.  That may mean that I never do get any fruit that anyone else cares about.  So be it.  I’d be lying if I told you that doesn’t bother me a little.  It doesn’t bother me enough for me to give up the things I’ve set myself to get, to become that person God sent me here to become, whether that means magazine covers (likely not) or hagiographies (certainly not) or even that nobody at all has ever heard of me.  I’m supposed to not care about that, and perhaps one day I won’t.

And in the meantime, I’m still thinking about the messages I heard at TEDx Bountiful, and wondering.  The longer I do that, the more sure I am that what I heard was better than I let myself admit at the time.

 

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2 Responses to Living Big vs. Living Fully

  1. The Great and Powerful Oz says:

    As you stated, Genshai is the word that means, “never treat another person in a manner that would make them feel small.”
    I would like to find the word that means, “always treat others in a manner that makes them feel great.” The difference is subtle, but I would guess that it IS the difference between “living big” and “living fully”.

  2. Catherine says:

    Since My Turn on Earth has become the Sunday staple I have noticed for the first time the words to one of the songs at the end that talks about the inability in this life to do everything we dream of doing. “There’s never enough time. And that is why I’m glad we go on forever.”

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