Take a moment to think about the title of this post. Read it again, or for a third time if you want.
Can you guess what it means?
Does it resonate with you?
If you haven’t already figured it out (or Googled it), then let me be the first to tell you. “One in 400 Trillion” is the probability of your being born.
Unbelievable, isn’t it?
I was in San Diego the weekend before last (Feb 9-12), and it was at the event I was there for where I first learned of this almost incomprehensible probability. Here was my initial reaction:
Few things have honestly had that powerful of an impact on me the moment they've been said. I was in a state of awe. That’s why I decided to write about it. Yeah, we’ve all probably thought from time to time how it is possible we are even here, but I don’t think most of us have ever considered it more deeply than just as a random, fleeting thought.
Whether or not it resonates with you the same way it does with me can only be your call. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything to you, and if so, that’s fine. But, I will tell you why it means something to me and why, now 14 days after first learning it, I continue thinking about it every day.
I think my initial reaction paints a good picture. A one in 400 trillion chance that I am here. A one in 400 trillion chance you are here. A one in 400 trillion chance we are all here. What a miracle it is.
As we were told that the probability of our individual existence is near impossible, I was left in wonder of it all – life, living, purpose, the whole nine yards. However, I began thinking beyond the usual age-old question “Why am I here?”. We’ve all asked ourselves that question at one time or another, and some of us probably more so than others. But this question is a moot point; it is the wrong question to be asking. And I don’t think I realized it until after we were made aware of just how miraculous it is we are here and I gave it some honest thought.
What I now believe is that we aren’t here for a reason; we are here to create that reason.
Okay, well that’s all well and good, but what were you doing in San Diego to get to this point?
I was there for a conference hosted by two people whose blog I stumbled upon while in college. They are Marc and Angel Chernoff, and you can find them here. If you follow me on Twitter, you have definitely seen me retweet them in some capacity, and I know I've shared a thing or few of theirs on Facebook over the years. In fact, it was Angel who spoke about “One in 400 Trillion.”
Their event is called Think Better Live Better, and this years was their third. I went with two goals in mind. The first was to meet both Marc and Angel, which I did, and it was unquestionably an honor and privilege. The other was to come away with five things I can do to live a better life. As I read through my notes in front of me, I am pretty sure I have more than five, but I'll save those topics for another time.
I thought the timing of their event this year was also impeccable. The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang had just kicked off the day before the conference began. I don’t know too many people who aren’t in the very least inspired in some way by the athletes who change the world through their chosen sport. How many of you have a pro athlete or two that you looked up to when you were growing up? Maybe even now? Same concept here – pro athlete or Olympian. Their inspiring stories draw us to them because we all, deep down, aspire for greatness.
The other day as I was working on this post, I came across a tweet from the @dailystoic:
Okay. Maybe that sounds a bit grave, LOL. But I do think it brings about a congruent perspective that “One in 400 Trillion” exemplifies. “What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
What we need to do more than ever is decide the life it is that we want to live, and we need to do it now. Not tomorrow. Not "someday". Now. We need to ask ourselves what are the things that really matter to us. What mark do we want to leave on this world? We all have a mark to leave, and it’s our job to make it happen. We need to take this “One in 400 Trillion” chance of being here and “transmit the light” through our missions – through the legacies we build for the generations that follow.
Too often most of us fall victim to the complacency of an ordinary life. And as I reflect on my early career thus far, I fear I’m heading in that direction. This is a major reason I went to Mark and Angel’s event. To put it simply, I know I am not living up to my fullest potential, nor am I living 100% in alignment of my highest values. To me, living an ordinary life just to pay the bills, or just to get by is, frankly, not a life well-lived. The improbable odds of being here will be nothing more if I don’t consider where I really want my future to go, and the same will be for you if you don’t consider what matters to you too. A difficult truth to hear, yet one that is necessary to promote in order to put things in real and honest perspective. Tough love hurts, but I highly doubt that the many of you reading this will disagree.
I mentioned the Olympics. Most of the athletes, if not all, have awe-inspiring stories about how they rose to being the world’s best at their chosen craft. What they all have in common is that they made a decision to become those people. They made a decision to accept nothing less than the best from themselves and from those around them. This is how they inspire millions every four years, summer or winter. To them, “One in 400 Trillion” means everything. No wasted time, no meaningless work or passionless enterprises. But of the millions they inspire, only very few ever take action. Only very few are willing to pay the price of sacrifice – to put everything on the line for their mission and legacy. When everything is on the line, they want to be in the game. And that’s the perspective shift we need to focus our attention to.
What I think happens to most of us is we fall into a career, accept and believe that things are “just the way they are”, blame circumstances on “oh well, life happens”, decide that the life we’re living isn’t really all that bad after all, and then we “hope and dream”, waiting for the right time to take a leap on the things that ultimately matter to us. Yet, that time never comes. There never is a right time or a wrong time. We just don’t take the responsibility to change where we are and where we want to go. Does the line “It’s too hard” sound familiar? Who told you that life was supposed to be easy in the first place? That’s your subconscious at work folks, and your inner laziness. You can’t let either of them be your boss.
We’re too comfortable. Again, we decide things "really aren’t that bad", and in this decision we confirm that bias which then kills any hope of making real progress. We’re afraid of the work it will involve to pursue our own path, the time it will take, the money we could lose, the opinions of all those around us, among a countless variety of other excuses. We then settle into the mediocrity abyss, and just so comfortably enough that we never pursue a vision all our own. The excuses we tell ourselves become our own worst enemies and limiting glass ceilings.
And while Olympic athletes may have been born with an incredible talent that most of us weren’t so gifted with, I wholeheartedly believe this is one of those liming beliefs I just spoke of above and one in which we regretfully use as just another excuse to settle for where we are. I think if you took an honest look at the lives of those athletes, you’d find the time they spent training and prepping is far greater than you could ever imagine. They, I have no doubt, sacrificed far more than you likely know, or believe you know, so that they don’t arrive at the end of their lives only to find that they didn’t live properly. The difference between them and us is that they believed in their dream, and accepted nothing less. They decided their lives would not fall into an abyss of mediocrity. They never told themselves they couldn't do something, regardless of circumstances and the haters they came in contact with. They found a way to move forward. They refused to let darkness overshadow everything they could become knowing they needed to create a legacy with the blessing they received to be here, now, in this moment and in this life.
From this day forward, we need to take control of our lives instead of letting life take control of us. Because where most of us are now is no more the result of settling because it was easy and comfortable. It is no more than taking less responsibility than we should have taken in the first place and blaming our not-so-ideal but just-okay-enough circumstances on “life happening” and “it is the way it is”. That’s not a life that was created, folks. That’s a life that you let get the best of you but which you did not give your best to. We give our best when we are doing things that matter to us, not when we’re striving for a “work-life” balance where “balance” is really just an escape from the dull and meaningless work we’ve settled for because we didn’t want to push for the hard stuff - the stuff that mattered. We give our best when we push for higher risks and greater rewards.
As I begin to decide now what matters most to me, and what my biggest aspirations are to leave a legacy I am proud of, there is certainly a lot of work to be done. This all will not happen overnight. But I can and will begin planning and I will do it now. For those who are lost, stuck, or don’t know where to begin, start thinking about the things you loved to do as a kid, then build off of those passions. This was something that was also talked about while I was in San Diego. For me, I was always building with legos and drawing buildings or homes as a young kid. And, what I realized on my flights back from San Diego, is that I am in awe every time I fly. Every single time. So, for me, maybe it’s a graduate degree in aerospace engineering. Work for Boeing? Go to work with some of the world’s greatest engineers to build the next generation of air travel? I am not ruling this out as a possibility.
Life has the ability to lead us down many, many paths – work, play, or both. I mentioned work-life balance and that "balance" is really just bullshit for lack of better words. We use "balance" to make ourselves believe that the "work" we are doing is actually meaningful. This is farthest from the truth because meaningful work would find its own balance in the doing. That said, however, I did not say that we need to give up our passions to pursue work and only work. But, working completely within alignment of our values will undoubtedly create a much more fulfilling life, and you may even find that you can pursue opportunities that encompass your favorite pastimes in your own quest to define or redefine your mission. What we need now more than ever, though, is people who have come alive. We need more people to change the world. It is in meaningful work that we will find such pioneers.
Today, I begin to change. No more living for Friday and the weekends every single week. I am off to plan and begin building my legacy. Earlier this morning I made the first of several donations for the year to the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation, and I’ve already initiated contact with the President and Treasurer of the organization to establish a working relationship with them. In fact, I’ll be meeting them in Lake Placid in two weeks to make a commitment to their team. Why? Because I believe in what they stand for and I want to help them grow. The Adirondack Mountains are my second home, and I believe it is my duty to give back – to give back in bigger ways than I once thought I would ever be able to. To do bigger, you need to think bigger and stop telling yourself you can’t do something. Stop being scared shitless to pursue the things that matter to you. Find a way to do them, even if it's just a small step, and get them done.
This is just one way in which I am going to change the trajectory of my life and future, starting now. And I know I’ve mentioned it a time or two before in this article already, but I’ll say it again and one last time: I am just getting started. The planning is just beginning. The milestones I am going to reach are going to be far bigger than I’ve ever drawn up. The lives I am going to change in the legacy I am going to build will forever be touched. But this is all starts with the decision to take my “One in 400 Trillion” shot of being here and make every day, every hour, every minute, and every second count and count now. The next question, then, is, how will you?