Imagine waking up one day to find that you’ve been diagnosed with a life threatening illness and informed that you only have three months to live. How do you cope with this new reality? How would you choose to spend the remaining time you have left?
When you reflect on your own mortality, you start to realize certain inalienable truths — no matter how we choose to live our lives, on the last page of our book, we die.
While the thought of contemplating one’s finite amount of time can be morbid and scary, perhaps, we can envision it another way?
Instead of feeling fear, we can be energized by our lives and create a space for us to appreciate the now.
How do you find your purpose in life — especially when you’re lost or confused about what to do next? How do you push yourself beyond what you think is possible? How can you strive for what truly matters to you? In other words, how can you live your life in the front row?
Vroman shares five lessons directly from Death’s Door on how we can live our purpose and our lives in the front row.
When he wrote the book, Front Row Factor, Vroman realized that there was so much wisdom from people who are facing death.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” - Steve Jobs
In the face of peril — a disease, an illness, or anything threatening to our homeostatic existence — puts things into perspective and our world becomes clear.
All of a sudden, we don’t hold onto the trivial. Instead, we focus on what’s truly important and what we want to define.
When looking at his life on a timeline, Vroman realized that he was almost halfway through the great years he had ahead. To his surprise, it didn't create a paralyzing feeling — it created energy.
One of the best things about being human is our freedom to choose. We can choose to look at our lives and see that the glass is half full or half empty.
We can choose to hold onto the guilt and shame of not spending more time with our kids when they’re out for the summer, or we can look forward to and celebrate the eighteen wonderful summers ahead of us.
Vroman urges us to find our vibrancy, appreciation, and to develop a sense of urgency to make the most of our moments while we still have them.
You may be wondering — well that sounds great, but how do I experience a reaction of vibrancy, appreciation, and the urgency to live instead of drowning in fear and paranoia?
Vroman’s response lies in the lessons below to living a front row life.
What does it mean to have a front row life?
Vroman says a front row life is where you intentionally and consciously create experiences and celebrate the meaningful moments of life.
Lesson #1: Manage Your Mindset
The first lesson to learn is that in order to live a front row life, you must manage your mindset.
“I often tell people that personal growth isn’t always about learning something new. It's about remembering what's true. It’s practicing the habits and the rituals and the ideas and the rhythms that actually work, and one of them is the questions that we ask.” - Jon Vroman
Vroman says the questions we ask shape our future. If we ask powerful questions, we get powerful answers.
Spending valuable time obsessing over questions like, “What's wrong here? What am I missing? Why is my life not living up to the standards of others? Why are they so much further ahead than I?” is not only a waste, but in doing so, we are putting energy into the wrong questions.
Like asking powerful questions, when we ask the wrong questions, we get the wrong answers.
In framing our questions that focus more on the robustness and value-adding activities of life, we are not only creating a space for positivity and hope, but we are shifting our mindset altogether. In short, we manage our mindset by reframing the scope of the questions we ask.
“When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.” - Shawn Achor, Author of the Happiness Advantage
Lesson #2: Create a Positive Environment
Vroman says that it’s not enough to manage your mindset, but we must also create a positive environment. If our environment lights us up, we’re bound to behave differently.
Achor recounts his trouble of building a habit of practicing guitar after a long day’s work. He knew that practicing would make him happier but the 20 seconds of effort it took to remove his guitar from the closet proved to be a major mental barrier.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, he shows that the 20 second rule turns out to be a major barrier for most of us.
His answer to overcome this barrier is to remove it altogether — we do this by rearranging our environment. Instead of leaving the guitar tucked away, he had it out, made it apart of his environment — thus removing any hurdles to keep him from playing.
What if we shape our environment in all areas of our lives? What if we create ease by intentionally putting things in our path to motivate us to act?
By shaping our environment to in a way that inspires us or serves as safe haven for us to test out our new ideas, we give ourselves the space we need to experience the beautifully authentic moments in our lives.
Lesson #3: Surround Yourself with Powerful, Positive Relationships
In addition to rearranging our environment, we compliment it by surrounding ourselves with powerful, positive relationships.
They purport — we are subtly (and often unconsciously) influenced by people around us, and our happiness and success is affected by the relationships we surround ourselves with.
Abraham Lincoln was a firm believer in the power of connectedness. As such, he surrounded himself with people, including his rivals, who had strong egos and high ambitions; who felt free to question his authority; and who were unafraid to argue with him. He surrounded himself with relationships that not only inspired his greatness but elevated him.
Vroman says, we have to ask ourselves: who’s in our front row? Whose front row are we in? Who are we connected to?
We have such a strong desire to connect with people. When we have somebody that we’re accountable and connected to, it changes our world.
Action Item: Write down the 8 most important people in your life, then write down their #1 goal or dream. Do you know it? How can you help them achieve it?
Lesson #4: The Magic of Hope
When we have hope for the future, we are able to bring the power of possibility into the present moment so we can do something about it.
The film Shawshank Redemption told the story of an innocent man named Andy who was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife and daughter. The penultimate moment in the film occurred when the guards discovered Andy’s cell empty. They pulled back a poster covering a hole that Andy dug out over the span of 19 years. When Andy finally breaks free one rainy evening and lifts his hands up towards the sky, he soaks in the moment of celebratory freedom.
For Vroman, the film was a lesson about persistence — being steadfast in your belief that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a depiction about the power of hope.
Vroman says hope is not wishful thinking. It’s not a weakness. Rather, there is magic in hope.
When we look into the future and we’re excited about something, we know what makes us come alive. We know what we want to create and how we want to serve. Hope creates change and can change how we behave in the moment. It creates in our world determination, perseverance and gives us the energy to act. It's a way of understanding the power of dreams that people have in their life. It is united, collaborative, and brings things to life.
Most importantly, it is something we all need and necessary if we choose to live a front row life.
Lesson #5 Where We Find Purpose…We Find Fuel
Just as you need gas to drive across the country — to do anything in life, we have to first create fuel.
Vroman says that fuel can help you move forward, to be energized and excited about engaging with the world.
He shares a story about the time he was approached and asked to run a 52-mile ultramarathon. He tells us that he has never ran 10 miles, much less 52 miles. Nevertheless, he trained relentlessly and in less than four months, he showed up to run his first 52-mile ultramarathon.
He recalls the most valuable lesson he received was at mile 26. He was in excruciating pain and could literally feel the tearing of his muscles with every step he took. He collapsed on the ground, holding his knees, and started crying.
In his moment of pure exhaustion and agony, he thought about a little girl named Sophie who participated in a Front Row event hosted by his foundation. She was only four years old and yet, she was fervently battling a brain tumor. His foundation took her to go see Kelly Clarkson live in concert which included VIP backstage pass. Sophie was overjoyed.
In spite of every attempt to save her, she passed away before her fifth birthday. At her funeral, Sophie’s parents buried her with the VIP badge from the concert. When he thought about her fight and yet her ability to still live a front row life, his charity work, and all of the people who believed in him, this energized him. The pain — which at the time permeated every part of his body — suddenly subsided, and in its place, he found his purpose. He found his fuel. He got up from the ground and finished the race.
“When your ‘why’ has heart, your ‘how’ gets legs.”- Jon Vroman
How do we find our purpose when we are feeling lost or confused? How do we go about starting that journey?
He says that some people go through life and they achieve so much success, but they never take time to celebrate it. They miss out on that really amazing feeling you get from looking back and acknowledging the gratitude, the highlighted moments, the wins of today.
For Vroman, he knew that his greatest fear and his greatest love were complimentary of one another. This created fuel and gave birth to his purpose (and the mission of the Front Row Foundation) — to help people who are experiencing a life-threatening illness have one of the best days of their life and to let this be the metaphor for how they live everyday of their lives.
Vroman says we should first learn to be present in the moment. Being present allows us to reflect on our loves, our fears, and what creates fuel. This is how we find our purpose. The lesson here is that fuel is purpose — it’s the why behind things. Fuel is purpose, and purpose gives us wings.
When we identify our fears and our loves, we start to understand why we want something and eventually, the how manages to show up somewhere along the line.