Live a 9/10 Life till 60 or a 7/10 Life till 80?

I am all too pleased to present to you what might be my most shit-disturbing-but-profound question yet. This one’s worth the agitation, friendo.

Which scenario would you rather?

The "What Would You Rather" Life Chart

Calculus-wise, every option in the chart above “scores” the same (150 possible “points”), but the implications are vastly different. There isn’t a right or wrong answer (okay but option A does seem super sad though, right?), although our answers hint at how much we value quantity over quality and how much we’re willing to compromise for the privilege of just getting to be here.

The James Dean Effect

Study participants perceive a positive life as more desirable when it ends abruptly on a high note, as compared to a positive life that extends beyond a “wonderful period” to include “slightly positive” bonus years. Researchers refer to this as the James Dean Effect; you might recall (depending on your age!) this actor dying in a car crash in 1955 at the age of 24 after a meteoric rise as a teen heartthrob. Study participants believed he lived an ostensibly better life because of his impressive crescendo; if his career had petered out and he lived a bunch of perfectly-fine-but-not-famous “bonus years,” his life would have been assessed as less desirable.

Most people believe it’s better to “burn out than to fade away” (thank you, Neil Young). What matters most to you? A longer life that might be less wow in the end? A slightly shorter life that ends on a blockbuster high? How about a consistently average-ish life the whole way through? Or a consistently fast ‘n furious life of intoxicating vitality that ends earlier than the actuary tables might propose for you?

I’m not here to tell you how to live your life (that’s not true—that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing here), because only you know what floats your boat. But can I gently ask if you’ve been having as much fun on your boat as you used to? Or if your boat trips are as soul-filling as you’d like them to be? Or if your boat has left the dock lately? Or if (oh jeez) your boat is even in the water?

To further bury the boat metaphor alive (so, drown it, I guess), you don’t know when your mighty little vessel will spring a leak, or when its engine will conk out. All you can do is use it until it throws in the towel: take it out on a random Wednesday just because . . . go tubing with our without children in tow . . . spend lazy weekends reading books on its bow . . . hold raucous and memorable floating parties that last late into the evening . . . profess your love to that special someone on its deck . . . launch holiday fireworks off its stern . . . lick your wounds after life’s inevitable letdowns while anchored in comforting place . . . enjoy each and every season from your vantage point at the helm of the wheel—the slow summer sun, the nip in the fall night air, the snowflakes that land in your tumbler of hot chocolate . . . the birds that herald the arrival of spring.

This discombobulating question is consistent with the conversation we’ve been having since we first met: pressing the need—the most urgent need—to get on with living like we mean it regardless of how many years we get. Can I be bold and ask us to GET IN THE BOAT? She’s named “The Perfect Ten.” Sounds like a fabulously drawn-out blast of a joyride.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: We can connect here on Instagram!

P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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