You Could Have Today. Instead You Choose Tomorrow.
For me, the perfect Saturday involves getting up early. Not disgustingly early, just early enough that the morning is still fresh and young. I get my son dressed and we go for a long walk with the stroller while my wife gets much-deserved sleep.
Taking our time, we cover a few miles as the sun comes up, and then we come back home. I do a few pushups on the porch before coming back inside. (My son tries his best to do the same.) By now my wife is up, and we have a nice breakfast together as a family. Eggs from the chickens that graze on the grasses and grubs that grow around the coop behind the house, maybe some leftovers from the week thrown into something on the stove.
There’s nothing on the schedule or the calendar for the day. It’s Saturday, after all, and nobody else is working. The house is quiet. The phone hasn’t rung once. I head upstairs to my office and sit for a few minutes with my journal. And then, inspired by the stillness and the peace of the day, I usually do a little writing. Nothing super taxing, nothing that feels like hard work—something nice. Something like this piece. A riff on some topic that’s been bouncing around in my head during the week. Or maybe I just take notes on a book I read a while ago and wanted to review.
By the time I come downstairs an hour or two later, it’s just the best feeling. What I got done was a bonus. It didn’t feel forced, but it was still an accomplishment. And guess what? Now the whole rest of the day remains before me.
It’s our day. Not anyone else’s. There’s no purpose to it. No real structure.
Sometimes we go into town. Or we hang out around the house. We go shopping or we play in the yard. We get the satisfaction of checking off little projects we’ve been meaning to finish. We watch college football. Or a movie. We read books. We jump in the pool. We go to the zoo or the grocery store. We get hay for the cows or feed them cubes. We go to the gym or for a run in the park. Or we do what seems like nothing for quite a long time.
It’s our day. Not anyone else’s. There’s no purpose to it. No real structure. And everything we do is by choice. No frenzy. No rush. No imposition. Just presence and peace.
Anyway, that’s what my perfect Saturday looks like. Yours may look very different. Maybe yours has a more leisurely morning or brunch with friends. Maybe there’s a 40-mile bike ride or hundreds of pages of scientific papers to be read. Maybe the concept of a “perfect Saturday” has never occurred to you because you work on weekends. Maybe your Saturday is actually Wednesday, your only day off, I don’t know. But if you do have a day off, it’s yours. And it should be whatever you want.
Callie Oettinger put it well:
You don’t have to do a lot every day, but you have to do something.
Something. Every day.
So what is that something?
When you know what that something is, suddenly you have power and clarity and control. You know what to say yes to. What to say no to. You know who you are and what your life needs to be built around.
One can’t design a life around what it’s like to be on vacation. Vacations are not real. They cost money. They happen somewhere far away from where you live. Life can’t be filled with the day of your greatest, most impressive accomplishment either. To be Tom Brady every day, coming back from 28–3 in the Super Bowl to pull off a surprise victory in overtime—that would be exhausting. That’s great once.
What we need is something sustainable. Something balanced. Something deliberate without being forced. Purposeful without being obsessed with productivity. We need something like a great Saturday—or one of those Mondays where you’re not sure if it’s part of a three-day weekend, resulting in just enough work that it’s productive, but not so much that it’s a chore.
The funny thing is, as much as I enjoy these days, they are fleeting and rare. Why is it that I allow Wednesday to suck? Why do I choose for Tuesday to be filled with meetings that I don’t remember agreeing to attend? Or phone calls that I answer?
Part of the answer is that yes, I must make a living, but the truth is, my best work never comes on those crappy days. In fact, the idea for the book project I am selling now came to me on one of those long walks. And that’s what pays for my house, not the emails I spend so much time responding to.
‘You could be good today,’ the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote. ‘But instead you choose tomorrow.’
Earlier I said that those Saturdays were the kinds of days to build a life around. I think the mistake is that a lot of people try to build a life toward them instead. What’s that line from the famous Loverboy song?
Everybody’s working for the weekend.
Exactly. People think they have to live a life they don’t want for a long time so that eventually, off in the distant future, they can live a life they do want. They need to make millions or get famous or earn their big break. Then and only then can they…
I’ve always found it’s better to think about what I want my ordinary life to look like most of the time. Then I try to make decisions based on the simple metric of whether they allow for more or less of that right now. A really cool job opportunity? I’ll consider it. But wait, it means I have to move my family to D.C., wear a suit most days, and be on someone else’s schedule? And I won’t be able to write much? Never mind, sorry. Oh, I could make a lot of money investing in startups? I like the sound of that. But I’ll have to read lots of pitch decks and go to lots of meetings? You know what, I’ll pass.
I’m a firm believer that how long we live is outside of our control. I don’t feel comfortable trading the present for an uncertain future. “You could be good today,” the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote. “But instead you choose tomorrow.” That quote haunts me as much as it inspires me. And it does a lot of each.
You might ask: “But isn’t this a privileged way to live? It must be so nice only having to work a couple hours a day.” Yes, I do feel very privileged that for me happiness is relatively cheap. My ideal day doesn’t require me to be rich or powerful or important. It just requires that I be good enough at something to sell my services on the open market and strong enough to say no to things that are beyond my needs. That is a privilege, and it’s more accessible than we think. There are plenty of billionaires who don’t have it, plenty of ordinary people who have never lost it.
The poet Heraclitus said, “One day is equal to every day.” Today could be that amazing day for you. Today could be how you want life to be. You just have to choose for it to be. Or rather, stop choosing for it not to be.