That Guy


This is the third post on the topic of living a long life.

The first one looked at what you can do now to feel better at 100 and the second one offered a couple of online surveys you could take that would estimate your life expectancy.

Today’s post was inspired by an article from last week’s Wall Street Journal, which actually provided the idea for all three of my posts.

The article began by looking at how many people applied to be a volunteer for the Mars One project, which has the goal of creating a human colony on Mars. If you are chosen to go to Mars, you must stay there. There were over 200,000 people who applied for the mission.

The author then went on to talk about the decision made by Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers to retire from football at the age of 24. Borland told ESPN,“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Borland’s decision was then compared to that of Chris Conte of the Chicago Bears. Despite having suffered two concussions and other injuries, Conte believed playing professional football was worth the risk to his future health. He told a radio station: “I’d rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life.”

The author then raises these question: Is living a lengthy, yet dreary, existence automatically preferable to having a shorter life filled with excitement and adrenaline and ovations? Is it better to outlive the other guy—total up more cumulative days—or to outlive him: fill each day with the pursuit of exhilaration? Decades on a park bench in the placid village green of Anytown U.S.A., or a one-way ticket on a rocket to Mars?

While such questions make for an interesting debate, I don’t think you have to choose between those two extremes. I think it is quite possible to “Live Long AND Prosper”, as Spock would say.

The author of the WSJ article seems to imply that unless you are living on the edge, by volunteering to go to Mars or risking a concussion, then you are not living life to its fullest.

Who’s to say that Chris Borland won’t add years to his life AND do amazing things as a result of his decision to stop playing football?

Who’s to say that people who dedicate themselves to a life of service, and purposely avoid high risk scenarios such as motorcycle riding or excessive alcohol consumption, aren’t living life to the max?

I’ve always preferred the people who are the ones you can count on in a crisis, the type of person you want to have around for as long as possible. On the other hand, the people who choose high risk adventures may be selfish in their pursuit of such thrills, and as a result may not be the type of person you can count on when needed.

But the statements in the paragraph above could easily be refuted as well; it is certainly possible that someone who loves an adrenaline rush could also be the perfect person to have around in a crisis.

And that’s my point. It’s not either/or. Just because some people choose not to pursue a risky path in life does not mean that they are living a boring life, or as Thoreau called it, “lives of quiet desperation”. And just because a person has decided to live a life on the edge does not mean that such a person is selfish.

And I want to have both; I want to live a life as long as possible, and I make certain lifestyle decisions consistent with such a goal. But I also want to live a full life, experience as many things as I can, and be the type of person others can count on in a crisis, or just for being there.

I’m reminded of the following scene from the movie Live Free or Die Hard. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is thanking Matt Farrell (Justin Long) for saving his daughter’s life, and Farrell responds by saying “What was I going to do?” and McClane says, “That’s what makes you ‘that guy‘.”

There’s something to be said for wanting to be “that guy“, and I think there’s a better chance of doing so by living a longer, healthier, and fulfilling life.

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