“Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your life extraordinary.”

So said Robin Williams as Professor Keating in The Dead Poet’s Society to a group of knobby-kneed tween boys, who were hungry for something more out of life.

The professor’s challenge is met with raised brows from both the students and the staff. The boys have a hard time imagining a world that looks much different than the one they were trained to live and work in. A bleak, wintry, austere school, a life governed by exams and high expectations. But as the boys work through great works of literature, reciting poetry standing on desks, sneaking off to write their own prose in caves, a spark begins to burn within them. Their adventures can only take flight once they each push through fear, open the door to their imaginations, and pursue their passions. Extraordinary life is in their grasp. They just have to take ownership of their breath and their beating hearts and reach out for the prize.

It starts with a change in perspective.

One of Professor Keating’s lessons came from Henry David Thoreau, an American poet and transcendental philosopher. Thoreau took a year-long sabbatical in the woods of 19th century Massachusetts to prove a point about self-reliance in the face of an overly frivolous and self-absorbed society.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Fast-forward to the year 2020.

The world we live in could be easily described as both bleak and frivolous at the same time. Despite our ample grocery stores, reliable heating and water systems, the way we live lacks color, originality, adventure, a singular purpose. Too many of us would characterize our lives as bleak, austere, hemmed in by high expectations, most of the time our own. Thoreau would probably argue that it is because of our luxuries that we are missing the edge of imagination and drive that keeps us truly alive.

Does that mean we should we walk into the woods, singing sonnets, and chop down a few trees to build ourselves a shanty cabin? Perhaps. But the real objective is to look deeper, inward, and upward, for the truths that will lead to a life worth living.

The adventure begins with a small decision.

The key to an extraordinary life is adventure — true challenge and risk. We’re not talking about arbitrary risk-taking (skydiving, eating semi-poisonous plants, Black Friday shopping). A life well-lived is one that progresses upwards, towards something greater. Writers of old would call it destiny, fate, or fortune. Today, we’d call it vocation, calling, or purpose.

But how do you get there? What are the practical ways that you can get off your worn-down, zero-incline walking path puttering around the base of the mountain? How do we start living adventurously, to get up to the pinnacle of creation, where heaven meets earth in a profusion of mist and light, where everything becomes clear?

The answer is painfully simple. Choices. Every day, mundane, ho-hum choices. Like slowing down to talk with our neighbors instead of rushing off to the next thing. Like asking for help instead of pridefully struggling along on our own. Like confronting problems out loud and head on instead of letting broken hearts and sour relationships fester. Luckily for us, we make thousands of decisions every day. Unfortunately for us, we have millions of options available that will only drag us down further in the mire. It’s up to discernment and grace that we find the good options that will lead us upward.

Your daily habits foreshadow your path to heroism.

In every story, we are first introduced to an Ordinary World, where many characters lead ordinary daily lives. But we immediately know who the hero of the story is supposed to be — they’re the one consistently choosing to do things a little differently. Heroes are the characters who make serving others first a daily habit. They can be found extending a helping hand, standing up to the bully, or opening their door to a stranger. And the story of an adventure begins when one of those moments opens the door to a bigger, broader mission.

Heroism requires a habit of openness, a submissive posture, and an eye for a better, brighter future to recognize these moments. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Like Mr. Incredible bending the rules to help a little old lady on her insurance claim. Like Valjean in Les Miserables risking his freedom to steal a bit of bread for his family. Each of these heroes goes on to legendary feats of heroism. But none of those feats would have been possible without the demonstrative and foundational habits and behaviors that formed their character, every day of their lives.

The greatest battle will be for your dedication.

None of us know what our great battle will be. It could be cancer in a parent. A tragedy in the neighborhood. An injustice in our country. An addiction of our own. Whatever darkness we have been called to fight, we must first tend to our inner light — coaching it, strengthening it, following it forward. By dedicating ourselves to doing what is right in every moment, we build a momentum of action that categorically brings us face-to-face to the peak, to the enemy, to the precipice of meaning.

The world has been saved time and time again by more “tried and true” heroes than “superheroes.” If we do small things with great love, we will build a gradual mountain of good. If we listen to the small voice that speaks truth to us, we will begin to recognize the extraordinary path of heroism that we are indeed walking.

Stories of heroes and heroines are engrained in our souls and hearts, but it’s all too easy to forget their inspiration amid our fast-paced lives. We need to each “seize the day” — there is not a moment to lose.

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