The Difference Between Living and Existing

shadows of winter coming

Ever just go through the day and feel as if you can’t change your life for the better? Everything has been decided for you and you have no choices in what you do, wear or say? Some days can feel like that, but have too many in a row and you just might be drifting aimlessly through life.

Then there are those people who get excited when they wake up in the morning. They have things they look forward to and they don’t know what is going to happen to them in the future. These people don’t merely exist, they’re full of life.

Living vs. Existing

I think the biggest distinction between living and existing comes from how much control you have over life decisions. Where do you see control coming from? In general, someone who exists feels as if everything is outside of their control while someone living knows they determine the path their life takes.

Emotions have a big role to play in this. Someone who exists lets emotions such as fear and anger dictate what they can and can’t do. Someone who is living understands those emotions, controls them and doesn’t let them interfere with their decisions.

Someone who exists would stay in the same dead-end job for years despite being unsatisfied and unhappy. Their fears have trapped them and they have no plans of getting out. They’ve lost hope and just mindlessly go through the day in order to maintain the status quo.

But it goes much further than a job and paycheck. Someone who lets their fears control them won’t take other actions that would improve their life. They stay in relationships they don’t like, don’t do things on their bucket list and always put their dreams on hold.

People who simply exist do the same boring routine every day even though they don’t really like it. They don’t take any chances on improving their life just so they can maintain their current comfortable lifestyle. This is because they are unable to take control of their decisions.

How to Stop Existing and Start Living

So how would you even know if you’re someone who exists or lives? Steve Jobs did something that could provide some guidance. Apparently he used to wake up each morning, look at himself in the mirror and ask himself the same question, “If I was to die today, would I do what I am about to do?” If his answer was no too many days in a row, he would make a change.

I think this is a good starting point for figuring out if you’re just settling for mediocrity. If you’re not getting excited or happy most days with what you’re going to do, you need to take action and change something. This goes for every area of your life.

Steve Jobs’ attitude is how I would describe someone who is living. He’s not content with doing a routine simply because he did it the day before. He knows that you continually have to find something that is meaningful for you and makes you happy. Otherwise you stop getting up in the morning because you want to and you start getting up because it’s obligatory.

So start asking yourself the same question that Steve Jobs asked. If you find yourself saying no to the question too often, you know that you need to make a change. Once you know what you want to change, you’ll have to confront those fears holding you back and remind yourself that a change is necessary.

I realize this can be a scary process; I went through something similar. Many years ago I had a job I didn’t like. It wasn’t horrible, but after several years of work I realized I had started going there only because of habit and not because I liked the work itself.

I knew I needed a change so I quit. I had searched for a job before I left, but didn’t have anything lined up right away. It was really scary at first, but I knew quitting was the right thing to do. Several years later, I’m still glad I made the decision.

Be in Control of Your Life

In the end, you need to be the one making the decisions for your life. Nothing should tell you what to do, even your fears and doubts. If you haven’t already, you need to take back control and make life meaningful for yourself again.

I know it can be easy to get stuck doing something because it is comfortable and has become habitual. I’ve been in that situation before. Even Steve Jobs battled with it if you consider that he asked himself that morning question every day for 30 years. And if he could get stuck in a rut doing something he doesn’t like, anyone can.

Do you think you are living or existing? Are there things you’ve become comfortable with and need to make changes?
photo credit: Phil Dowsing Creative

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Comments

  1. I know what you mean here. We often get stuck in loop of waking up , get dressed, go to work , come home, do chores, eat, go to bed and do it again.

    There’s no spontaneity, no life in this existence yet 90% or more of us, at least in America live this way. The model is broken and needs to be changed.

    • That loop you mention is something I’ve worked really hard to avoid. I’ve been stuck in it a few times and I know how hard it can be to get out of. But you’re right that it is a model that needs to be changed. A life in a continuous loop without new experiences or spontaneity should be an indicator that you need to do something different.

  2. Steve,
    I spent a good many years existing between my third and fourth strokes. I was a walking corpse and didn’t even know it. I remember walking one day and glancing over my shoulder, and it hit me- hard.

    I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen the golden light of evening touch the mountains… I sat down right there, on the trail and cried. That was when I realized I was only waiting to die. (It got a lot worse before it began to get better.)

    The point? I do know the difference between living and existing. I am LIVING. I still don’t have a home big enough for the three of us, our belongings are still packed in boxes, the winters are still very dark and long.

    I have opened my heart and mind to making a difference. Not only to our lives, but anybody’s life. If there is one thing I can do, or help with or say… I do it. Just because. My heart has been healed, my mind nourished, my body, well, it will never be as strong as it once was, but I still pack a wallop!!

    And you know what? You are part of that reason. You and the rest.

  3. I’ve tried to have this conversation with people from my old life back in California. But most can’t wrap their head around this very basic concept. It’s too risky they say to just do what you want. My response is usually, “isn’t it too risky NOT to go for what you want in life at the risk of losing your happiness and forgetting your dreams?” Enter grasshoppers chirping and blank stares. OH WELL!.

  4. I guess I’m a live-er, not an exister. This post makes me kind of sad because it defines my ex-boyfriend whom I was with for six years as someone who was just existing. And I think he was doing just that. I hope he’s broken out of that lifestyle by now. Attitude really does make such a huge difference in life. There’s no reason why we can’t do what we want and need to do in order to improve ourselves, be happy and live as we know we should live. No reason except ourselves, that is. It’s hard for me to understand why some people only exist, but I accept that that’s exactly what some people are doing. The people who are really living should try to help them.

  5. I’ve had this conversation with my friends several times, especially when any of them are questioning why I do the things on my list. I’ve made it a point to always love what I do in my work and to do new things as often as possible. It makes me sad that most people have allowed themselves to have lives that consist of nothing more than a dead end job and watching TV. I’m not sure if it was ever a conscious decision, just something they found themselves doing, day after day.

  6. This is a great topic. However, I have a slightly different idea about what it means to exist.

    To me, a person that exists lives life without making decision, not doing the things they want to do and spending a a lotof their time doing mundane things that are uninteresting.

    Living to me is travel, spending time with friends and family, adventure and making sure I do things that excite me.

    Existing is not doing what you want, and living means making sure you’re doing things that bring happiness and excitement to life.

    Great post Steve!

  7. Hi Steve,

    Man what a great article that really hits home. I know that my choices have kept me in my dull daily routine, especially when it comes to work. I also understand the fear very well since I have 3 kids to support. I don’t know what my exit strategy is going to be yet but I believe the first step is just acknowledging we’re not happy and that we do need a change.

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