Life Lesson from a Horror Movie

Around Halloween, you have to be careful flipping through the channels, or you might end up unexpectedly landing on a horror movie — no fun at all…unless you like to be scared.

I don’t.

I hate it. Which is why I’ve only watched a handful of horror movies in my entire life — a few when I was a kid (usually at a friend’s house on Halloween) and once when I got dragged to the theater for The Blair Witch Project — and none at all for the last 20 years.

Fortunately, I don’t remember much from this small sampling, but there is one horror movie that has stuck in my mind for over two decades: Cube, a low-budget 1997 Canadian film that follows six people trapped inside a giant cube with thousands of rooms. (Some people might consider it more of a psychological thriller or simply sci-fi, but by my tame standards, it definitely qualifies as horror.)

If you share my horror for horror, don’t worry — this post doesn’t go into any gory details (although it does contain a spoiler). But I do want to explore one scene that still scares me on a deep level:

At the end of the film, several characters manage to find the exit to this nightmarish 3D labyrinth — quite a feat, given that the rooms frequently move (sort of like a giant, hollowed-out Rubik’s cube being turned by an invisible hand). However, one of the characters hesitates in front of the exit; another one encourages him to get out while they have the chance. Suffice to say, neither of them makes it out. (One does though: the movie ends with him stepping into the bright light of the world beyond the cube).

So, why does this scene scare me so much? It’s not because I ever expect to be in a life-or-death situation where time is of the essence (such as having mere moments to jump from a sinking ship onto a lifeboat — or escape from a giant mechanical cube) but because it resonates with a psychological truth I feel on a deep level: Open windows don’t stay open forever.

It reminds me of an old Zen saying (or “gatha“):

Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken…
Awaken! Take heed. Do not squander your life.

I first heard these words after a meditation session at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, NY. It sent chills down my spine (and still does), especially the line “Time swiftly passes by, and opportunity is lost.”

Yes, I know the feel-good aphorisms: “One door closes, and another one opens. God never closes a door without opening a window. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams.” But sometimes it is too late to pursue certain dreams (e.g., a teenage gymnast probably can’t set aside her Olympic ambitions until middle age). Life changes. The cube moves. Doors close. Yes, new ones open — but certain doors remain closed forever. Certain once-in-a-lifetime opportunities truly are once in a lifetime.

Fortunately, most of these situations are not a matter of literal life and death, as it was in Cube. Oftentimes, however, it is a matter of life and death for a dream. When you miss these opportunities, dreams die. Or, worse yet, they don’t die — they remain dreams, forever trapped inside you instead of breaking out into external reality (like the lone escaper of the cube). They haunt you — worse than any horror movie could do.

So, rather than simply losing sleep over this grim closing scene, I choose to see it as a motivational cautionary tale — reminding me (in the words of Steve Winwood’s 1980 ditty), “While you see a chance, take it.” Yes, there will be other chances in your life — perhaps even more chances to pursue this particular opportunity.

But perhaps not.

So, please don’t find yourself near the end of your life (or at any point in your life), looking back with regret over chances not taken, opportunities not pursued while you had the chance, desirable doors that closed before you walked through them. If you’re feeling called to pursue a dream and you have the opportunity to do so, please do it — now, while the window is open.


Local Lemons into Lemonade

It’s one thing to pay lip service to the warm-fuzzy aphorism “When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade”; it’s quite another to put this sentiment into action, but that’s what our local library did last month. Here’s what happened–and what I took away from it:

The Lemons

Last month, someone smashed eight windows in our local public library. I happened to go to the library later that day and saw the broken windows as well as glass all over the sidewalk, which made it dangerous to walk into the library. There was also glass inside the library, forcing them to […] Continue Reading…

This Time Next Year

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating the end of 2018 and the start of 2019!

Even though 2019 has just arrived, I’m already thinking about 2020…and it’s all Cat Deeley’s fault!

You see, last year I watched her show, This Time Next Year, in which people declared their intentions for what they wanted to accomplish over the course of the year…and immediately revealed whether or not they reached these goals.

In the show’s first segment, Cat interviewed them about their current life and what they’d like to be different in a year. Then the resolution-makers walked backstage and, mere […] Continue Reading…

What Would You Do If You Knew You WOULD Fail?

If you read this post’s title quickly, you might think it asked that common question: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” And yes, in spite of being a cliché, this would have been a good question to ask. Like its spin-offs (e.g., “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” or “…if money were no object?”), it removes obstacles such as doubt, insecurity, or external limitations.

So, what would you do if success were guaranteed? Write a book? Start a business? Run for office? Pursue a career in art, music, dancing, or some other passion? […] Continue Reading…

The Two Best (and Worst) Magic Words

The two most powerful magic words I know aren’t open sesame, presto chango, or even por favor. They’re two words that have the power to open your heart and mind to limitless possibilities and innovations: what if.

Just like Ali Baba used open sesame to reveal treasure by opening what had appeared to be solid rock, what if has the power to crack open seemingly impassable (or impossible) obstacles, revealing the treasure within them.

And just like magicians might say presto chango to change one thing into another, what if can transform a roadblock into an opportunity.

For instance, if you encounter a roadblock in your business, you […] Continue Reading…

I Just Did Something Totally Stupid

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent guy, but today I did something that was just plain stupid. It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t a good thing to do. And my timing was absolutely terrible.

In retrospect, I can see that it was stupid. What makes it even worse, though, is that I realized that it was stupid before I started doing it — and even while I was doing it — yet I kept on doing it anyway.

Just to set the scene: this is one of the busiest times of the year for me. I’m launching two […] Continue Reading…

Idle Time Is the Angels’ Playground

I just read the words “Idle time is the devil’s workshop” for about the thousandth time, but it just now struck me how cynical, fear-based, and diametrically opposed to my own worldview this proverb is. Maybe it’s because I recently took almost a week off — five days filled (or not filled) with lots of idle time…and no sign of the devil!
Those days off were wonderful. My wife and I relaxed, took afternoon naps, went to the beach, explored a nearby town we’d never visited, played tennis (for the first time in about 16 years!), went on a real date, ate yummy […] Continue Reading…

5 Life Lessons from Bird by Bird

As part of the Your Soulful Book writing program, I recently re-read Anne Lamott’s modern classic, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

The first time I read this book — over a decade ago — I was primarily focused on learning to write better. This time around, however, I was struck by the subtitle’s truth: so many of these “instructions” really do apply equally to life beyond the page.

Of the book’s many profound life lessons, here are five of my favorites:

“It is so much easier to embrace absolutes than to suffer reality. Reality is unforgivingly complex.”

I’m not sure […] Continue Reading…

No Pain, No Pain

Sometimes we learn from people who model what we want. Other times, we learn from those who model what we don’t want!

In my previous post, I discussed someone who falls into the latter category: a guest on the TV show This Time Next Year who justified her inability to find love by claiming that “Men don’t want to commit” (Once again, using myself as counter-exhibit A, I’ll borrow Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers’ one-word catchphrase: Really!?!) This time, I’m using another counter-example from the same show (which really is a great, inspiring show 99% of the time — I promise!) to address one of the most pernicious attitudes out […] Continue Reading…

1 DO + 1 DON’T of Romantic Relationships

If you’re looking for love or would like to improve the romantic relationship you’re already in, Valentine’s Day can be the best time of year…or the worst! It seems like everyone is talking (and frequently giving advice) about love and romance. And while much of this is wonderful — a celebration of love — a lot of it is negative, self-defeating, and untrue (or at least not necessarily true).

Everyone’s experience of love (and everything else) is different, so I’d never want to dismiss or downplay what someone else has been through. But over the last 16 years of being in […] Continue Reading…