02/12/2014 12:57 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2014

Success Is Not a Straight Line

A successful man, my husband modeled all the behaviors our society admires. Hardworking, a company man through and through, he did whatever was necessary to get the job done. He'd take time out on vacation to check in at the office, "It would just take a minute," he always said. It never took a minute. Two week vacations were unimaginable to him; who could possibly be away from the office that long? But he was sure there'd be time when he retired to do all sorts of things, travel to exotic places, go on adventures with his children, learn to play golf. He was wrong, that day never came. He passed away on a random Friday, without warning, without goodbyes, without having done any of it. He was only one year older than I am now, a sobering and frightening thought.

Ever since then I have been acutely aware of trying to live my life differently; differently from how he lived, differently from how I have lived in the past. I want a life that is centered in the here and now, not in the unknowable future, or the unchangeable past. I don't want to spend my time railing at what could or should have been, or waste years waiting for that ever elusive "perfect time." All too often I fail at this, but I keep trying.

I cannot imagine departing this life just yet. There is still so much I want to do, so much I know he wanted to do. And though he had achieved the pinnacle of what we call success, CEO of a company, it did not in the end sustain him or make him happy. Few of the people from the many places he had worked were there to support him toward the end of his life; colleagues, it turns out, are not the same as friends, and he had spent far too much time with one and not enough with the other. All that time, all that dedication, for what? A better title, a bigger paycheck? But these are the things we are taught to value, the symbols we hold up as proof of a successful life. It didn't then, and it doesn't now, seem like success to me. I enjoy my work, but it is not my reason for being, nor how I want my life to be defined.

Whenever I find myself slipping, working too many late nights, checking email on weekends or while I'm out with friends, I try to think about the people I know who truly lived. One person that often comes to mind is the mother of a friend of mine, a wonderful woman who met life head-on, with an enthusiasm that was to be envied. Whenever she would hear her daughter talk about holding off on a vacation because "it wasn't a good time," or "it was too expensive," her comments were always the same: "What are you waiting for?" or "Do you think it's going to get less expensive?" Touché. Her daughter and I often travel together now. We spend our money recklessly, eat too much, and generally indulge ourselves. I'm sure she'd be pleased.

I have an Emily Dickinson quote taped to my refrigerator door that reads "Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door." Emily had it right--throw open the doors, and the windows, let opportunity and serendipity in whenever, wherever. "Don't you say no, let them say no," my mom would counsel when doubt and fear would stop me. I'm trying, mom.

I know, I know, we've all heard this before, and yes it's a wonderful idea, but it's not very practical, people don't really live that way, yadda, yadda, yadda. But not living that way is a lot riskier than you think. My husband and I both lost out on so much. We'll never take that trip to Venice, or see the Pyramids, there are no more hours to be shared in front of a roaring fire.

So if you're wondering if you should take that vacation, spend the money, jump at that unexpected opportunity, the answer is yes, yes, yes! Go ahead, color outside the lines, step out of the box. Because success is not a straight line, but a winding road with detours and diversions not to be missed. That's the life I'm trying to live, the version of success I'm working toward. So take my word for it--there is no better time.