Your Life is a Smartphone Battery

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

We’ve all experienced it. It is around 9pm, and you’re about to go out. You check your smartphone and you have a mini heart attack. Your battery is only at 10%. You get “charge anxiety”– you know you need to switch your smartphone to “airplane mode” and conserve your battery for the rest of the night, just in case you need to make an emergency call or hail an Uber after you get a drink with your friends.

What if life were like a smartphone battery?

Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject
Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject

As I write this in 2016 the biggest problem of modern smartphones is that our phones (barely) last an entire day with one charge. We start the day with 100%, but after answering a few emails, text messaging, playing games, or browsing blogs, our batteries quickly drain.

If you work in an office; no problem– you have your phone charging at your desk (most of the day). For others, you might have a battery charger that you plugin when you’re at a Starbucks or you have a portable usb-battery pack charger.

But in life, there is no recharging cable. There is no portable battery pack that can give you extra “juice”. You’re born with 100% charge, but as your life goes on, your battery only drains. And no matter how rich you are, you can never “recharge” your life battery.

What if we saw our life % drain everyday?

Bien Hoa, 2014 #cindyproject
Bien Hoa, 2014 #cindyproject

Life is short. Even though modern technology and medicine can delay aging and death, we can never truly extend it. I know there are those crazy “singularity” thinkers who want to life to be a thousand, but all biological life will sooner or later die. After all, dying is what paves the road for new life.

Everyday we are slowly dying. Every day, our bodies get weaker, our molecular systems start breaking down, and we become more brittle. As time goes on, we do more and more metabolic damage to our systems through all the crap we eat, all the cigarettes we smoke, and alcohol and drugs we consume. Even for the healthiest individual, age will tear down our frail and mortal bodies.

How would we live differently in our lives if we could see our “life percentage charge” slowly draining– from 100%, to 80%, to 60%, 40%, or even 20%?

Assuming the average person lives to be 80, if you’re 40 years old, you’re already at 50% charge. What do you want to do with your remaining battery charge? Earn more money? Buy more cars? Buy a bigger house? Become more famous?

Or would you rather use your little time to explore the world, express yourself through photography or art, or create things that will benefit humanity and future generations?

You can die any moment

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

I had a lot of people I know over the years die out of nowhere. A drunk driver hit and killed my friend when he was only 16. I have a friend of a friend who died jogging to the gym and getting hit by a drive at 7am in the morning (he was only 25). I have parents of friends who passed away from cancer younger than age 60. I have a friend who died recently of a rare brain tumor at age 28.

Any of us can die at any moment. We might get some sort of rare cancer, have a heart attack, get hit by a drunk driver, accidentally kill ourselves while texting-and-driving (or walking), accidentally eat something we are allergic to and die of anaphylaxis, or die from an armed robbery.

It is funny how many of us plan to “truly live” one day when we retire. But what guarantee do we have that will live to be 65? Not only that, but what guarantee do we have that we will still be mentally and physically healthy at age 65+? And for people my generation, we won’t probably be able to retire until age 70 or even 75.

I know a lot of people whose dream it is to travel and see the world. They save up money, dutifully contribute to their 401k– and delay their happiness.

Why delay your happiness? Why not live now, and live the fullest life possible to your fullest ability?

Carpe diem

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

Not all of us have the ability to suddenly quit our jobs and travel the world. No, and you don’t need to.

The secret is to “Carpe diem”– seize the day. To make the best of your day today. To assume that you are going to die tonight, and not going to wake up tomorrow morning.

If you’re a photographer, that can just mean taking a few photos around the block, or of your loved ones. It can mean uploading a few photos to your website or social media of images that are personally meaningful to you.

If you’re a writer, that means writing one article or blog post that you’ve been wanting to. It means not delaying your ideas, your passion, or what you are enthusiastic about sharing.

If you’re a painter, it means putting your brush to canvas and starting your masterpiece. If you’re a dancer, it means stretching and pulling out a few moves. If you’re a coder, it means starting to work on that open-source project you’ve always wanted to work on.

But how can I think long term?

On the flight to Kuala Lumpur, 2014
On the flight to Kuala Lumpur, 2014

To live everyday as it were your last can have some downsides– it can prevent you from thinking long-term, and being focused only on the day-to-day.

For example, if you’re a photographer working on an epic project, you might need 10 years to complete it.

However I think we can balance both by living today if you were to die tomorrow, but planning as if we were to be 100 years old.

So for today, think of the smallest possible task you can do that will contribute to your “magnum opus”. If you’re doing a photography project of your neighborhood, you don’t need to finish your entire project in a single day. But you need to take a few photos today.

The biggest problem that I have is that I have too big of a vision, that I become paralyzed. They call this “paralysis by analysis”– thinking too much of your plan, instead of going out and actually doing it.

So don’t think too much, just get started.


Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

For me, when I wake up in the morning, I assume that I will die at the end of the day, and work as hard as I can to fulfill everything I feel I need to do. And when I go to sleep, I ask myself, “Did I do everything possible within my power to live today to the fullest?”

If you knew that your life battery were only at 10%, what would you focus your life and energy on? Even more specifically, what would you stop doing in life, and what would you ignore, and what superfluous activities would you decrease? Which negative or toxic people would you cut out of your life, and what bullshit would you no longer deal with?

Cut out the superfluous and make space for what is essential, and truly important to you.

Hurry, time is running out.