Brandon LaBella explores the concept of living versus existing.
I was in Mykonos, Greece, and I was supposed to be having the time of my life. There were drinks with 50-foot straws, amazing sunsets and incredible people from all over the world.
One evening, I was at a beach party, doing all the things one does at a beach party, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Next to me, there was a guy who wouldn’t stop bothering these girls about having a shot, slurring his words about the US and 9/11. As I turned to leave on an ATV with my Brazilian friend, we heard a random scream: “HELP!”
We headed in the direction of the cries, and discovered that it was coming from two drunk strangers who were missing their phones and stranded in a dark alleyway. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, we got them back to their hotel safely, and should have been ready for the next round of partying. But I kept thinking: Is this it? Externally, my life seemed like the picturesque sunset on the beach, but internally, my life felt out-of-control.
I wondered, Would my future self just be going out all the time? When I helped those strangers I felt alive. Picturing my future self just looking forward to the weekend so I could spend $300 at a club to impress others did not make me feel alive. It took an encounter with two drunk strangers in Mykonos, to make me realize what being alive – and what not being alive – felt like.
Living in the plainest sense of the word means that you are existing, breathing, surviving. It’s doing things for the sole purpose of satisfying other people and being the best possible version of someone else. It’s being dependent on pleasures that harm your health. It’s numbing yourself from suffering and being blinded by denial, fear and comfort. It’s blaming yourself or others for things outside of anyone’s control.
Actually being alive, however, means that you wake up each day excited to be yourself and to create epic experiences with others. You constantly grow and enjoy the journey of life, while creating progress with your mental and physical health. Once you are truly alive, you embark on a path upon which you thrive, without preserving an image that isn’t you.
You don’t have to have a meaningful interaction every single moment, you don’t need to be traveling all the time, and you don’t need to be saving the world each day. You simply have to know what it feels like to truly feel a raindrop, and to bring your own sunshine to the world by being your unique, authentic self.
Personally, I live off of creating connection with nature through mindfulness, and maximizing every opportunity I get to create genuine connections with others. Whether it’s playing a pickup game of ultimate Frisbee with three random people from my hometown or having a sincere conversation with a banker at Wells Fargo who is getting laid off, connecting with others is what makes me feel alive.
And, no, a little Mykonos party never killed nobody. But it did make me realize the difference between living and being alive.
Brandon LaBella is a recent cum laude graduate from the College of William & Mary, with severe allergies to all dairy, nuts, fish, and negativity. His past experience of not being fully awake to his potential has motivated him to write The Journey to Failing Freely: How to Find Fulfillment by Letting Yourself Fail, which has raised thousands for charity. He has ventured to 45 countries and 40 states, is an unofficial World Record Holder for Fastest Marathon on Crutches at the NYC Marathon, has previously worked for IBM, NASA, Ministry of Tourism of Bali, and has conducted research for the US government regarding sustainable fundraising for NGOs.
Edited by Adelle Goldenberg
Cover photo captured by Taylor Nicole