When I was in my mid-30s, I left a stable job at a hospital to become a practice management consultant. Doing that work made me realize I liked talking to physicians about their careers, so I became a certified coach and began working with residents as they embarked on their post-training medical journeys.

During the dot-com boom, I launched a small start-up, then watched a lot of money disappear into thin air when the bubble burst. Later I discovered writing and have made my living as a freelancer for the past 10 years. Two years ago, on a whim, I purchased a struggling retail shop and have been having fun turning it into a profitable business.

Throughout all of these career-related transitions I also moved a few times, learned to play tennis, took piano lessons, raised llamas, fell in and out of love, and got my first dog. Sometimes friends or colleagues hint that I'm one bubble off-center. Others wonder aloud whether I'm flat-out crazy. I tell them I don't want to die curious.

How about you? What would you do if you wanted to be certain that you wouldn't die curious? What's on your bucket list? What are you putting off? And why?

You know how you feel when you hear about a friend, acquaintance or colleague dying suddenly or receiving a diagnosis that you know means they won't be around for long? Most likely, you think about how fragile life is, spend a few minutes pondering the meaning of your existence and vow to get busy living while you still have time.

And then your cell phone rings, or the next patient is in a room ready to be seen, or you have to rush off to that meeting at the hospital ... and, and, and ... life goes on.

Many busy professionals suffer from what I call the "when/then" syndrome, a malady that keeps them stuck in a day-to-day routine which, even when that routine is enjoyable, often doesn’t leave time for pursuing dreams or living a life that is rich, meaningful, balanced, and engaging. The when/then syndrome sounds like this:

  • When I finish residency, then I'll get back to playing music.
  • When my practice is financially stable, then we'll start a family.
  • When the house is paid off, then we'll take that trip to Europe.
  • When the kids are off to college, then I'll have more time to spend with my spouse.
  • When I have enough money saved for retirement, then I'll buy that little sailboat.
  • When I retire, then I'll write a book.

The next time you hear yourself saying or thinking anything that suggests you might be suffering from the when/then syndrome, pause to consider the possibility that you don’t have to wait. Pursuing what is meaningful or what will make you happy is not an all-or-nothing proposition. (OK, I guess the starting a family example is all-or-nothing, but in many cases it's not.)

Play music without thinking you need to join a band. Go ahead and take the vacation you've been dreaming about. Five years from now, will you really miss the money you spent on it? Not likely. Start writing the book you have in your head. You don't have to finish it this year. Just write for a few minutes a day and see where it leads.

Carve out more time for your spouse, partner, children, parents and friends. They — and you — are not going to be around forever. Make a decision. Take action. Do something a little crazy.

Don't die curious.