A friend of mine, reflecting on entering the 40-something part of his life, made a social media post about not wasting time, and making it all count. This guy is one of my favorite people that I've ever worked with (in part because I hired him and he required very little direction), and he's just all around awesome. His wife is quite charming, and he loves his kids. But his declaration still caused me to pause, because it sounded like one of those New Year's kind of things that doesn't leave a lot of room for inevitable failure.
As I've said before, I like being 40-something, aside from the miles on the body, because of the wisdom and experience I've acquired. I don't feel any real time pressure. What I have done a lot of lately is try to understand where this "make it count" and "do all the things to be awesome" thing comes from. I don't know if it's a uniquely American thing, but I do know that it's not realistic, and the inability to deliver on the "counting" does not make you an asshole.
We're culturally obsessed with achievement. Worse, we diminish the human value of people who don't meet our narrow definition of achievement. I'm not even sure what it means to achieve or why it matters at this point. Sure, I can come up with a lot of negative use cases. Breaking the law, going to jail, exploiting others or treating them poorly, yeah, those are anti-achievements. But what's the bar at the other end? Money? Scope of positive impact? Material acquisition? These seem more like score keeping mechanisms than achievement.
Getting back to the original question, what counts? I think this is a simpler consideration, and I tend to land somewhere around "contributes to my contentment." The second layer of that is, everything doesn't have to count. There are so many mundane non-interesting things we have to do in life. There are a great many things that we also will fail at, because that's how we learn. "Make it count" is one of those New Year's slogans that we adopt that creates a lot of potential for toxic feelings toward ourselves when we don't deliver. I'm not saying you shouldn't make goals, but don't cheerlead yourself into an expectation of being "on" all of the time. That's exhausting, and not realistic.