“Man lives as if he will never die, then dies having never really lived”. Sound familiar? Originally written by the Dalai Lama but a popular topic posed by Steve Jobs, founder of apple, in his famous commencement speech before dying at the age of 56, to cancer.
The man that looked inquisitively in the face of death, continued;
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
There are countless quotes flying around on the web about living life to the full. “Live each day as if it’s your last”, “Go for it now, the future is promised to no one”, but rarely do we take the advice or the opportunity, because those quotes don’t apply to us right? We couldn’t possibly actually be granted the opportunity to do what we want to do every day, that’s as rare as winning the lottery, isnt it? Or is it just that we don’t think we have the opportunity to, nor do we see the immediate need, morbidly yet unsurprisingly until something shocks us into doing so (or when it’s too late). This leads us onto one of my favourite mantra’s;
Someone, somewhere was dealt a much worse hand than you, and did a lot more with it.”
The information revolution has led to several mixed messages about the path to follow when you approach the end of education and enter the real world, whether that’s at high school, undergrad or post-grad level. The business graduate in me used to follow (but not always practice) Warren Buffet’s best tips. Tips on the right career, investing, spending, and saving. Essentially how to make money, how to make more money, and how to store your money in various high interest and high yield means. Notice the common theme? Money.
The ever-imaginative and business-minded entrepreneur in me holds a high level of admiration and respect for the self-made millionaires, born salespeople and acute business minds. However, very scarcely do these role models mention how successful they are in a) relationships b) health and happiness and c) work life balance. Any idea why that could be?
I realised very early on in my first graduate job that money is not the be all and end all, you can work your whole life to surround yourself with it, but it’s got no value in the heart or in happiness (nor in the graveyard). They say on your death-bed, you realise the 3 things that actually matter in life; the love that surrounds you, the fulfilment from your day-to-day, and your integrity as a person. Yet the most recommended (or reputable) path we are guided to follow post-education is to find a job immediately (any honest job will do), devote every waking hour of sunlight (or more) to our working week for 40 odd years, allow yourself merely weekends and very little spare time for yourself or your loved ones and save all your money for a rainy day. Sound good?
The alternative message on the internet is to follow the cult of ever-growing back-packers, the travelling nomads, the hippies, the yogi’s and the entrepreneur dreamers (do I come into that category now?). An entirely different perspective on life and living, influencers to deter from the status quo that leads to the natural inception into a conventional, ‘sensible’ life. Encouraging meditation and mindfulness, getting to know yourself before you choose the plan for your life. Doing what you love whilst you are young, because you don’t know what’s in store for you when you grow old. Starting your own business because you believe in yourself and the following of your dreams. Working abroad, working remote. A thirst for understanding of the world itself, travel, history, war and politics to appreciate peace and love, different cultures, languages and opinions on life to gain perspective of your own.
Finding what you love and doing it every day seems like an out-of-reach fantasy for most, but why should it be so unattainable? The travel nomads and entrepreneurs don’t think so. Doing what you love is just a way of life. There is no right way or wrong way here. It is all subjective, as my previous blog states the key is in finding your passion, happiness then becomes part of the journey. However if you are one of the people saving living your life until tomorrow or next year, finding every excuse not to chase that dream of a lifetime (the one you’ll have the balls to do one day, but not right now), this blog is for you. Inspired by a young car-accident victim, we will call him Grateful.
Grateful was a young gentleman from Colorado. I don’t say young in a patronising way, or even in age, but in spirit, and in living. I was shocked when I found out he was actually 38, because he looked at least a decade younger and he lived it too. Grateful had a metal (cage-looking) frame holding his leg together from the knee down on his right leg. It was quite the eye-saw, yet magnet at the same time. The metal splints screwed into his skin, some fixated to open wounds and others into old scars, held his bones in place and spread from his calf muscle all the way around to his shin. It was hard not to look at them as he entered a room aided on crutches, but he didn’t mind. His battle scars are 18 months in the making and have made him a drastically different person to who he was pre-accident, so he’s proud to show them off (but that doesn’t mean they came without hardship).
Let’s go back pre-accident, a mid 30’s guy working as a chef in two restaurants, living in an apartment with his girlfriend and a seemingly good work life balance with friends (as good as can be working 2 jobs anyway). Doing something he liked but didn’t necessarily love and simply ‘getting by’ (his words). One late evening driving back from the kitchen resulted in a car wiping him out on his motorbike. His leg was broken in so many places with bones making getaway attempts at every angle, that when they rushed him to A&E, he was told he’d lose it. “Will I lose it from the knee downwards or above the knee” he asked, “these things make a huge difference”. In an instant this guys perspective on life and the severity of the choices presented to him were drastically changed. At this moment in his life he was forced to consider life as an amputee and never walking again. For all the able-bodied reading this, is that something you can even imagine? Begin to comprehend? Well no, of course not. Because that stuff would never happen to you, right?
By some miracle surgeons hand, he was able to keep his leg, but at a price. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills and over 25 surgeries later, and the bones are now doing something like what they should be, fragile yet held in place by his invasive metal frame. This wasn’t the challenging bit though, he assured me. In my head I’m thinking how could this possibly not be the hard bit? To which he explains that over the months spent in hospital, his life ceased to exist as he knew it in every single way. He lost both jobs (through the physical inability to work), the ability to walk, to eat, to take himself to the toilet, and eventually his apartment and his girlfriend. He couldn’t possibly have dreamt that when he got on his bike that evening that his whole life would be turned upside down in a matter of minutes.
You see, Grateful is now one of the most well-read, insightful and interesting people I have had the pleasure of meeting. His hardship has given him a new lease on life, and he doesn’t plan to waste it. He used his forced time in a hospital bed to think about his life, what he wants to do if his leg makes a full recovery, what profession he’d like to pursue and where he’d like to live. Grateful by name, grateful by nature for all that he still has, his leg, his health, his happiness and his heart.
As it happens he’d like to specialise in engraving gun barrels since being inspired by the intricate details of a famous engraver and the concept of making something dangerously powerful, beautiful. A work of art. I like the concept. Did I mention he’d like to do this on a boat, sailing the ocean? Well, why the hell not. He thought about what makes him happy after what can only be described as a life-changing ordeal, and he’s set it in his sights. I take my hat off to him, and I wish him all the luck in the world in achieving his dreams. Thank you Grateful, for allowing me to learn from your life’s teachings.
Grateful’s lesson is this;
You never know when something is going to tornado into your comfortable life and change everything as you know it. You never know what age, what day, which place, or who in your life, so how could you possibly promise yourself you’ll do what you love one day, when you don’t know if that one day will ever come? Or at least how you expected it to? The most common phrase expressed by all people that have been faced with hardship is “I just never thought this would happen to me, this stuff happens to other people but it doesn’t happen to me”. It happened to Steve Jobs, it happened to grateful and It could happen to me or you. We are exempt from nothing, so we need to stop thinking like we are.
Grateful had to face a horrifying accident, near amputation and losing everything he previously loved, to start realising and following his dreams. Learn from other people’s lessons that there is never a better time than now. Grateful was told that had he fallen on his back the impact would’ve either paralysed or killed him, so he was lucky to be alive. The only thing we know for absolute certain in this life is that we all eventually die, the decision we all consciously make every day is whether we live.
Steve Jobs approach to demystify the topic of death led him to his own daily mantra; each day for 33 years he looked in the mirror and asked:
If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something” he added.
You can’t do everything exactly as you want to every single day, you will always occasionally have to do things you don’t want to and equally life will always throw you curve-balls, but you should at least be doing what you love on the majority. If your life has more ‘no’ days then ‘yes’ days, keep changing things until you are happy with it. But don’t live a life of no’s and then realise when it’s too late.
The last and final Steve Jobs quote for the day (RIP);
Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”