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The tears are streaming down my cheeks. I have to turn away, distract myself, hide my face. He looks so vulnerable. Moving slow. Shuffling his feet forward. Hunched over the walker. Pushing himself to inch down the hall. In the time it takes a blood clot to form and speed towards the brain, his life, changed forever.
You have a sense that we’re all born terminal. We’re all dying. It’s a matter of when and how, not if. Yet that knowledge doesn’t become visceral. It doesn’t impact the choices we make until youth perhaps is spent or you see those you love and care for experience the frailties of life and inch closer to the end. Do you hunker down and convince yourself that living safe will protect you. Or do you channel that lump-in-your-throat knowledge into breathing no regrets into every moment you get. How do you respond when those moments wake you from the slumber of autopilot daily routine? What do you do when you find yourself caught in an undertow of a lifetime of memories crashing into the shore of a new reality – one where those memories are all you’re left with?
I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to pound the air and undo the inevitable, predictable march of time. I want to entertain the fantasies of the futurists and singularity. I want more time. More time with my Dad. More time to have some adventures. More time to glean some wisdom. More time to form new memories.
I’m on a plane back to LA. Spinning, swimming, unmoored and tethered all at once. Inspired and crushed. Back to a fundamental question of how do I spend the limited time I have? What are my dreams, what is happy? How do I live every moment, engaged, present. How do I ensure that when I am where he is now, I am able to look back and know it’s been full, rich, wild, fun. Filled with moments shared with those who I’d support no matter the challenge and drop everything to be with. Those who inspired me, laughed with and at me. How do I ensure I collapse every night into a restful dreamscape exhausted from living, rather than restlessly watching the second hand tick by in slow motion.
So what is happy? And how do you spend as much of the precious moments we have in that state? It’s probably the most fundamental and universal question we face. I spend my professional life stalking this question, mesmerized by it, preaching it. Fundamentally, it is its pursuit that drives people. But does my professional title or training truly render me an expert in happiness? I don’t think so. It’s the substance of a great marketing plan – imagine if I could promise you and deliver more happiness, greater pleasure, joy, passion, engagement, a sense of comfort in your own skin?
I’d sign up for that. But the truth is I can no more promise that to you than I can to myself. But I am absolutely trying. The existential question of what does any of this mean perhaps misses the point. Maybe the real wisdom lies in some of my mother’s clarity and passion for being kind to, well, everyone – dispensed with the same ease to complete strangers as well as family. She recently shared with me that there are no golden years. She’s 75. Enjoy yourself now. The real litmus test is are you having fun?
My particular job offers no unique protections from the whims of life, the brutal lows of loss. But I am incredibly fortunate that it does afford me the opportunity to regularly consider how I’m living and the choices I’m making.
What is it you want? What are you passionate about? What drives you? How are you spending your time? What are you doing right now? If you’re totally honest with yourself. If you dispense with what you think you should do, if you discard what others want or expect of you, if you’re simply honest with yourself about the life you imagined, the life you dream of and the life you’re living – are they the same? Perhaps it starts here.