With my birthday just around the corner I find myself looking back at my accomplishments, my memories and thousands of pictures. My life laid out on the table in front of me as if it all just happened yesterday. I wanted to achieve a great many things, a handful have materialised, others are still works in progress. Now, pushing forty, those ambitions are still there, only now they’re impatiently screaming “the time is NOW!”
At one point or another I’m pretty sure we’ve all taken stock of our lives, looked at ourselves with honest eyes and dared to come face to face with our mortality. If my dead relatives are anything to go by, statistically speaking, I’m about half way to pushing up the daisies.
But whether I die of heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory problems, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza, kidney disease, accident, infection or just old age — it really doesn’t matter. Death doesn’t scare me nearly as much as running out of time to do the things I want to. You know, a bucket list.
I’ve been lucky to see a hefty chunk of the world and fortunate enough to meet, work and play with amazingly talented and passionate people — some of whom I am proud to call close friends. In many respects, my life has been shaped more by these friendships than any other single influence.
“Each one of us is the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.”
— Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones
I like old towns, old houses, old cars, photos, paintings, fortresses, legends and the eons of collective history they represent. Somehow, all this history helps me put things into perspective and calm my thoughts. It also highlights my tiny insignificance and helps me focus on the important aspects of being alive: friends and family, conversation, travel and a good bottle of wine.
But just like wind and rain erode sandstone to dust, so do poor choices on our lives. As I sit quietly in the courtyard of my old, crumbling house, I realize that it’s probably time to rebuild — in more ways than one.
I feel the need to do something with my hands, to get them dirty, to create and make something grow. I want to build a kitchen, tile the bathroom and redo the plumbing. I’m even excited by the prospect of ripping up the flooring and punching holes through walls.
My phone gives off a distorted bleep — message delivered — a reminder of tomorrow’s flight. Has it already been five days? I’ve barely had time to catch up with friends, take a walk by the sea or a drive to the hardware store. All my construction plans, yet again, put on hold. At least the packing’s done — my case is still lying by the door.
I’m painfully aware that too much travel can easily jeopardize a relationship. I’ve only to look at my colleagues to see the strain on their faces, deep-rooted guilt and exhaustion. It’s a lifestyle that has sustained me for many years and afforded me access to breathtaking places. However, saying goodbye is much harder now that my priorities have changed.
Three weeks will pass before I’m back. Three weeks of texting, calling, emails and Skype. Three weeks of lonely nights, of xoxo’s and emoticon hugs.
“Don’t believe what they say, sustained absence over long periods of time doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, instead, it creates resentment, loneliness and detachment.”
— Dr. Shem
Of course, I’m not only talking about absence in a romantic context. Absence from things that inspire, energize and infuse life with thought-provoking stimulation can be equally damaging and draining.
I want to feel alive daily not just when I’m at home. I want to be reminded that life can still give me a walloping hard kick any time I stop paying attention. Let’s be honest, most of life’s raw, hard, unrefined and fresh sensation shows its face far away from modern conveniences and rarely in well-serviced hotels or airport lounges.
I want a life where I use more of my instincts rather than frameworks and methodologies. I want a raw, bloody, heart on the shoulder kind of an existence. I want more flexibility and less clutter. More impact but less stress. I want to use my skills to create original works rather than regurgitate other people’s efforts with a cut and paste. I want to be pumped with creative energy, see life through rose-colored glasses and get caught up in infinite thought rather than never-ending traffic jams.
A recent article on the Harvard Business Review’s blog said that The Happiest People Pursue the Most Difficult Problems:
Leaders everywhere should remember the M’s of motivation: mastery, membership, and meaning. Tapping these non-monetary rewards (while paying fairly) are central to engagement and happiness. And they are also likely to produce innovative solutions to difficult problems.
— Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School
So, after forty years of meeting people and reading books I have but one thing to say: I’ve been too busy helping others execute on their vision that I haven’t had enough time to go after my own.